Martin Chiffers, executive pastry chef, Chiffers Ginza Mitsukoshi

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th July 2013
Martin Chiffers is a 45-year-old consultant pastry chef with his own shop in Tokyo. He is also the president of the UK pastry team and an accomplished  food photographer to boot. His career has spanned some of the biggest and most renowned pastry operations in the world: from Harrods to The Savoy, from Raffles in Singapore to The Intercontinental and Hyatt in South Korea. He has even built his own house. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out how he fits it all in… How did your background influence your choice of becoming a pastry chef? I grew up in Newlyn in Cornwall where my mum was the head chef of the Abbey Hotel which was owned by the ex-model Jean Shrimpton. We used to go the hotel and have our dinner at the back of the kitchen, so I grew up in a catering background. I started off working in antique restoration and reproduction and doing building work, as well as fishing – I was out on the boats for four, five or sometimes eight days at a time from the age of 14. I had quite a lot of routes I could go down, but overall I felt that cooking was the thing I wanted to do. It wasn’t pastry at first; I loved cooking Chinese food from the age of about 12. How did you get into pastry? I went to Cornwall Catering College where I did well at everything but was particularly good at pastry, then after college I went back to construction purely for the money because I could earn £250 a week rather than £90 a week as a commis; that was until I was walking down the high street one day in my building clothes and I bumped into one of my old lecturers who looked at me in shock and said: “You’re the best student who ever went through Cornwall College and you’re building now!” A few days later I read an advert in the paper for a pastry commis at The Park Lane Hotel in London and I started the following week. You’ve worked in some renowned hotels throughout the UK and the world in countries like Dubai, Singapore and South Korea. What were the particular highlights of your career up until now? When I worked at Raffles in Singapore from ’97 to ’99 it was the third best hotel in the world. We would do about 25 promotions a year with chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Alain Ducasse, and Joel Robuchon, all the most renowned chefs in the world, so it was an amazing opportunity to learn from all these great chefs. Now you have your own cake shop – the first ever by a British pastry chef in the renowned Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza, Tokyo; is opening your own shop something you’ve always wanted to do? it’s got to that stage now that I think it’s good for me to open my own business. Ginza is like 5th Avenue in New York or Knightsbridge in London and the Mitsukoshi department store is the oldest in Japan. We have a two-year contract with Mitsukoshi then we can open up other outlets in other parts of Japan. You also do consultancy work; what does that involve? It’s basically menu development, recipe development and whatever support is needed whether it’s recruitment or whatever the business needs. I did some work with Callebaut where I did a couple of teaching classes. I’m up there again tomorrow making a showpiece for one of their regular clients and I’ll also be helping and mentoring Ruth Hinks, the UK contender for the World Chocolate Masters in October. Is it true that you’re a bit of a renaissance man, doing all kinds of things from building your own house to magazine publication and food photography? I used to design and produce the quarterly magazine for the Association of Pastry Chefs (APC). I do a bit of graphic design and logo design; the APC logo was designed by myself and my uncle and I designed the UK Coup de Monde pastry team’s logo. Photography is one of my hobbies and food photography is my real passion. I built my own house when I left Singapore. My wife had just given birth to my first baby and I wanted to take some time off so I thought: ‘Let’s build our own house in Vietnam.” I chopped down 150 bamboos and three or four trees in the garden. I brought in some labourers and we spent a year building it. I spent a couple of days in hospital through dehydration because of spending full days working out in the 40 degree heat. A month after we finished, I was offered a job in Korea and we left it! We do still use it as a holiday home though! How do you manage to divide your time between all these roles? It gets difficult! Sometimes I work till four am. My body clock doesn’t really have a set system; when it needs to crash, it crashes. I crashed at about nine o’clock last night and woke up at three and started working again. I Travel a lot which adds to things. I’ve got consultancy jobs coming up in Kuwait and Sudan and a trip to Japan to promote Cornish pasties. Last week I was in Leeds then in Scotland a day later, then I was in Oxford then Cornwall so I did 1,300 miles in a week which was quite tough going! What are your goals for the future? I’m currently trying to self-publish a book of my own recipes designed by myself and with all my own food photography, taking desserts from all the different hotels I’ve worked in. We’re also doing Valentines chocolates for Japan at the moment; we’re looking at 140,000 pieces of chocolate going to Japan by the beginning of January for all the big-name department stores in all the big cities, so that’s taking up quite a lot of my time to say the least! Here are two of Martin's recipes: Spiced Mango Velvet Chocolate Eggs Raspberry Chocolate Bar  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th July 2013

Martin Chiffers, executive pastry chef, Chiffers Ginza Mitsukoshi