Have you ever noticed peoples’ reactions to food display cabinets? They start getting excited, like they are having a food euphoria looking at what’s on show.
Biting into a petit gateau, they start saying out loud, ‘This is so much better then sex’. It’s visualising a product and imagining what you’re eating before even placing it into your mouth. That’s why sweets on display do so well, and in many cases are sold out by the end of the day. Customers like to know what they’re eating before purchasing. Sweets on show are eye-catching and effective… the colours, the verity, the general display.
I find it hard to look elegant at high teas and dessert buffet displays. They give me a funny feeling. My taste buds start exploding, my mouth dribbles, my heart starts beating, my vision gets blurry and my hands start breaking out in a sweat. It’s viewing something before touching. It’s wanting without having.
Not to be seen as overzealous, I always allow others to begin first while I elegantly sip my tea. When it comes to dessert buffets, I walk over in an orderly manner, wanting to try everything but not wanting to seem greedy. But in my quest to taste everything, I leave behind a trail of half-eaten cakes and verrines that have been scooped out.
For some, high teas are about a social outing. For others, it’s about the beauty and creativity of each individual dessert product, as well as the homemade jams that accompany the scones along with each tea. Working at Claridges Hotel in London, I discovered it was the forever-regular appearance of certain celebrities wanting another excuse to drink French Champagne and forget about the eating all together. At The Ritz hotel in London, it was about serving more than 700 people a day, using more than 50kg of flour for scones and producing about 1500 individual pieces of high tea desserts.
High tea can be split into three sections, each with its own unique product. The products displayed at Claridges Hotel really opened my eyes. Their Marco Polo jelly was imported from France, the clotted cream from England, the extraordinary petit gateau and verrines along, and tarts influenced by Pierre Herme thanks to Nick Paterson that made it come alive on the plate. The sandwiches all had different bread made on the premises to create the individuality of each sandwich and the amazing tea-soaked raisin scones that were created too. Each time tea was drunk, the cup was replaced with a new tea cup along with tea pot and French Champagne to finish it off. It was about elegance and being seen. There were 100 people a day, with each day sold out.
I have noticed some five-star establishments in Sydney haven’t caught on and are still serving biscuits, party pies and cupcakes. It should be about simple sandwiches, beautiful individual petit gateau and that amazing smell of hot scones with the homemade jam and the whipped cream.
Currently I’m doing three different petit gateaux as well as buttermilk tea raisin scones:
Coconut and feullettine dacquise, Malibu cream, tropical compote
Chocolate flourless sponge, chocolate mousse, mirror glaze
Vanilla and raspberry mille feuille
Vanilla pastry crème, caramelised puff pastry, fresh raspberries
Buttermilk tea raisin scones
Vanilla crème and homemade jams
Our sandwich bread, jams and the petit gateau are all made in-house. When I first walked into Bathers’, the chocolate tart, lemon tart and cake were all in the freezer ready for de-frosting. I’ve turned that around and allowed my staff to appreciate high tea and the importance of creativity.
We have tried to make Bathers’ a place to eat and enjoy a variety of teas, sandwiches, and buttermilk scones with tea raisins. I want my petit gateaus to become the ‘stars of the Strand’. It might not be as good as grandma’s lemonade scones, but they’re up there.
I love putting together our dessert buffets, but I hate to see people pull them apart. They are set up with gateaus and a centrepiece, verrines that are beautifully layed in a glass and a chocolate fountain that children somehow manage to get all over themselves and the table. If I’ve set up the buffet I get overly protective, but if i’m attending the buffet then i’m the one that makes the mess and destroys it. I just want to try everything look at each product and want to know how they made it or even be intread of the set-ups.
Desserts on show are all about the pleasure, but for pastry chefs it’s about the work, creation and technique to create a masterpiece. It’s about having the imagination to excite visually, to create an emotion of enjoyment no matter in what aspect it may be by doing the job you love.