Will Torrent, consultant pastry chef, Waitrose

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st July 2015

Having started at the age of 16, as the first work experience boy at the Fat Duck restaurant, Will Torrent has gone on to become a chocolate ambassador, author of (soon to be) three books, judge at various competitions and someone who is simply passionate about the industry.

From butchering a pig’s head with Heston Blumenthal, to winning the first Medallion of Excellence for a British Pastry Chef at WorldSkills to adding twists to lemon meringue pie and black forest gâteau, Will describes himself as a “classic pud boy” who can’t think of anything worse than a world without chocolate.

Starting at the age of 16 was it a clear goal at that age to work within pastry?

No, I always had that love for food as a kid and I wanted to be a chef, I wanted to go down the stars route and work in the top restaurants and that kicked it all off when I was on work experience shadowing Heston [Blumenthal]. It accelerated my love of food and that route of wanting to be a chef but it started my questioning of doing things just the norm and experimenting with flavours. But it was when I was training at the University of West London that I really clicked with pastry and I realised that I wanted to be a pastry chef.

RPS1674_RASPBERRYTART - 207

So that work experience with Heston at The Fat Duck what were you made to do there?

I remember the first morning I walked in through the big oak doors and Heston was in the kitchen, he introduced me to the team and he said ‘make sure you look after Will as he’s our first ever work experience guy’ and then told me my first job was to be on the butchery section. So my first job was butchering a pig’s head, which was an interesting job for a 16 year old that had never stepped foot in a kitchen before, then I was moved onto pastry. I was making the famous mustard ice cream and I suppose that was one of those moments as a lover of ice cream that made me question things. I would then do service and watch and learn techniques that I still use today. It was very much stepping into a world that I’d seen on TV and going ‘actually I really like this’, it wasn’t the shout-y, hot kitchen that I was expecting it was tense but everyone knew what they were doing and there wasn’t any need to shout and scream.

Signature dessert:                                                My apricot and rosemary Delice from "Chocolate at Home" is one of my favourites and is based on the dessert I produced whilst competing for UK at WorldSkills Japan 2007. I'm in love with the flavours of Black Forest Gateaux so I tend to create a lot of desserts or chocolates using this combination of chocolate, cherries and kirsch.                                                                                                                                                                                                                Desert island desserts:
  • Sticky toffee pudding
  • BFG from The Fat Duck
  • Bakewell tart
  • My Nans' chocolate fudge cake
  • Probably some vanilla ice cream to cool it all down on the desert island!

Do you have anyone who influenced you when you were starting out?

My grandad was a chef and his uncle owned a patisserie in Paris and then on my mum’s side it was very much home baking and always sitting down to eat as a family. There was always this professional cooking on one side and then the home baking the other, so those two probably mixed together made me realise that food was for me.

Where did you learn the majority of your craft?

I thought before I start uni I need to learn the basics and get some experience so I worked in a few gastro pubs. I needed to know how to make basic stock sauces in order to then gain some real experience. I then when I went to uni and I had my tutor as Yolande Stanley and something clicked and that was that.

Would you encourage others to do the same and follow the route you did?

Everyone is different, but I think for me the degree I did was 50/50, so half paperwork half practical and that worked really well for me; it helped me understand the benefits of business structure and finance. I also had a wide range of practical skills, so I didn’t just specialise in pastry I had my hot kitchen, larder and service as well. I’ve been lucky enough in the last couple of years to champion apprenticeships and seeing that if younger chefs aren’t academic and can’t get into uni then apprenticeships are the way to do it to work your way up.

You’ve won numerous awards throughout your career but is there one that you are most proud of?RPS Will Torrent 17.9

I think the turning point for me was winning the Medallion of Excellence for a British Pastry Chef at WorldSkills. I was training whilst at uni and it was all about putting my life on hold and putting every ounce of my being into WorldSkills. To go to Japan and represent the country in pastry and chocolate is still something that brings a smile to my face.

Do you still like to compete or do you prefer the judging role?

I’ve competed since but what I’m passionate about now is training and my excitement comes from giving someone a little piece of advice and then that person improving. If I can use my experiences to channel excellence in younger chefs then I’m helping guarantee the next culinary stars.

Obviously you know that things can go wrong so what advice do you give them?

If something does go wrong then it’s thinking how do you get yourself out of that situation? For me I’ve done the whole getting angry and annoyed at myself but that then doesn’t help you get to a better place. You have to change your mental state and with WorldSkills we had the training that would help us do that and I’ve used those techniques today because yes you can all get angry but it doesn’t help. RPS1674_PB&J - 186I’ve had a box of spinach thrown at me as I picked it wrong but I didn’t respond well to that and that way of channelling anger I don’t agree with. For younger chefs receiving that kind of attention from older chefs won’t help them in their own careers, it won’t help them grow and it’s not a good way of nourishing talent.

You’ve worked with some big names but is there any one in particular that you’d say you’ve learnt the most from?

I often put a lot of the way I am down to Heston and my culinary training down to Yolande but I do think I’ve taken bits from everyone. I feel lucky to have worked with so many top chefs but Heston and Yolande are almost my two mentors and big pillars of my upbringing as a chef. Then when I worked with Jamie Oliver on the TV show, spending a week or two in Italy with him, seeing him work from a business perspective and the way he surrounded himself with those that really believed in his goal and vision really made me go ‘no wonder he’s so successful’; that’s why he and his brand works so well.

So what are you currently working on and how do you split your time with everything you now do?

My main role is as the consultant for Waitrose, I help design and develop new chocolates, desserts and concepts, mainly on the Heston brand, so I work with him and his team to create those dishes but also with the Waitrose team.RPS1583 Will Torrent 18.9 Outside of that I’m an ambassador for Cacao Barry, so I teach at the academy over in Banbury, help demos and talks on behalf of them and then I’m currently writing my third book which is out next Spring. I have my finger in lots of different pies (no pun intended there).

How did the role with Waitrose come about?

I happened to meet one of the directors at my local church and he asked had I thought about getting into retail. At the time I was about to start with Thomas Keller at The French Laundry but that trip didn’t happen in the end so I got in touch with the executive chef at Waitrose who said we can’t make you a director but what about becoming a consultant - I’ve been there ever since, since 2011.

You like to scribble ideas down whenever you can, do you still have that level of creativity and do you think there will ever be a point where you will run out of ideas?

I’d hope I’d never run out of ideas, I’m someone who constantly eats out in different places and having different food experiences. When I was writing the second book I was trying to find this recipe in my head that I couldn’t quite find so I put it to bed. But I was having some rosemary sourdough toasted and I just put some apricot jam on it and I bit into the toast and had a ‘that really works moment’, so I put a bit of chocolate with it and this apricot, rosemary and chocolate combination just burst out and I incorporated it into a dish. Raspberry TruffleSometimes they come when I least expect it rather than forcing it, ideas can come from really whacky places and industries like fashion, photography or music and thinking how can I use that trend in a chocolate or a dessert.

Would you say the aim of your creations is to create something new or is it to put a twist on something classic?

For me it’s always the twist. Especially in a retail prospective it’s difficult to re-invent the wheel and come up with something new, I think what people want is that twist that taps into their nostalgia. Whether it’s a take on a Tunnocks Teacake or Jammy Dodger people want to connect with their childhood more recently rather than before when it was about pushing the boundaries of cuisine.

In terms of flavours what do you enjoy creating the most?

Anything chocolate based I’m becoming increasingly more passionate about, where it comes from and making it more sustainable in the future. I’m a classic pud boy – I’m a sticky toffee pudding, Victoria sponge, Black Forest Gateau but with a little twist; it’s not three steps on it’s one or two steps so people can still recognise that classic. We did a lemon meringue pie in the first book but adding that touch of yuzu into that lemon curd brings a whole new eating experience rather than just being a really tart curd the yuzu brings an earthiness to it.MACAROONS

How do you decide what to put into your books?

I always scribble everything down and then pull from there, as a team we shoot the book over a couple of months in two-day slots which means that I can go away eat somewhere and get inspiration. There was one where went to Jinjuu in London and there was a coffee, miso and cardamom dish and I thought that could work well as a twist on a classic coffee and walnut cake; adding the salted miso into a buttercream.

So what does the future hold, is there anything that you still have to tick off the list?

There’s always been a part of me that wants to have some kind of shop, whether a chocolate shop or a deli. I’m a great believer in serving food that people want to eat and giving good quality food and that might range from a sandwich to a trifle etc. And I’m also really starting to become more and more passionate about that side of chocolate, giving it the sustainability it deserves; I can’t think of anything worse than a world without chocolate. So I’m hoping to get involved with an education programme in cocoa growing regions to help train farmers.

If you like the sound of working as a pastry chef then head over to our jobs board where you will find a whole host of positions currently available.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st July 2015

Will Torrent, consultant pastry chef, Waitrose