Luke Butcher, pastry chef and sous, Purnell's

The Staff Canteen

Luke Butcher is the pastry chef and sous at Glynn Purnell’s one Michelin star Purnell’s in Birmingham. He has worked in Michelin kitchens since the age of 15 starting at Adlards in Norwich where he worked with Tom Kerridge before moving with him to open the Hand and Flowers. After leaving the industry for a year to take a break he returned and went on to do trials at Per Se and the Fat Duck before taking on his current role. The Staff Canteen spoke to Luke about his love of pastry, working with Tom Kerridge and what made him walk away from the kitchen at the age of 19. purnells11 low res

Have you always wanted to be a chef?

Yeah, my mum is a really good cook which she got from my grandad. It’s something I’ve always been interested in but when I was at school I didn’t think I’ll be a chef – I just liked doing it at home. When it came to work experience I went to Adlards in Norwich, it was a Michelin-starred restaurant but I didn’t know what a Michelin star was! I met the eccentric owner David Adlard, who is a bit of a legend I’ve come to discover as I’ve grown up in the industry. I ended up working for him part time and then when I finished school I started working full time for him.

Did you have an interest in pastry early on?

There were three guys in the kitchen at Adlards, including head chef Roger Hickman, but the guy who was on pastry walked out and never came back – I started and was told to go on pastry. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but slowly but surely I got better through mistakes and help from the other chefs. A year later Tom Kerridge came to be head chef, I was looking to leave but after a day working with Tom I thought ‘wow this guy knows some serious stuff’ and as he had worked on pastry a lot when he was younger he had a good pastry brain. he taught me new techniques I didn’t even realise I could do and from then on I really loved it.

Tom Kerridge obviously made an impact as you left Adlards to go with him to Hand and Flowers?

Yeah, I went with Chris Mackett who was the sous chef at Adlards at the time. I’d never heard of Tom when I first met him but his whole philosophy on cooking was completely different, it was really cool and he had a completely different style. I learned a lot from Tom and I owe a lot to him, he still looks after me to this day.luke butcher low res I was on garnish at the Hand as I wanted to come off pastry, I’d been on there for three years and I wanted to see the rest of the kitchen. But I left just before they won the first star.

What made you want to leave?

I had grown disheartened and fallen out of love with the industry. I moved back home to recollect myself and a friend of a friend needed help in a bakery. He wanted me to work full time but I said no so he said I could have weekends off and work daytimes.

Was it the hours that you had enough of?

I’d been doing it since I was 15, when all my mates were going out I was working. By the time I was 19 I was burnt out. I worked at the bakery for a year and having the time off I wanted and living a "normal" life, I got bored. I went to Paris, ate out and realised I wanted to be a chef again – I asked Chris if I could come back to the Hand, he was sous at the time, and he said I had to phone Tom.

That must have been an interesting phone call?

Ha! Yeah, I was nervous to say the least, but Tom said I could come back but as a commis. It was a massive dent to my ego and I had to halve my salary at the bakery to go back. After about three months I got promoted to chef de partie, I think Tom was testing me to see if I really wanted to be there. The pastry girl left and I was asked to cover pastry until we moved into the new kitchen and set it up in there – I was supposed to come off after that. But we had a chat and Tom didn’t think I should, pastry chefs are a dying breed and he said ‘at your age your better than I could ever be’. I was there for another five years and in that time Tom brought Damien Allsop in to train me and help develop a new pastry menu at the Hand. It was a massive eye-opener and the guy is a bit of a genius!

So how did you end up at Purnell’s?

I was offered a job at Per Se after doing a trial there but due to circumstances at home I couldn’t accept it, I needed something in the UK so I so I went to the Fat Duck for a job trial, it was an amazing place but I could only give myself year there as my heart was in Birmingham. So Tom phoned Glynn Purnell who needed a pastry chef. I started in 2010 and it’s been an incredible journey since. I’m Glynn’s second in command now, I’m sous and pastry chef so I have to come off the pastry a bit and keep an eye on the kitchen from the pass. purnells50 low res

What is Glynn like to work with?

He’s a brilliant chef and a brilliant bloke. He's done so much for this industry and still inspires young and seasoned chefs today! What goes on the menu is a combination of the two of us and Glynn will always have an input when it comes to new dishes. With the Pastry elements on the menu I constantly work on new things, always developing, I'll talk with Glynn and we bounce ideas off each other. I may bring a dish up that’s 90% there and he'll add that last element or input to complete the dish.

And how do you encourage young chefs in your kitchen to give pastry a go?

They are all really keen and they like to watch when you are doing something and ask questions. They all know because it’s something we drum into them here, that pastry is a skill they should all learn as it will make them a better chef. They all understand that so once a week one of them will make the bread so the guys on pastry don’t have to do it and they learn how to do it. It means they get to learn a lot of different techniques such as salt baking in pastry not just in salt. They all understand that so we like to put a chef de partie on the pastry for a 3-4 month period to learn and to develop them to be a more complete chef. From this they learn new techniques which will help them on any section in the kitchen.

What is it about pastry that you love?

It’s the creative side of it, on pastry it’s almost a work of art and it has to be visually impressive. Actually making pastry is very different to any other side to cooking – it has to be so perfect and spot on. You can’t make any mistakes or it will not work.

Can you remember the first dessert you ever made and was it any good?

A crème brulee, it was the bain marie method so we cooked them in the oven and I think it was ok! At the time the oven we had at Adlards was held together with a pasta folk and some tin foil. It had its hot spots so out of 12 ramekins of brulee you would have ten that were good then two in the corner where it was a hotspot would start to scramble. You come to appreciate what you have now when you are in a brand new kitchen!luke butcher lemon meringue

The pastry section isn’t usually a chef’s first choice, why do you think that is?

A lot of chefs used to look at it and think pastry isn't for real chefs – if I want to be a hardcore chef I need to cook meat and fish, and set fire to things! It’s changed a bit now, a lot of the guys in the kitchen here like to get on the pastry and learn things like making different types of bread. A lot more people now want to do pastry, if you look at the pastry chefs out there on twitter and social media and what they are creating, it’s immense. I also think the skills you learn in pastry can only help you on the rest of the sections.

Some top names in the industry have been keen to make pastry more popular including Benoit Blin at Le Manoir and Tom Kerridge who is judging a professional version of Bake Off. Do you think this will help make pastry more popular?

It really needs people like Benoit to fly the flag, they are the guys who have some oomph behind their words. Even Bake Off which I don’t get the time to watch myself helps to encourage young people to bake and do it well – it’s made it more mainstream and accessible.

Are there any sides to pastry you really don’t like doing?

Not really. I think the egg shelling for the crème brulee egg shells probably gets quite monotonous – shelling five trays of eggs every day and separating them and washing them, something the guys don't really like but I don’t do that anymore. I’ve shelled enough eggs in my five years here – I refuse to do that! But it’s a signature dish here so it’s always going to be on.

The crème brulee is a signature dish but do you have a dish you enjoy making the most or that has evolved over the years and you always go back to? IMG_5779

We have a simple lemon meringue pie on at the minute. When I first put it on last year the meringue was different the tart case was also slightly different – I’m doing a Swiss meringue and baking it this year so it’s warm rather than cold. It gets served in the restaurant, one between two, with a pistachio ice cream and a beurre noisette powder. I think it’s better now.

What are your plans for the future?

Earlier in my career I wanted my own restaurant, but over the years and being there from the  birth of a new restaurant, seeing the impact it has on your life and family around you made me think again. The stress levels are through the roof because it's not only your whole life it’s those people you employ and have responsibility for! The obvious aim is always going to be to push the restaurant on to the next level and maintain that standard constantly. We are very proud of what we do at Purnell's and believe in the journey we create for our customers. We will continue to push on in the right direction!        

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th March 2016

Luke Butcher, pastry chef and sous, Purnell's