Julie Sharp, technical advisor, Callebaut Chocolate Academy

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd August 2017

 Julie Sharp is a technical advisor at the Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Banbury.

After being advised by her college not to follow a career in pastry she promptly did just that and was soon baking her way around the world including places like the Bahamas, Canada and Australia and in kitchens like The Regent and Claridge’s. In 2004 she was awarded Pastry Chef of the Year from the Craft Guild of Chefs. She then went on to become a chef lecturer and from there took up her current position at the Chocolate Academy.

Can you give us a brief rundown of your role as technical advisor at Callebaut on a day-to-day basis?

There isn’t a day-to-day basis, that’s what’s great about the job. It’s really varied and every day it’s doing something different. Just going through the last month, I was at the World Chocolate Masters for a week in 

Julie Sharp dish
Julie Sharp dish

Paris; I went from there to Scotland to do the Scottish Chefs Conference then we came back down on the Tuesday morning for my old teacher, professor Huber’s memorial which I’d done the showpiece for; I had a couple of days here then I was in Ireland for a week with one of our customers over there doing demos for them.

What would a typical demo involve?

We’re always trying to show people new techniques, so it could be anything new that we’ve seen recently. A lot of people are quite scared of chocolate so a lot of the time we’re trying to demystify it, showing that although there are rules you have to follow, once you follow them it’s very easy to use and there are so many different things you can do with it. It really depends on who we’re demonstrating to and what we feel they would benefit from; so they’re really bespoke demonstrations for anyone from garden centres to top

Julie Sharp dish
Julie Sharp dish

chocolatiers.

How do you keep abreast of all the new trends in chocolate?

Next week we’re off to Amsterdam and Belgium for our global technical advisors meeting where we all get together and discuss trends going on around the world. I’ll be talking to the group about the top five chefs in Britain and what they’re doing and everyone else will be doing the same about their country.

What was your role at the recent World Chocolate Masters?

The technical advisors are the people that run the show so we’re making sure the chocolate’s tempered in the background, making sure the machines are full, that the contestants have got everything. My job was taking the competitors’ products, once they were done, to the photographers and making sure the

Julie Sharp dish
Julie Sharp dish

photographers got the best shots of the products. It was non-stop, in at 7am and out at 11pm and full on for three or four days.

>>> Read more pastry chef features here

What do you think the importance of the Chocolate Academy is to the industry as a whole?

As a company, training and working in partnership with our customers is really important. We now have 16 academies around the world – Mexico’s recently opened and Turkey’s opened last week – what we want is that people from all over the world, no matter where they are, can get chocolate training. We do 32 paid courses a year here, which are specialist courses ranging from restaurant desserts to chocolate sculpture, to showpiece courses, right across the range from beginners up. One of our most popular courses is Workshop 1 where we teach people to temper chocolate. Lots of people who are changing their careers come and do that course and become chocolatiers. We’ve had airline pilots, marine biologists, merchant bankers and lots of accountants!

Callebaut Chocolate Academy
Callebaut Chocolate Academy

Why did your college advise you not to become a pastry chef?

I’d always wanted to be a pastry chef. I was always making cakes with my mum at the weekend. I loved doing it. I loved seeing the excited reaction when you put something down in front of them; but back then there weren’t many girls in the kitchen and there weren’t many pastry chefs around the area of Leicester where I lived; so I think what they were trying to tell me was it wasn’t a great career to try and get a job in. But I went to work in a country house hotel, Rothley Court, in the larder section. Wiithin a couple of months the pastry chef left and I seized my chance and volunteered to run the pastry section.

How did you cope being thrown in at the deep end?

My boyfriend at the time bought me a Sainsbury’s dessert cookery book and I used that; it was brilliant, I’ve still got it today!

Julie Sharp dish
Julie Sharp dish

Of all the great pastry chefs you’ve worked with or trained under, who would you say taught you the most?

I would say professor Huber definitely. He’s the man that taught me the 706/3 advanced pastry course which I did whilst working at the Compleat Angler in Marlow. Even though I was coming from a little country house hotel and I was in the kitchen with people from The Ritz and The Dorchester, he would tell me I was as good as them and give me confidence. Now I’m in a teaching role so I’ve learned from his patience and his calmness and that the way to get through to people is to explain things to them properly and show them how to do it rather than shouting; that’s what I’ve always done as a pastry chef and as a teacher.

How did it feel to be named Pastry Chef of the Year in 2004?

Surprising! I was working at Claridge’s at the time and John Williams put me forward to it. I went along not thinking I was going to win. In fact I went on my own because everyone else was working! It was brilliant and really nice to be recognised for the work that I was doing.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of a career in pastry?

These days you can go out and get a job almost anywhere, so have a look around, see who it is you like then write to them and see if you can get a stage with them for a couple of weeks. If you prove yourself, they’ll often remember you when they’re looking for people for jobs. Also do research yourself; there’s so much on the internet these days that you can learn and teach yourself. And don’t forget to ask people for advice. We get lots of people calling here asking if we know anywhere they can go to get some experience. People are always willing to help, so don’t be afraid to ask. 

>>> Read more about Julie Sharp here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd August 2017

Julie Sharp, technical advisor, Callebaut Chocolate Academy