Mark Tilling, Squires Kitchen’s Master Chocolatier

The Staff Canteen

Mark Tilling is Squires Kitchen’s master chocolatier and tutor, and is the winner of BBC2's Bake Off Creme de la Creme 2016.

After securing work experience at his local hotel aged 16, Mark Tilling has gone on to become a  chocolate ambassador, represented the UK twice at the World Chocolate Masters with Mark being placed seventh in the world in 2009, an author and tutor.  Juggling a part time job whilst studying to become a pastry chef, Mark’s career went from strength-to-strength. He was crowned the UK Chocolate Master from 2006 - 2010 and his innovative creations and creative eye have earned him a whole host of awards and accolades throughout his 20 yearcareer span.

Mark is now the Squires Kitchen’s master chocolatier and resident tutor teaching others the skills needed to succeed in the world of pastry. 

We recently caught up with Mark to find out how he got into teaching, why he feels at 39 he is still learning the art of the profession and why he would like to learn more about pulled sugar work. 

Mark Tilling
Mark Tilling

Did you always know you wanted to be a pastry chef?

Yeah my grandparents used to cook quite a lot and duringseasonal times they would do a lot of desserts so that’s when I really got into the pastry section. I always really knew that I wanted to be a pastry chef. I’m very creative and that’s what I loved about the pastry section because you can be creative with desserts.

How did you get into the industry?

I did my work experience at school in a local hotel and the head chef at the time recommended I go to Southampton City College so I actually started working as a pastry chef before I even went to college! When I was studying I used to work part time at the hotel but I did hotel management first because they said it was always good to have a good basis of how everything works in a hotel and then I went into the pastry side of things.

Who was your biggest influence?

I would say my old head chef Martin Nash when I first started, he actually died of cancer last year which was a great shame but he was a great person and he was the one that really pushed me in the right direction and would never let me fail. He would always give me the opportunities. After working with him he actually ended up leaving the hotel and going to the same college as me to work as a pastry chef. So I spent a good four to five years working with him and we became great friends. He was a great influence on my life and the way it panned it out. He was always the person that I would go to and talk about different things. I would ask him whether I should do this, or work there - he would always push me in the right direction.

From 2006-2010 you were crowned UK Chocolate Master and became the highest placing

Blackcurrant and Lime
Blackcurrant and Lime 

candidate from Britain when you represented the UK in Paris in 2009, how did that feel?

It was a great honour, even to just represent your country againstthe top 20 in the world! It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in my life but it was well worth it. It was great, well I mean it’s great looking back now but at the time it wasn’t so good it was very stressful!

How did you end up as Squires Kitchen’s Master Chocolatier and resident tutor?

I think I wanted a little bit of a change, when I was at the Lainston House Hotel I did a few chocolate classes in their function room. I actually got a bit of a bug for it and I love meeting people and talking to them to find out where they’re from. I ended up loving teaching so much. One of the reps from the chocolate company, Callebaut, which was our rep at Lainston House Hotel was also representing Squires Kitchen and they were looking for someone to come and do classes so I ended up going to Squires Kitchen to teach, which I love.

It must be quite rewarding teaching up and coming pastry chefs?

Absolutely, we do courses here for everyone, from the general public to pastry chefs already in the industry to even outside catering companies. They’re all willing to learn something new and I love teaching them. They all have great passion when they come here and it’s great to see them go home with some lovely cakes or gateaux’s or pastries.

How many students attend already working in the industry compared to beginners?

It really depends on the course because we do more advanced courses as well as more simplistic ones. But I would probably say about half and half on all the classes. I had a two day entremets class this week and out of the seven people there were probably three or four of them that either came from the industry or had their own outside business.

Squires Kitchen
Squires Kitchen

We had a couple of chefs, someone with a catering business and a lady who had a cake business and wanted to improve on different cakes. I also had a couple of novice people who liked to watch all the TV programmes and just wanted to learn the professional side of it. It’s a bit of a mixture really and that’s quite nice because they all start talking to each other and at the end of the two days they’re all swapping email addresses.

Can you tell me a bit more about the courses do they provide the necessary skills for them to get a job afterwards?

I would say so, there are some people who have been on several courses because they want to experience different areas. I’ve had some people who have come here quite young and want to get a bit of experience before they go off to college. Then there’s some people who have just started at a hotel and want to improve on their chocolate work because they don’t have the time so by coming here it gives them the opportunity to have a bit of a play and learn some new skills. I try to give them as much information as possible about how you change one dessert into several by changing the flavour here and there, changing chocolate, changing the presentation - you can actually get several different recipes from the one dessert just from experimenting.

What would you say is the hardest thing for a young pastry chef to learn?quote mark tilling

I think they need to learn as much as they can. They just need to go on courses and learn more. They just need to keep learning and practising. That’s what I love about my job, I’m 39 now and I’m still learning. Someone will come out with something new or someone will come out with a new way of mixing this or putting this into that and new flavours combinations. They just need to be out there, searching the internet, looking at new trends, watchingall the professional chefs in London, to really get an idea of what’s new.

You are now an ambassador for Callebaut chocolate in the UK, can you tell me a little more about this and what that means?

I became the ambassador after I finished chocolate masters in 2009 and I’ve been an ambassador ever since. It means a great deal for me, it’s lovely to work with such a great company. I do some courses at Callebaut’s academy in Banbury which I really enjoy doing. It’s great to work with people up there because you get more chefs there and it’s great to meet other people and I love the relationship we have. We get to learn about new products and test new products and just get to work with them closely for recipes for their website and we do world ambassador meetings. Every other year all the ambassadors get together from around the world and we have a big conference. I’ve been to Ghana with them and Brazil, so they really want you to learn about Callebautand where everything comes from.

Chocolate Showpiece
Chocolate Showpiece

You have obviously won numerous awards, how important are competitions for pastry chefs to get their name out there and showcase their creations?

I think it’s really important. One of the best things is to get out there and show what you can do. It will open up numerous doors throughout the industry and it will makes you learn because you might do something you think is really nice and your mum says ‘yeah it’s lovely’ but until you get a professional person looking at it and judging in the right way, then you will learn from that. I did my first competition whilst I was at college. I did the Plated Dessert at Hotelympia and I didn’t place anywhere and I thought my stuff was really good but when I looked at everyone else’s it was really crap. So I had to learn from that and go, ‘right I really need to deal with this now’ so by the next time I did it, and I was working at the Lanesborough in London at the time, I got a gold medal and best in class. So it didn’t stop me and that’s the most important thing, it doesn’t matter if you don’t get anything, bronze, silver, whatever, you just have to keep learning and go for that top spot. So don’t give up.

What are the biggest challenges pastry chefs face?

I think the biggest challenge is keeping up with the trends. You have to keep looking at new ingredients coming through from different countries. We really need to be out there looking for what’s new around the world and what people are doing and put that into where are businesses are to keep them modern and new. There’s nothing wrong with classics, but we still need to be on the pulse of what’s new.

Why do you feel Pastry is such a specialised area?

Banana Macaroons
Banana Macaroons

I would say because there’s a bit more science behind it. Everything has to be weighed correctly, a standard recipe has to be followed – it’s not like a little bit of this, a little bit of that, it’s a very structured area and needs to be very organised as well. If you get the temperature wrong by a degree it can ruin the whole thing so there is a lot of science behind pastry and a lot of reasons why things work and don’t work.

What are your future plans?

I’m always looking out for doing more, I just love dipping my toes into competitions, I really like a challenge every now and again. I think it’s really good to have that challenge as it pushes you. I’ve done a lot of chocolate now so I would like to do a bit more on pulled sugar work which I haven’t had as much experience in. I’ve done a little bit but I would like to learn a bit more.  

Are you interested in a career as a Pastry Chef? Find all the information and jobs available here

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th September 2017

Mark Tilling, Squires Kitchen’s Master Chocolatier