Julien Thevenot, Group Executive Pastry Chef, Rhubarb Food Design

The Staff Canteen

Julien Thevenot is group executive pastry chef for Rhubarb Food Design in London.

Growing up watching his uncle make a range of delicious baked treats Julien quickly fell in love with the world of pastry. Following an apprenticeship in an old pastry shop in Strasberg, France called Koenig pastry, Julien went to Paris to pursue his dream leading to a stint at the three Michelin starred, Le grand Vefour.

As group executive pastry chef for Rhubarb Food Design Julien represents over 800 different events each year from Ascot Racecourse and Royal Albert Hall to the restaurants at the Sky Garden to airport lounges.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Julien to talk about his career, being inspired by social media and creating a cake that took 12 Thai fighters to carry.

Julien's pastry team
Julien's pastry team

What attracted you to a career in pastry?

My uncle was a pastry chef and then went on to become a chef. I remember watching him making chocolate mousse or strawberry posset at my Grandmother’s house and teaching her how to do it better. I would stand next to him and wait for the dirty pots, ready to lick the bowl clean. My love for chocolate was a key reason for getting into pastry.

I started my pastry apprenticeship at Koenig pastry, a very old pastry shop in Strasbourg. Everything was made in house, from the blanched almond to the praline. We would spend hours removing the skins from almonds one by one, peeling and cutting rhubarbs for the whole year when it was in season, working on very old equipment but strong and reliable – this is something you don’t see much anymore.

It taught me to have love for the product and pay attention to the details. It confirmed my desire to become a pastry chef and learn more about the job. So I went to Paris at 17 knocked on the door of Le grand Vefour, a 3 Michelin star restaurant, where my life and career took a sharp turn.

Can you talk us through your role as group executive pastry chef at Rhubarb?

I love my job right now. The pastry team have been with me since the beginning and these guys have been through everything with me and are all part of the development. It’s a very young, talented and hungry team. They are my strength at work and they are very much the group pastry chefs - they can go anywhere at any time in the business which keeps them excited.

It’s a very challenging role which requires a lot of passion and dedication. I lead the Pastry Event division in London and Cranleigh, which represent around 800 private events a year, from the smallest private one to the contract catering such as Goodwood Festivals, Ascot Racecourse, or Royal Albert Hall.

I work on developing, training, and creating new menus for the pastry team across the whole group which includes three restaurants at the Sky Garden, Gallery Mess in Chelsea, Rhubarb airport lounges in T5, T3, city Airport, AA Lounges, Emirates flight catering.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?

Consistency is the key. In such a large business, if you manage to create a certain chemistry between you and your team members and set common objectives and goals, I believe you can succeed. I am trying to build a team that know and respect each other and set some cross training between pastry chefs and the venue teams so that everyone is on the same page. Passion, respect and dedication are very important to me.

What has been the largest event you have had to cater for?

Goodwood festival of speed represent 600.000pax in 4 days. It is exciting and exhausting at the same time!

Info bar

Patisserie Koenig, stasbourg (Vincent Koenig)
Le petit Nice, Marseille (Gerald Passedat)
Le Grand Vefour, Paris (Guy Martin)
L’arpege, Paris (Alain Passard)
Pont du Ciel, Osaka (Guy Martin & Pierre Gay)
Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok (Norbert Kostner)
Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai (Holger Jackish)
Sheraton Shukumvit, Bangkok (Giuseppe Fornillo)
Conrad, Maldives (Robert Mujagic)
Caprice Holdings, Singapore
The Slate, Phuket
Pasticceria Ciok, Milan (own pastry Shop)
Rhubarb Food Design

Signature dishes  

I Love my tiramisu
Tarte Tatin
Chocolate & raspberry Cremeux, Raspberry & red bellpepper sorbet, black olive crumble

Top 5 desserts that they would take to a desert island

My mother in Law’s tiramisu (she’s Italian)
A bowl of ripe bananas with melted chocolate
Lemon Tart
Coffee eclairs
A bag of dark chocolate!

What’s been the most unusual or elaborate creation you have been asked to make? And what’s the one you’ve been most proud of?

When working for the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, we made a 150th Celebration cake that was 4x4 meter 6 meter high. It was challenging but amazing and beautiful at the end. The cake was brought to the terrace of the hotel carried by 12 strong Thai fighters walking on the water of the swimming pool - thanks to a special path created for it.

Bread & Butter Pudding   Honeycomb Hot Toddy ice cream

Bread & Butter Pudding and

Honeycomb Hot

Toddy ice cream

Being the pastry chef for the Thai king on his 60th accession to the throne was something I will always remember, it lasted four days. We made his favourite boat with chocolate and gold.

It was about 30 kilograms. This piece is now in his palace kept by his niece Princess Sirivannavari because she loved it and became a friend of mine. I have such love for this country, the culture and people .

You’re quite active on social media, why do you think social media is a good platform to showcase your creations?

Rhubarb being seen as just a caterer is wrong, it’s more of a hospitality company. Showcasing our creations allows me to show people what we do and what my pastry team is capable of. Catering is not just about mass catering, its challenging, exciting, beautiful and full of very talented chefs. Social for me is so important to show we are on trend and that we have fun at work - it’s also a brilliant platform for feedback. I also use it as a source of inspiration thanks to the many talented pastry chefs around the globe using social.

Tiramisu Sphere, Kalhua Gel & Baileys ice cream

Tiramisu Sphere, Kalhua

Gel & Baileys ice cream

Would you advise young chefs to choose earlier to specialise or experience all aspects of the kitchen then choose?

I went through a different process where I had to choose right from the beginning. I believe young chefs should follow their heart and take time to understand what they really want. Our industry is difficult and full of sacrifice. The most important thing for me is understanding if you want to be a chef first.

I worked in pastry shops, a 3 Michelin starred restaurant, hotels, resorts, and a Royal Palace. I just discovered another part of my job three years ago at Rhubarb, with catering and Hospitality development. We are forever learning - we just need to know what we want to learn at the right time. We do this job because we love what we do, because we love the product, the smile from the guest, the team work – even when it’s hard.

Why do you feel Pastry is such a specialised area?

It’s technical, even though the main kitchen has become as technical as pastry lately. It’s a different approach. I like to associate pastry to the architecture. We design, we plan, we create, we structure, we build, we sample. There is always research of the best way of building and how to assemble the different textures.

Where do you find inspiration for your creations?

On social lately. But memories, childhood and my current environment are a permanent inspiration to me. It could be a moment, a meeting, an object, flavours or a book. As a chef your mind is in a permanent stage of creativity. I do pick a lot of ideas during my travels back to France or Italy. Two hours of brainstorming and dreaming of something better. People around you are also always throwing ideas at all time! They just wait for you to execute it. Discovering other cultures, spices and flavour is also one of the main sources of creativity. I try everything.

Do you remember the first dessert you ever made?

Not really. But it would definitely be a chocolate mousse. I used to eat tonnes of it as a kid.
The first one as an apprentice I definitely remember. I had to make 2000 Strawberry tartlets on my first day and the chef would check on me every 5 minutes to make sure they all looked the same!

Do you have a favourite patisserie book you like to use for recipes?

I read Thuries magazine. A French monthly mag which follows the trends and features the best chefs and pastry chefs around the best restaurants and shops around France. I like to open a good old note book from previous jobs as well. It brings back memories and dishes you made in the past.

If I had to suggest a pastry book it would definitely be ‘Patisserie’ from Christophe Felder. It’s an encyclopedia of pastry.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th January 2018

Julien Thevenot, Group Executive Pastry Chef, Rhubarb Food Design