Julie Sharp, Callebaut Chocolate Academy, Banbury

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th January 2013
Her first position was in the larder at The Rothley Court Hotel, but Julie Sharp saw an opportunity to pursue a childhood ambition to become a pastry chef and she was quickly transferred. From there her career blossomed, with positions held at The Landmark Hotel and Mandarin Oriental, The Millionaires’ Club in the Bahamas, Chateau Lake Louise in Canada and the Sofitel in Melbourne, before returning to the UK to join Claridges. Today, Julie is the development chef and technical adviser for  the Callebaut Chocolate Academy. Louise Thomas speaks to Julie to find out more about the role of the pastry chef in our kitchens today. How did you become involved with Callebaut and why did you want to go into teaching? When I went into the kitchens I always knew I wanted to do pastry. When I left Claridge’s I went into teaching further education at Stamford College and from there I got involved with Callebaut. It’s the best of both worlds – chocolate and teaching. Why did you choose pastry over the main kitchen when first starting out? I loved making cakes and biscuits with my mother at home and my grandfather was a baker; I knew from an early age I wanted to follow in their footsteps. It’s the bit when you put it down in front of people and they go ‘wow’ – I always liked being able to do that. What advice would you give to pastry chefs who want to specialise in chocolate? There aren’t many places in the country that are working with chocolate on a large scale, so I would recommend finding somewhere that works specifically with chocolate. Today, with the Internet and platforms like Twitter, YouTube and The Staff Canteen, there are so many videos available to you where you can watch other people and learn at home. When I was starting out there was nothing like that; you had to go to the chef and he would show you, but today you can do it by yourself. Why do you feel pastry is such a specialised area? I think people are often scared by it. You have to be precise and you have to weigh your ingredients; if you don't, then things will go wrong. I think that puts some chefs off, but as long as you follow the recipe you’ll be ok. Once you understand the structure of that recipe you can start playing around with it and changing it to adapt to what you need. A lot of chefs in the main kitchen back away from it; when you’re making sauces you can add a bit more salt or a bit more sugar, but pastry really is a science. Do you feel pastry chefs from the UK are on par, with regards to standard and quality, with the rest of the continent? Yes, we have some great pastry chefs in this country. The difference is the training isn’t as good; we don’t have as many apprenticeships as there are available in France or Germany and our basic training is still at a lower level than the European colleges. Saying that, if younger chefs want to get into pastry I would recommend they go to a college that specialises in this area – and we have some great colleges in this country that can do that: Westminster Kingsway College, University of West London, Sheffield College and Birmingham. They all have great courses on offer; it’s about making sure you get into the right place. What support does the Chocolate Academy give to those in the industry? The Academy will offer training to those using Callebaut products in their kitchens. In addition, we offer courses for individuals; for absolute beginners to the experts. There is nowhere else that’s like it; our equipment and facilities are unrivalled, from our tempering machines to the marble slabs. The support doesn’t end when you leave the course; instead you become part of a community of like-minded people that are all there to offer support and advice when you need it. There are a lot of opportunities that are presented by the Academy. What are your favourite flavour combinations with chocolate? I’m quite traditional; I like the classics – chocolate and orange, chocolate and raspberry. Anything that will highlight the chocolate you are working with, rather than distract from it. My favourite chocolate is Callebaut’s 70% from Ecuador; it is quite a surprisingly fruity chocolate that has a definite banana and spice flavour profile. Which pastry chefs and chocolatiers do you admired and are there any pastry chefs or chocolatiers you are watching in the industry at the moment? I admire all pastry chefs! It’s such a hard part of the kitchen; they’re the first people into the kitchen, before the breakfast shift to get the baked goods ready, right through to the end of the day. Anything special that’s needed by the management, any amenities or ‘Thank You’ cakes, birthday cakes, it all comes out of the pastry – they’re a very special department! I don’t think management realise how much extra they get the pastry section to do. We have a really good group of chocolatiers emerging in the UK: Paul Wayne Gregory, Paul A Young, William Curley. And it’s a growing market; we see so many people coming through the Academy now that are wanting to start their own business. They may have been lawyers or nurses before, but now they want a career change and they have great ideas. They’re also bringing their experience of their previous industry to our industry; they’re bringing lots of new ideas to the chocolate world. What trends are you seeing in chocolate and patisserie as we move into the New Year? The classic revisited is still a big trend that will continue into the next year. People are putting their own twists on traditional patisserie, like a gateau opera. In chocolate we’re seeing people taking the traditional flavours from cakes and patisserie and creating ganaches or truffles with those ideas. It’s going back to things we’ve liked or grown up with and putting a modern twist on it.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th January 2013

Julie Sharp, Callebaut Chocolate Academy, Banbury