John Costello, senior confectioner, Nestlé Product Technology Centre

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th November 2014

John Costello has worked in Slatterys, completed chocolate short courses in Switzerland, taught at Southbank University and competed in the World Chocolate Masters and is now senior confectioner at Nestlé Product Technology Centre. Having known from a young age this is the route he wanted to go down John is constantly expanding upon his chocolate skills and feels he just about has one more competition left in him.

Entramet - book When you first left school you went straight into working for Slattery’s. Was it always the plan to go down the bakery/patisserie route? From the age of 13, I did a novelty cake at school as part of home economics and I just remember thinking “surely you can’t get paid for doing this”. From that I went and got a work experience placement as Sainsbury’s in-store bakery and at the same time I got a Saturday job and a summer job in a local bakery to see if I really did like it and if I would want to do it after school. At that time then it wasn’t necessarily someone that influenced you it was more about having fun? At that age no, it was more about baking and cake decorating. John Slattery, who I worked for, was quite an inspiring guy and good at motivating people and a really good craftsmen; it was through working for him that I got a real enjoyment for working with chocolate. And the next turning point in terms of influential characters was a guy called Franz Ziegler over in Switzerland who was running a chocolate course and he was an inspiring guy as part of my career.
Must read books
  • Chocolate confections by peter P growling
  • Magic chocolate by Franz Ziegler
  • Any of Jean Pierre wybau  books
  • The science of chocolate by S.T. Beckett
Dessert island deserts There is nothing fancy about my dessert island deserts as away from work I love comfort food but done well without consideration for calories.
  • Bread and butter pudding
  • Chocolate fondant
  • Brownie
  • Trifle
  • Chocolate mousse with infused raspberry’s
  • Anything caramel based
Why did you go to Switzerland for those short courses, were there any equivalent courses in the UK at the time? No, at the time there was nothing. There was nobody running chocolate courses even at college, there just wasn’t the facilities. Although the bakery school that I went to [Salford Bakery School] was probably the number one bakery school at the time even they didn’t have facilities for tempering and didn’t truly understand it. I was there for one year and then second year I was part time. I did one day a week at college to get the theory side which was really important. I did baking initially and then realised nearly two years into the course that the pastry and chocolate side was something that really interested me. Do you feel there were more opportunities in the pastry/chocolate route rather than baking? There was a bigger gap, chocolate wasn’t that big - there were a few people doing it as a side-line to what they were already doing. There were a few chocolate shops around but not really doing a great deal. Even at the point when I went to London teaching at Southbank University for a year there was probably only two maybe three artisan style chocolate shops at the time; that was the time that Pierre Marcolini opened a shop in London it was charging huge amounts compared to everyone else. And we look back now compared to today’s prices and it wasn’t that bad, but he was the first person to break into London from the chocolate point of view, selling at a premium. Since then it’s grown and grown and the scene now is fantastic for artisan chocolatiers. Did you always want to compete in competitions, were there any when you were at college?Nestle product technology centre I was involved in the National Federation of Bakery Students Society and that was like an annual conference where you would compete and I actually went to the first one with John Slattery’s dad Bernard, as he was the president of the Baker’s Guild at the time. I remember seeing the competition side of things and thinking I’d really like to have a go at that, as it was a good opportunity to try something that you don’t do day to day and increase your skills and learn a bit more. Has there been one experience that has had the biggest influence on your career? If I had to pick anything in my career to date and say that is was a really good place to work and was really inspiring I would say, certainly at the start of my career, it would be Slattery’s. It gave me a really good base and it is important for youngsters coming into the industry that they get into a good establishment with people that are really passionate, as that will in turn pass onto them. Plated Dessert – Mayan GoldAnd then outside of that it would have to be when I worked Confiserie Progin based in Biel, Switzerland, I only stayed there for 6-8 weeks, but by far it has to be the best place that I have worked for in terms of product I was producing and standard; it really opened me up to the art of the industry. Your experience points towards working within companies, have you ever worked in a kitchen in a restaurant or hotel? I’ve been lucky enough to avoid those but I’ve worked in small pastry shops. I did spend a few days down the Fat Duck when I was preparing for the Chocolate Masters so I got to experience that kind of environment. I’ve always lent more towards the pastry side, the pastry and chocolate shops side and now into the industrial side. There are elements of a restaurant kitchen which are great, certainly the standard that they are working at is brilliant but it’s not something that has been a massive appeal to me. I feel like I’ve been lucky enough to produce some really good products. It’s been great to develop, design and produce things without the bad side of working in a kitchen, as the hours can be so long. By the time I left Slattery’s I realised there were other routes to take, which sometimes you don’t always see from a young age, where you don’t have to do seven days a week.DSC_0124 How long does it take to prepare for a competition like the Chocolate Masters? My preparation started around two years before I entered. The first time was when Mark Tilling won and I came last. At that point I made a decision not to enter again until two years’ time so I could take that time to learn from the right people and pick up the right skills and then reapply. Any plans to compete in any more? Possibly, I still feel I’ve got one more competition in me. There are more bits that I want to learn, more skills to try and develop and competing is a good way to do that and push boundaries. Not just learning from other chocolatiers but learning from other industries for example potters, car engineers and mechanics –and see how you can reapply what they do with chocolate and pastry. What made you make the move into teaching? It was more about growing skills in the industry, there was a gap at the time in skills and understanding of how to work with chocolate. Back then even the Callebaut Academy in Banbury wasn’t in existence. I decided to look at teaching so went to Southbank University for a year but teaching youngsters full time wasn’t for me. Entremet - SabrosoI spoke to John Slattery and we agreed that there was a gap so we set up the Slattery School. I started teaching chocolate skills there initially two days a month. It was really busy and we could see there was a demand both in the trade and the public. It then came to a point where I needed a new personal challenge so went into food manufacturing, developing products for the retailer; initially Marks and Spencer, which I really enjoyed. What’s it like working for Nestlé and in food manufacturing? Working for big companies gets overlooked a lot of the time by chocolatiers and pastry chefs. Not everything starts life on a machine and they need skilled craftsman to produce really good quality samples and really good quality innovations that pastry chefs are creating day in day out. It is those skills that can be included in places like Nestle, they are a great company to work for as it’s an amazing facility. We have the best from every part of the industry coming together to produce innovations for the future.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th November 2014

John Costello, senior confectioner, Nestlé Product Technology Centre