Martin Chiffers, Executive Pastry Chef, The Savoy, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th April 2012
Martin Chiffers give us an overview of your role here at the wonderful Savoy Hotel, starting with official title, duties, responsibilities, number in your team? My official title is Executive Pastry Chef, and my role at The Savoy is to manage a pastry team of 22 full-time pastry chefs. You realise that's bigger than many, many chefs have in an entire operation? That's probably three-country house hotels brigade. A team of 22 is actually quite small for me, as I've managed pastry teams of 80 plus in Korea, which are quite big teams.  Although my team at The Savoy is relatively small it is a demanding job as our guests’ expectations are very high. So the team consists of 22 full-time and two or three casuals that I have on a permanent basis when the banqueting picks up. We make all the desserts for the River Restaurant, the Thames Foyer, In-Room Dining and Banqueting.  Banqueting is a very big business for us here at the hotel.  Like any pastry section in a large London hotel we do Afternoon Tea in the Thames Foyer, and also in the Beaufort Bar.  So you can see it’s quite a large project and great fun, something I really enjoy. Having worked around the world, I feel that my experience and knowledge has helped to inspire my team, who now work very well together.  Having been at The Savoy for a year, I am delighted with the standards we achieve and with all the great feedback we receive from guests – especially for our Afternoon Tea. Martin on a busy day give us the numbers that you’re catering for? Banqueting can reach around 1500 covers. We have the Lancaster Ballroom where we can seat 450 covers, and the River Room can do another 160, plus other smaller private rooms. Obviously I want to talk to you about the Coupe du Monde give us an overview of what the Coupe du Monde is first and foremost? The Coupe du Monde and the World Pastry Cup it’s the biggest accolade I think any Pastry Chef can achieve, and it’s what we strive for in competitions. My role as President is to support and guide the team. Who’s in that team? It’s Javier Mercado from Westminster College and Nicolas Bouhelier from Le Manoir.  We still have to finalise the third team member.  In March we're going for the European selection and that's four countries competing! If we qualify then we’ll go for the final. At this point, we must say congratulations to Team UK as they have since won the European finals with: Best Sugar Show Piece – Team UK Best Chocolate Show Piece – Team UK 1st Place Gold Award – Team UK Martin where are the European finals held? The European finals are held in Paris and the world final is in Lyon, France on 27th and 28th January 2013. Talk us through your preparation then what do you do? How do you bring it all together? You say you’re President give us that in a little bit more detail? My role involves communicating with the organisers, and I have regular meetings with the team. We have been practicing every Saturday at Westminster College here in London. It’s great to get the support from Westminster College as they are the sole supporter as a training venue, and it’s great to work with them and use their facilities. Part of the practice process is about designing the show pieces that we’ll use, timing ourselves then reconstructing the piece, studying it and deciding how we can streamline what we do helping to make our work flow better whilst saving time and keep improving. Who funds that? Funding at the moment is from two sponsors - Ritter and Classic Fine Foods.  They have sponsored us with £5,000 and we are really grateful for that. Realistically we have estimated that we need about £30,000, which is a lot to find. So where is that other £20,000 going to come from? We are hoping that after we qualify for the European more sponsors will want to get involved. As it is the beginning of the year, and with the economy a little bit tight, suppliers are holding on to their money at the moment. When we qualify and we've received confirmation that we're going for the world final, we hope that more sponsors will be willing to part with some of their money and support us to the level we need. So if any sponsors are reading this they can get in touch with you and donate? Of course!  We're looking for sponsorship all the time. Obviously the Coupe du Monde people may or may not know it’s the pastry equivalent of the Bocuse d’Or Two years ago Simon Hulstone was involved in that and he did a phenomenally good job in terms of raising the profile of it how can you guys emulate that? I mean it’s worldwide, it’s a very prestigious competition and yet here in the UK people go, “What?” I agree with you, it needs to be promoted more and that is the role of the UK Club Coupe du Monde.  and of all of us in the industry. How do you raise the profile of the competition? One of the challenges is how the media tend to just focus on the chefs and cuisine. I think that the pastry get left behind and I think it’s sad.  In Asia pastry attracts lots of media attention and I believe it needs to be the same in the UK.  However we are one of the few hotels in the UK, which has a store selling our cakes and chocolates.  The fact we have a shop and that it’s located in one of the busiest public areas of the hotel, with a show kitchen, demonstrates the importance that we place on our pastry team. Do you think that's because you've got 22 pastry chefs here, yes okay it’s much smaller than what you’re used to but that's massive, as I said, compared to a lot of places and a lot of places don’t even have pastry departments any more. Sure, but The Savoy has always had a great food reputation, and we also generate a lot of revenue with our pastry products. Do you think that's part of the reason? It could be, but I think even Asia just focuses on pastry more as a whole. The magazines cover pastry, for example, and there is just more media exposure. I've hardly seen any publicity specifically about Martin Chiffers joining The Savoy and what I am doing, although Afternoon Tea and Savoy Tea have received coverage. Do you think including ourselves, us as a media, we have a responsibility to get behind pastry chefs, promote it, and raise the profile of the competition? I'm sure, of course! I think it’s going to help our industry and help our profession greatly if the media get behind us. What’s a realistic aspiration for the Coupe du Monde? I know you've got people like Benoit Blin behind you as well from Le Manoir, obviously you want to qualify. We're aiming to be first.  I think with the team that we have, and the confidence we have in what we are doing, we can come in first place.  If we come second we’ll still be happy.  Definitely for the European selection and then for the final, the top seven, but it depends on sponsorship, because without the money it is very difficult. Is that the main thing you need from sponsors is it hard cash or is it equipment? We need financial support to buy equipment and the props for the set up, and it is expensive. Obviously the more sponsorship we get the better we can represent the UK as a Country and highlight pastry as a profession. I think without this support we might not get the good position we deserve. Are the Academy providing a PR company to promote it? Not really. We've have the support of Richard, from Ritter who I have appointed as the Promotion Manager, because he did this role last year and did an excellent job.  He is also committed. I've recently completed building the website myself and I will certainly promote it through my web links, and my own website, to try and get more publicity for the Sponsors and ourselves. Last question then how do you combine the two roles You've got a very demanding role here, the Coupe du Monde’s going to take a huge amount of your time as well. I’m very lucky to have the support from The Savoy, it is very important. I have a full team now so my life is a little easier, not much though!  I like to be busy and I'm not the kind of person who just sits down and watches TV.  I have to be active and even when I get home I'm doing recipes. Yes, it’s challenging, but it’s great fun and I enjoy every bit of it! Martin Thank you and Good Luck My pleasure!
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th April 2012

Martin Chiffers, Executive Pastry Chef, The Savoy, London