Rikki Preston Pastry Chef Restaurant Martin Wishart Leith

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd August 2011
Rikki, give us a brief outline of your role; what you do on a day-to-day basis, number of people in your team and that type of thing? The number of people in the team can vary from a lot of stagiers or perhaps people from school, perhaps three to four at any one time. On a day-to-day basis at the restaurant we start off with making bread, ice creams, sorbets, puff pastry, anything basically; nothing is really bought in here so it's really a pretty full on job running the pastry at the restaurant. In terms of your background then, what's your background? Where were you previous to Restaurant Martin Wishart? I was at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh. I worked with Chef Jeff Brand at the Cameron House hotel many, many years ago when they had a Michelin star there. And that would have been the Georgian Room I guess? In the Georgian Room, yeah I think it was at its best back then; I mean obviously since Martin took over it came back to... You had to say that didn't you ((laughs)) "¦well it should be. Okay and did you, college Rikki? Apprenticeship? How did you train...? I started off the same as Martin (Wishart); it was a YTS scheme in the Glasgow Hilton. Which again back in the day was a very good hotel It was the first restaurant hotel to open up in Glasgow and at that time James Murphy was there and he was making his mark then after about three months he took me on as a commis chef. Where did you go from the Hilton then Rikki? After the Hilton I went to be one of the sous chefs to a place called the Puppet Theatre, which was a small restaurant in Glasgow and then after that I went to the Beardmore Hotel in Clydebank, then I travelled for a while, went to France, went to Luxembourg... As a pastry chef? Well I started off in banqueting, after that they put me onto pastry and pastry was something that I really enjoyed doing. So you actually started off as a chef? Yes. And then evolved into a pastry chef? Yes that's right. Would you say that's a route people should follow and then decide? I think they ought to be able to be a whole and rounded as a chef; people should be able to do every section. Otherwise I feel if you only target yourself to do certain sections in the kitchen then you're going to struggle later on especially when it comes to your turn to teach other people how to do pastry; which is a great shame because all our young people are very interested in it. Why is your profession "The Pastry Chef" such a dying trade or it appears to be? Why are there not more pastry chefs out there? It's a difficult question. I don't know if it's a lack of respect for what we as pastry chefs do or it's just more convenient to buy most of your stuff in now like your bread, your puff pastry and I think it's quite frustrating for a pastry chef when he only has a small table to work from in his section. Here at the restaurant I'm quite lucky because I've got my own pastry department, you know I've got the space to do whatever I want. I think with a pastry chef there's all that knowledge you have, doing pastry with your chocolate, your sugar but if you only have a small space to work from you are very limited and can get very frustrated very easily, because you are not doing work you feel passionate about. You know, with chocolate, for example, if you are in the kitchen and you've only got a small table and it's too hot, you can't practise that on a day to day basis so you need the right surrounding. Do you think we need to celebrate pastry chefs more? For example... Definitely. ...Martin Wishart, Andrew Fairlie they are all great chefs, however  the only Pastry Chef that we celebrate is maybe Benoit at the Manoir. But if you said to anyone, "Name me a high profile chef", they would probably not pick a pastry chef. Yeah. Do young chefs need a Pastry Chef to aspire to? I think that happens at most other places in Europe, specially in America; in America the pastry chef is quite a high profile job and the recognition you get over there is huge. Why it's not celebrated over here and I don't have the answer for that. But again I think it's just because you've got a limited space in a kitchen as a pastry chef and you can't do your chocolate, your sugar, like you did maybe 20 years ago, 15 years ago. Your sugar demonstrating, master pastries with your chocolate, your sugar, your pastillage if they keep reducing space something has to give. What do you feel is your biggest challenge now as a pastry chef? Is it finding staff? Is it, keeping hold of all those skills that you've already mentioned? Trying to get better. Trying to get better. And how do you do that? Do you stage...? You try to teach, you try to teach yourself, waking up every day, coming in and how can I make it better? How can I get myself better? I don't think staffing is a problem though because as long as you feed people with knowledge and teach them they always like to stay, they always like to come back, you'll always get more people who come back. You mentioned earlier on, lack of space in hotels, small benches; do you think that makes it less and less attractive for pastry chefs the environment? Definitely. There's a certain hotel in Edinburgh for pastry that's got the biggest space you can imagine, it's got everything possible, but it's all brought it and why that is I don't know. Why a pastry chef won't take that job is because they don't want to do it all fresh in house, it's more cost efficient if they do, it's a bizarre situation and most pastry chefs I am sure will tell you the same. So how long have you been at Restaurant Martin Wishart now? Coming up for nine years. Nine years; and how have you evolved and how has your food style evolved in that period of time? I think when I started I was quite sweet-toothed; whereas now it is kind of settled down and it's more about the flavour, it's more balanced I would say. And do you write the menus yourself? Do you write them with Martin? Well most of it, all the stuff I do is my own ideas but obviously I've got to pass it through with Martin and make it for him and let him taste it and see what he thinks about it. And I'll just take it from there. And where do you take your inspiration from? You know, what chefs do you look at? Who inspires you? I like the thinking behind Heston Blumenthal, but I think the science behind it all and the thought that goes into it. Well pastry is very scientific anyway isn't it? I think cooking in general now is; and that's a side that I like because you understand it a lot more and when you understand what you do it's more enjoyable, it's more pleasurable. Do you not think the whole miracular bubble has burst a little bit now? I think you have to be careful what you are doing because if you put too many things with the chemicals in it, it takes away the flavour from it but some can help and in fact it can speeds up the job, it makes it more easier and more attractive. So I think it's a fine balance about using too much and how to use it properly. Rikki  what places do you take inspiration from, you are very blessed here in Scotland, you have wonderful produce, fantastic berries... does that inspire you? Do you take influence from the seasons? Yeah, definitely yes. Maybes I always reckon on the season for Scottish strawberries, Scottish raspberries, it's quite exciting the time of season when they come in. And as an industry then, what does the industry need to do to attract more people into being a pastry chef? Give them the space and give them the tools and give them the money to spend on the tools so that they can be the best at what they can do rather than being limited all the time. I think that's what happens among pastry chefs, they get to a certain stage where they don't like to spend their money to buy all the equipment they need for them to take themselves to the next level. So a lot of let them end up going away to work for big factories or somewhere else. It's just a huge frustration for me. I think it's almost a Catch 22 isn't it with pastry chefs is, there's so few pastry chefs out there the ones that are out there can charge an awful lot of money. A hotel manager looks at it and goes, "Whew, we're paying that amount, we can buy it in for less," . Exactly. Okay, so you've been here nine years, where are you going to be in five years' time? Where are you aspiring to? What's your aspirations? What's your goals? Well when I first came here I always says to Martin I'd like to stay here to build his own empire and be a part of that, so I think we are slowly but surely getting there. Taking over Edinburgh! ((laughs)) Well we started off and we had the restaurant and now we've got Cameron House, the Cook School and all this and the new restaurant up the road's going to be opening soon. And how's that coming on? Yeah, very good. Are you going to have an influence in that? Well hopefully we'll go up and check over things, get an input on the menus, teaching staff, so hopefully. Well look Rikki, thank you for your time. Great to meet you and I wish you every success with the Restaurant Martin Wishart and all the new ventures that you've got coming. Thank you very much for your time. Thanks very much. Thank you. Rikki has had an amazing career so far. Connect with other professionals like him by joining our excellent site for free. Joining will automatically give you the opportunity to create your own personalised profile page, access our chef jobs database and connect with chef accessories suppliers. What are you waiting for?
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd August 2011

Rikki Preston Pastry Chef Restaurant Martin Wishart Leith