Heather Kaniuk, Executive Chef Patissiere, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park

The Staff Canteen

Heather Kaniuk is executive chef patissiere at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London. Originally from New Zealand Heather has worked for a number of top chefs within the pastry kitchens of London. For three years she worked under Graham Hornigold at the Hakkasan Group and has been head pastry chef at London’s luxurious 5-star hotel, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park for just over a year.

We recently caught up with Heather to find out what it is like working in London and why she thinks as a pastry chef it’s more difficult to move into the management side of the industry.

How did you get into pastry?

'Toffee Apple' with dulce de leche and caramelised popcorn

'Toffee Apple' with dulce

de leche and caramelised popcorn 

Originally I trained as a chef and thus spent my formative years in the savoury kitchen. I really enjoyed it and I think it creates a better overall skillset knowing both the pastry section and the savoury side. I did find pastry a bit more alluring and preferred the temperament of the pastry kitchen as opposed to the hot fiery side. I really enjoy the scientific aspect as opposed to the quickness of the hot kitchen. 

You worked with Graham Hornigold at Hakkasan Group for a few years, what was that like?

It’s funny because I always get asked that question. It was fantastic, I really enjoyed working at the Hakkasan Group; Graham for me was always a good mentor. He taught me not just about cooking but more about the organisation and team side of things. It was a very organised place and I got to know a lot about the kitchen, how to treat your product with respect, taking flavours but not messing around with them too much, not adding too much sugar or fat and just keeping it quite light. Keeping it more towards what your customer wants these days.

What was the best advice he ever gave you?

He persuaded me to do the hospitality management course last year. His advice was always that you know you are a chef but it is important to learn the finance, marketing and HR side of the business that you might not necessarily learn in the kitchen. So he pushed me into doing that. The best advice would be ‘fresh is best’, ‘taste is everything’ and ‘look after your team’, and those kind of things will make your life a bit easier.

So how do you find juggling working life with studying for the hospitality management degree?

I finished literally two days before Christmas and I graduate next month with first class honours so I’m very happy about that! But it was crazy, I was working about 70-80 hours a week in the hotel and I was going to University on my day off and trying to do my dissertation and essays in between. Sometimes I was working on the train when I was commuting to and from work coming in at midnight, it was horrendous but I think as with anything if you want to do it just give it everything and you will make it happen.

Info bar

Signature dishes 

Chocolate caramel

Black Forest choux

Tiramisu parfait

Desert island desserts

Princess cake with orange and carrot the French Laundry

New Zealand ‘Pineapple lumps’ (NZ sweets)

Kouign Amman from B patisserie, San Francisco

A loaf of bread from Poilâne in Paris with salted Brittany butter

My mum’s Pavlova with passion crème and berries

Who are your biggest influences?

I really love the influx of baking on the West Coast of America- San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, etc. I worked with Michel Suas, a renowned French baker on the US circuit, who shaped my love of viennosiere and the importance of long fermentation in breads to develop texture and complex flavours.

There are so many talented bakers reviving the skills of bakery with modern flavours and ancient grains such as Einkorn, Amaranth, Teff flours, with a move towards wholesome breads made with only natural ingredients.

The trend towards healthier diets obviously affects pastry too, so our customers influence what we make. This means more gluten and dairy free desserts, lower sugar, fat and salt content within our products.

In London I love the more causal style of dining these days, with so many pop up restaurants and street food the dining scene here has become so much more diverse. I like to play with different flavours, using saffron, dates and pinenuts in a dessert or pomegranate- flavours that are becoming more mainstream with the Middle Eastern cuisine trends of late.

Pastry-wise, I am influenced by the London scene, with so many talented chefs you’re never short of inspiration. Those that I’ve worked with at the Hakkasan group influenced my style and sense of taste and continue to influence me.

I love the work of Frank Hasnoot in Asia; his work is always so clean, refined and inspirational. I am always influenced by my own team in the pastry- when my chefs come to me with new menu ideas or different flavour combinations I love to be able to work with them and create a new dish.

Molon Rosebery Room
Molon Rosebery Room

As the head pastry chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London what is the biggest challenge you face?

One of the hardest challenges I have faced in my career is to build my own team. To walk into a hotel, observe the methods, infrastructure and then to find and implement change within an existing team whilst creating a new one is a difficult task. It has taken me a year to get the makings of what I require.

I’m really lucky now that I have a fantastic team, they work really hard for the hotel and for each other. I think I’m very lucky to have the support of my team as it’s a busy operation, and I think we have the basis now to take it further.

What advice would you give to young chefs wanting to enter the pastry sector?

I would say come in with an open mind, be prepared to work hard, to set goals and work hard to achieve them to continue your way up the ladder. It’s important to learn all the basics as a commis and have the passion, drive and motivation to succeed in a tough profession.

What’s the hardest thing for a young pastry chef to learn?

The majority of the world requires huge mental strain, and to master that early will benefit you no end. Chefs put huge amounts on themselves to be the best they can be, plus those of everyday life and it can sometimes get the better of you. Remember to switch off, have a hobby and stay positive.

Are there any areas in pastry you would like to learn more about?

I would say for me because I did my training back in New Zealand where, learning the European specialisations of sugar showpieces and chocolate showpieces is something I would really like to practice more. Although I’ve done a little bit of it I wouldn’t say I’m amazing as down under it’s not something that is given the kind of time and effort that you get here. Although on the up we don’t have the competitions, whilst the skillset is developing.

Why do you feel Pastry is such a specialised area?

I would say one it’s scientific, you have to understand why things work and not. Why you are creaming your butter or why your puff is going to rise. So to understand, not just the products but the reason behind how and why it works.

On top of that it is a very particular environment where things need to be balanced, things need to be perfect and or they just won’t work. If you are making a sauce in a hot kitchen you can add a little more a little bit less, it’s not going to affect your recipe but with pastry everything needs to be balanced and in proportion.

There’s a lot more technical skill involved with pastry. I think within pastry its can be broken down into different domains, you

Roasted pineapple with pink peppercorn, coconut and lime

Roasted pineapple

with pink peppercorn, coconut and lime

have the breakfast and the bread and that’s just one section. Then you have general pastry, plated desserts, canapes, afternoon teas and they are all completely different to one another. Even as a pastry chef, not a lot of them know the different domains either so even within pastry there so many things you need to learn and technics.

What is next for you in the future?

I would eventually like to move out of the kitchen and do more management, but it is very difficult as I think people don’t necessarily look to a pastry chef to move more into kitchen management. Whereas if you are the executive chef it’s a natural progression and I don’t really think that barrier should be there. Just because I am a pastry chef doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to move above the glass ceiling. So I would definitely like to do something more on the management side and as a chef you can’t work 80 hours a week in a kitchen your whole life.

I think it’s important to understand the other side of operations. If you want to open your own restaurant then you need to know HR, finance, management and unfortunately it’s not something you’re actually taught when you go to chef’s college, you learn how to cook, and don’t necessarily get to learn everything else you need for this industry.



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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th July 2016

Heather Kaniuk, Executive Chef Patissiere, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park