Hideko Kawa, head pastry chef, The Fat Duck experimental kitchen

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th November 2013
Hideko Kawa is head pastry chef for The Fat Duck experimental kitchen with a responsibility for developing desserts across the whole group of Heston Blumenthal outlet s. Hideko grew up in the city of Kanazawa in Japan where she began cooking at an early age. After studying home economics at university she went on to teach it at a Japanese high school for seven years. She then moved to the UK to study classical French cooking at Le Cordon Bleu cookery school in London before going on to work at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. After six years, Hideko moved on to work for Helene Darroze at The Connaught before coming to the Fat Duck where she has worked for the last three years. The Staff Canteen caught up with her to see how she’s finding life in the weird and wonderful world of Heston Blumenthal… How did you come to be at The Fat Duck? I was working as a pastry chef for Helene Darroze and I met someone from The Fat Duck, spoke to them and asked for a trial. I’d always been interested in The Fat Duck and I thought it was a great opportunity but also a huge challenge. I enjoyed the trial so much and I was surprised at how homely and warm the atmosphere was. I was totally impressed. It was a three-star restaurant with all the discipline that requires but it also cared about the employees and their lives and was just like a big family. You had come from quite a classical background; how easy was it to shift to the more ground-breaking style of cooking here at The Fat Duck? I’d always loved art and I loved science and enjoyed researching. I learned the classical way of cooking which said you always had to do certain things one way and never another way, which could be a little bit stressful. Here if you want to create anything, you can. You can use any equipment and make anything you want; that made me feel so happy and gave me such a sense of amazing freedom. I loved the scientific aspect of it and I loved the fusion – taking different aspects of dishes and putting them together to create new things. How does the process of coming up with new desserts work here? We do tasting on a weekly basis and ideas could come from anywhere, for example with the Botrytis Cinerea dessert that we have on the menu at the moment, the head sommelier suggested coming up with a dessert to go with a certain wine. We will then have a discussion about how to get the flavour we want and I’ll create a sample dessert. Heston will then taste this and put his ideas and inspiration into the dish and I’ll change it accordingly. We’ll continue repeating this process until we get to the perfect dish. Can you give an example of a dessert that you were involved in creating in this way? For a wine dinner I needed to create a dessert with vanilla, citrus and apple flavours. I thought, okay these colours can make an egg – the citrus can be the yolk and the vanilla can make a milk which will be the egg white. I wanted to make something that looked and felt exactly like a real egg, and when you cracked it, sounded just like an egg. We looked at a real egg and analysed the colour and texture and the way it cracks; then we made a plan of how to make it. I decided to use chocolate to make the shell. I noticed that when you crack an egg the inside of the shell is white, the outside is beige and there are little spots on top – I wanted to make a shell exactly like that. This involved spraying chocolate into a mould, first a beige layer then a white layer. Chocolate is usually tempered at a lower temperature but in order to make a thin enough layer we needed to break the rules and temper it at a slightly higher temperature. The first shell we made looked like a real egg shell but it didn’t sound correct; it wasn’t brittle enough so I decided to spray it with liquid nitrogen to cool down the outside shell without affecting the inside. This worked really well and made a really nice cracking sound and sprinkled fragments of shell onto the plate with tiny little sounds. The egg white was a vanilla and lemon thyme panna cotta, and the yolk, at Heston’s suggestion, was a kind of verjus; the idea came from a historical dish that combined verjus and eggs and the combination of the verjus and citrus gave a really intense acidity which was amazing. What’s the strangest technique or piece of equipment you’ve used here? Recently we’ve been using a lot of the vacuum oven which sucks the air out while cooking. We use this for cooking chocolate and meringues and recently for cooking sponges. Because of the low pressure in which it cooks things, it makes very light chocolate, or meringue or sponge with an aerated texture. Also there’s the spray dry machine that I used with the egg dessert. You can take any liquid and spray it at high pressure in very, very fine particles that dry into a very fine powder. Because there’s no liquid you can get very intense flavours and there’s no cooking so it keeps its original flavour. We’ve done this with pineapple juice, soy sauce, vinaigrette, alcohol; you can do it with anything. The other thing is the rocket machine which was originally used in hospitals to analyse blood samples. It spins at a very high speed and you can use it to reduce a liquid down to a concentrate at room temperature. Usually to do this you have to bring the liquid to the boil but the high pressure allows you to do this at room temperatures creating incredibly intense essences of the original liquid. Heston is always taking things from all fields of modern science and tecnology and adapting them for use in the kitchen. He’s a real pioneer. What are your goals for the future? I want to continue enjoying cooking and cooking with creativity. In the longer-term future I would like to combine my unique experiences to do something slightly different. I have experience in Japan and the UK and I have experience as a teacher so one day I would like to share my experiences with a younger generation of chefs as a kind of ambassador. But at the moment I’m just enjoying being here in this moment doing a job millions of people would like to do.    

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th November 2013

Hideko Kawa, head pastry chef, The Fat Duck experimental kitchen