Thomas Leatherbarrow, development pastry chef, Pastry Development

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th August 2015
Thomas Leatherbarrow is a 20 year old pastry chef with his own development company under his belt. Having worked previously with the likes of Jason Atherton and Tom Aikens, Thomas realised that working 20 hours a day in Michelin star kitchens wasn’t for him as he wanted to develop his own style and create desserts that could be simple but ultimately executed well. We chat to him about winning Callebaut’s For The Love of Chocolate Competition, having a large social media following and what his future plans are. So Pastry Development is your own company isn’t it? When did you start it and what was the reasoning behind it?20150622_215800000_iOS I started it two months ago now and it was due to being in Michelin-starred restaurants and being with some amazing chefs but I saw a gap in the market for something that wasn’t really being pushed out there. There are a few companies that specialise in pastry but they don’t do the range that we do: they don’t do private parties, events and functions – they literally just to restaurants rather than hotels and bars too. What is your role and how many are there in the company? There’s eight at the minute, although that’s not including the culinary team which is 11, and my role is a member of the culinary but also head pastry chef and development chef as well as founder.
Top 5 desserts:
  • Strawberry soufflé from Roux at Parliament Square
  • Tarte tatin
  • The chocolate and mandarin dessert from the Private Club in Australia which is George
  • Vanilla ice cream – nothing beats it for me
  • Cherish Finden’s Japanese Bloody Mary macaroon
At only 20 it must be a great sense of achievement that you’ve started your own company quite young? Yeah, definitely. It was always a dream to have a company by the age of 21 and doing my own thing and my own style so it’s a real sense of achievement and pride as well that I stuck at it and managed to pull it off. You mentioned that you’ve worked in Michelin-starred kitchens so what made you want to move into the development side? I worked for people like Tom Aikens and Jason Atherton, doing 20 hours a day which wasn’t really showcasing my style and what I wanted to do. You obviously have to fit in with that brand and the unique style of that restaurant so I kind of woke up one day and something told me that now was the time to move into development. Is that what you enjoy most then, the fact that you can do your own style? Yeah, massively. We do menus for all different styles of cuisines and restaurants – from Japanese to French to middle Eastern – and it’s all specialising in desserts within that region. So it’s nice to be able to put your own style on something bespoke and unique for individual clients. When it does come to style are you bound by what the client wants?20150623_200936000_iOS It’s normally 75% to 25% split, they say what they do and I ask if they want to expand it or keep it as it is, so we work with the client to tailor for individual needs. But the desserts are all designed by myself and the culinary team – there are three of us that design menus and go out to the restaurants. How did you initially then get into pastry? My first position was as a pastry commis chef at 15 in a hotel and spa resort. I went to college whilst working there and also went to New York for the Culinary Institute of America to study for some time over there. I also went to Colchester Institute over here and was doing competitions in between and then got recruited to go and work for Jason (Atherton). Who would you say then has been your biggest mentor, looking back at those that you’ve so far worked with? Cary Docherty from Little Social, he was pushing every day and making sure I was doing everything properly. He really kept a sharp eye on me which helped me develop as a person as well as a chef. How was it working with Tom Aikens? It was busy, I was over in Canary Wharf and they do like 1100 covers a day with the deli and the restaurant; so it was quite a task but it was really good and was a good experience. 20150623_201302000_iOSIs that the most amount of people you’ve catered for? I’ve done a private catering event for 1500 people before, that was the biggest one I’ve ever done and not sure I really want to do that again if I’m honest. That was a sit-down meal with nine courses and that was quite difficult as there was only 25 of us doing it; but it was a new experience and it gave me the drive to keep doing what I love doing. What would you say your favourite thing is about pastry? The versatility of it – there are so many different things you can do with pastry, the list is endless. Obviously only being young I’ve only started to scratch the surface but the possibilities excite me with what you can do with flavours, styles and techniques. Is there anyone doing desserts that you look at and aspire to be like? There’s a couple of people that I’ve always followed: Cherish Finden from The Langham and Hideko Kawa as well. I worked with Hideko and she was a big inspiration to me, she’s incredible at pastry so working with her was a big achievement. Would you say there’s anything at the moment that could be called your signature?Page 6 Picture (Myself Pastry service) I would say the chocolate brownie – I’ve been making it since I was 14 so it’s been developed and tweaked but it’s probably one of my favourite dishes and the tarte tatins as well. I won London’s top ten desserts last year for a tarte tatin that I made. Talking about the brownie then, it won Callebaut’s For The Love of Chocolate competition but how easy was it deciding upon what to create for this competition? I really enjoy nostalgic desserts that take you back to being a child, eating brownies when I was little made by my mum, brought all those memories back. When I read the brief it brought back a lot of childhood desserts that family had made so it was quite a quick decision it was just how I was going to present it. Have you had the trip to Ghana already and if so how was it? Yeah it was back in April. It was incredible, if anyone gets the chance then they should do it. it was the most amazing experience I’ve had, it was such an eye-opener to see a completely different world. 20150623_201151000_iOSSo you’ve got a few following on Twitter so do you think that social media is important to get your name and work seen? Yeah absolutely. I’ve had Twitter since 2010 and it’s taken off the last few years, it’s helped me connect with people all over the world though. They’ve seen the work that I’ve done and it’s been shared between their friends and followers – so yeah social media has a massive influence on spreading out what you do and who you are. You’re part of the P & D Culinary team – what is that and what does it involve? It’s the pastry development culinary team and I’m also part of the London Committee for the Chef’s Forum and I’m a chef ambassador for three companies. As an ambassador you use the products from that particular company and go on trips with them and work in their development kitchen and attend events, festivals, showcases; you help promote what they do through the company. For the P &D Culinary team - when shows like ScotHot and Hospitality Show have the sit down meals we cater for those that have tickets for those events. We also do private catering parties so it’s events, launches, shows, festivals and we’re there to showcase but also promote as well.20150509_171404000_iOS Talking about competitions then are they something that you like to partake in regularly? The last one was for the For The Love of Chocolate but other than that not in the last couple of years but when I was training to be a chef and when I first moved to London I was doing a lot. Is it something that you would want to do more of in the future? I would maybe like to do Pastry Chef of the Year through the Association of Pastry Chefs next year but I judge a lot now rather than take part. I enjoy judging though as you can see a lot of different styles and take influence from a lot of their work. I’d like to find a balance to do both judging and taking part. Some of the chefs that come up through colleges in these competitions are brilliant and they wouldn’t normally if they hadn’t have entered a competition been noticed and recognised. So personally what are you favourite desserts to both create but eat yourself? I like simple desserts that are executed to a top level. I don’t need a 25-element desert to make it wow so it can be as simple as an ice cream really. 20150706_143110040_iOSWhere would you say your inspiration comes from? I could start a library with all the cookbooks I’ve got but I read through those, I look at different chefs and read where their inspirations come from to see if that can help me. What are your future plans for both yourself and the company? We’re looking to launch a new development kitchen that we can do workshops and demos out of by March 2016, but we just want to expand the company and make it go further than where it currently is. I would like to open my own pastry shop or bake house, a few spread around. Maybe one in the Caribbean, where most of my family are, one in England and one in Europe. It would be simple but nicely executed little desserts and pastries.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th August 2015

Thomas Leatherbarrow, development pastry chef, Pastry Development