Lewis Wilson The Ritz London

The  Staff Canteen
The Ritz London serves nearly 400 afternoon teas a day alone. Combine that with a large restaurant, private dining and a baker-tourier section making 15 loaves of bread, a hundred brioche rolls and a thousand scones a day to name but a few, and you have a massive pastry operation. Lewis Wilson is the newly-promoted head pastry chef who, together with his young team of 15 pastry chefs, has to come to grips with this daily logistical challenge. The Staff Canteen caught up with 31-year-old Lewis to find how he is coping. Head pastry chef at The Ritz is quite a position of responsibility. Could you take us through the career path that led you here? After my apprenticeship and a brief spell in London, I went to work in Lyon for eight months in Auberge de l’Ile which was my first real taste of pastry. It was a small kitchen with 6 of us in total and I was put on the pastry section. I didn’t really speak the language so there was a lot to take in and I was still a 1st commis at this point. After my first week they got their second Michelin Star so it was pretty hectic! I came back to England and spent three years at Deca under a chef called Jeremy Brown who now heads up Home House. I then moved to Marco Pierre White’s Mirabelle and I asked the head chef if I could do both pastry and kitchen and he very emphatically said no I had to do one or the other, so I chose pastry. And was that difficult, to have to choose? Not really, once I was forced to make the decision it became quite easy. I realised I enjoyed it more. Playing with sugar, chocolate, cream, ice cream; you can’t go wrong. Plus at Mirabelle it was the first time I got to work with a proper pastry chef, Yannick Le Jalle. That was really where I started to pick up things. When he was younger Yannick was a baker so he taught me all sorts of things including how to make brioche. After a year there I moved to The Ritz. That was six years ago and I’ve just been promoted to head pastry chef this January. Over the 6 years I have been here, Regis Beauregard, the previous Head Pastry Chef, has taught me so much and really helped me become the chef I am today And now that you’re head pastry chef, how do you divide your time over your many responsibilities? I tend to split my rota between the restaurant and afternoon tea so I’ll come in at 7 or 8am and check all the mise en place. I’ll move around all the different sections and basically just talk to everyone and make sure everything’s going smoothly. When it comes to lunch I’ll get involved in service and make sure that runs with ease. Whilst it’s all about taking a step back and overseeing everyone else I do enjoy the hands on approach, working with and alongside my team. I’ve got 15 people on my rota so it’s quite a lot. If I’m on afternoon tea I’ll oversee that service and I’ll finish my shift between 5.30 and 8pm, depending on what jobs need completing. If I’m in the restaurant I’ll finish around 11pm. Afternoon tea in itself is massive; last year we were averaging 397 teas a day, it’s a huge operation. That’s a lot of teas! What have you found to be the greatest challenge about suddenly having to be in charge of all this? As a sous chef or chef de partie, you’ve always got someone there to help you out or take some of the pressure away. But now everything’s down to me and it’s a big place, you know. But I am really enjoying the responsibility and managerial aspects. Having spent so much time here and worked in all the sections it’s given me a big advantage. The other thing is being responsible for creating dishes for everything, not just one section; it’s quite a lot. We’ve got four different afternoon tea items; two cakes; seven desserts in the restaurant; we’ve got banqueting; canapé menus, and chef likes to change quite regularly so it’s quite a challenge but at the same time a lot of fun. How do you balance some of the more traditional expectations of what customers expect from pastry at The Ritz with wanting to move forward with more modern recipes and styles? I realise there’s certain things we can do here and certain things we can’t but we want to be as modern and as forward thinking as we can, whilst still maintaining our classical values. What we try to do is dishes with clean, classic flavours presented in a modern way. And chef [John Williams] likes strong seasonal influences so we’re always thinking of new ways to use the latest ingredients. What are your goals for the future both for The Ritz and yourself as a pastry chef? In terms of the restaurant, we are really pushing for our Michelin star so we’ll continue working towards that. We’re very focused on training as well. I’ve got a very new team here at the moment so for me it’s all about spending more time with the younger people and bringing them on, developing them to be the best they can be. We’re definitely moving in the right direction. And what is it that motivates you the most personally? Is it pushing for the star or bringing on the new guys or the quality of the dishes…? I think it’s a combination of everything but quality of the food is really important for me. When you get a really good dish and people like it, it’s the best feeling. If customers are happy and liking what we do, we don’t have to change a lot. The star would be fantastic and, as I say, we will continue to work towards it, but it’s also very important to keep pushing ourselves and changing little things here to keep evolving and bettering ourselves. In terms of training, when you see someone that you’ve trained and all of a sudden you can leave them on a night to run a 50 cover service all on their own, that’s an amazing feeling that you’ve helped them grow.    
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th April 2013

Lewis Wilson The Ritz London