Laura Crouch, head pastry chef, Marylebone Cricket Club, Lord's

The Staff Canteen

Having been in the role only three months pastry chef Laura Crouch has worked at some of the biggest stadiums covering tennis, to football to rugby for sometimes up to 8000 people. Having not originally wanted to work in pastry Laura is now head pastry chef for Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) located at the iconic Lord’s Cricket Ground.

Famed for its afternoon tea Laura tells us about her role, why she thinks there is a shortage of pastry chefs and how taking the traditional Victoria sponge off the menu was a big mistake. Tell us a little about your background, was pastry something you always wanted to work in? I started off in a kitchen when I was 15, working weekends making the sandwiches whilst still at school. From there I decided to go to college to learn to be a chef. I didn’t originally plan on being in pastry, I was working in a hotel and they said 'we’re short in the pastry section can you go and cover'; there is where I got my eagerness for pastry. But my first position in somewhere well-known was at Stoke Park Club, where Chris Wheeler had just started a few months before.

Who influenced you when you were starting out and when did you realise pastry was for you? I think it was the way I learnt about it myself after getting books and things, I liked looking at all the Roux work. I was living quite close to The Waterside Inn and their family fascinated me. Also especially at the beginning, it was Chris Wheeler who helped me out. He was my first head chef after leaving college and I was there for a fair few years.

Signature Dessert: The ‘snicker’ chocolate brownie, peanut butter mousse, salted caramel and chocolate - I first did this dish in New Zealand for the rugby world cup, where it was served in a glass. It has since been done as a plated dessert, as a mousse and a parfait. It has also been done in large cookie jars that have been served on buffets. Desert island desserts:
  • Black forest gateau
  • Lemon tart with fresh raspberries
  • Blueberry Eton mess with vanilla ice cream
  • Pimms jelly with cucumber sorbet
  • S’mors

I took a gap then and went travelling in Australia and then I came back to Stoke Park, so Chris was really good and we still keep in touch now. From there I worked around in some of the sporting venues where I learnt different things from different people.

Was it ever the intention to work within catering and in sporting events? I started off doing hotels but then over in Australia I worked at the Australian Open. One of the guys I met there said do you fancy doing it back in England, so I decided then to try out doing what they call ‘the circuits’: Wimbledon, Chelsea, Arsenal and Wembley, that wasn’t necessarily within pastry. There were certain bits in pastry which I helped out in but that was kind of doing everything. But when people got to know my background they then asked me to set up a pastry section at Chelsea. So from there I brought some pastry into my role.

What is about pastry that you enjoy the most? I think it’s how you can be more creative than in most other sections, I know that’s changing now in the modern times but before it used to be pastry where you could be that bit more creative with your garnishes, colours and flavours used.

Equally what do you find most challenging? Nowadays it’s doing pastry in big venues, so it’s getting those other chefs, who aren’t pastry, working to create it the way you want it.  It can be challenging sometimes as some of them aren’t quite as delicate as you’d like them to be.

So talk about your time at Eden Park where you were catering for 8000 people. Basically I went over on a working holiday visa to New Zealand as their head chef at Eden Park had previously been a head chef at Wembley Stadium, so I knew him from there. I gave him a call to see if he needed help with the rugby world cup. I went and set up the pastry section for that, so you had all the boxes around the stadium, the grandstands and the player’s needs to all cater for.

When you do have to cater for that amount of people how many do you need in your team? It varies, you normally have a team of four core people and myself. You then have others helping out with plating up and different things, it also depends on how many restaurants you’re sending people to and how mixes of desserts you’ve got going on. So if you’ve got 8000 of one dessert you don’t need as many people as if you’ve got 8000 covers with ten different desserts going on.

So how did the position with Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) come about? I was told about it by a couple of the chefs that work for me. They’ve been working up here for years doing the media and they just came in saying that the head pastry chef had left and I thought maybe I’d give it a go. As you can tell I’ve done many a different sports but cricket wasn’t one of them, so I quite fancied doing the cricket and I’d always heard good things about here. It also attracted me that it was in-house and it wasn’t a big company. Having worked for Compass for quite a few years and DNC Catering, I thought it’d be nice to go back to somewhere in-house.

What is your role and daily responsibilities? On the test matches we have the plated restaurants, the buffets, the media, the boxes and we also send the desserts over to the officials; so we cover for everyone in the whole stadium as well as the afternoon tea. The afternoon tea though is obviously what cricket is quite famous for, having their tea breaks. Out of season as well we still have all of the gala dinners that go on and because of it being a private member’s club we have the afternoon teas that happen on Sundays once a month.

Where were you before MCC? I was the head chef at Wembley Arena. I had been doing that for over a year but I had decided that I was missing pastry. So when the guys came in and said this position has opened up I thought I’d give it a shot.

As the afternoon tea is so iconic at Lord’s do you feel this limits your creativity? Some of it is quite limited and they do like the traditional sense of it. I took Victoria sponge off for one of the afternoon teas in the Long Room and changed it with a carrot cake and people nearly had a heart attack; so I quickly put that back on. There are certain things that have always on there so people like them to stay. At the moment I’m trying to do different things but because of how they see it and how traditional it is I have to keep it that way, I can’t do anything too crazy. If I change things a little bit at a time it won’t matter so much.

How many can sit at afternoon tea? We do it in The Long Room once a month on a Sunday and it’s done in two sittings with about 125 each sitting. As the year’s picking up it’s been fully booked and I believe at Christmas we might even do three sittings as there are that many people that come. But luckily we don’t have it when test matches are on.

So what is your favourite thing in pastry to create, if you had to choose? I quite like experimenting with the afternoon tea bits and the small cakes, I do also like decorating cakes in my spare time; not many these days though as I don’t have the time. I also like the logistics and the challenge of how you’re going to produce something and get it around a stadium to that many people.

Do you think there is a shortage of pastry chefs in the industry? Yes I do, there aren’t many of us out there anymore. A lot of companies are making desserts now so people are going in for that more rather than having a pastry section, so less people are going in for pastry chef positions as there aren’t that many jobs.

Do you think the section as a whole needs more awareness, should there be more encouragement to go into this sector? I think a lot of people are scared of pastry. When you go to college it’s not something that’s on your semester, it’s something you can do optionally, so as a lot don’t touch on it at college they then won’t go out looking for those pastry jobs; so there is a lack of awareness. If perhaps pastry chefs went in at colleges to speak to the students we might find that more people come through for those jobs? People wouldn’t then just think of cheffing and hot and cold sections, they’d know a bit more about pastry.

Would you encourage people to travel around and undertake short courses to expand their knowledge? I think travelling is great, you get to see how different things are done in different countries. When I went to New Zealand they only have one sort of cream, they don’t have double, single or whipping cream, it’s just cream. So from there you then have to change your recipes to work with the fat content, the first time I made something I thought why isn’t this working, so it’s about knowing your ingredients. It is educational going to different places as you also see the different styles from other countries, as  they get a lot of different fruits and their seasons are very different to ours you can learn a lot from travelling overseas.

What are your future plans, where do you see yourself in five years? I would hope that I might still be here and that I’d have made some bigger changes, I don’t think in a few years you can make the difference in a place the size of this as you can in a smaller establishment. I think each cricket season it will be about changing one area, whether one year it will be about upping the afternoon tea and then doing the plated restaurants the next or the buffets and boxes then after. I would still like to be here and making an impact.

If you like the sound of working at this iconic venue then Lord's are currently recruiting over on our jobs board here

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th May 2015

Laura Crouch, head pastry chef, Marylebone Cricket Club, Lord's