Baker of the Month: OONAGH SIMMS

Baker of the Month July 2021

Baker: Oonagh Simms
Bakery Business: The Marshmallowist
Location: Leeds, UK.
Social Media: @themarshmallowist

An exciting time living and training in Paris as a Chocolatier led Oonagh to take the UK by storm with her ultimate gourmet marshmallows. This month we feature our neighbour Oonagh Simms – owner and lead baker at The Marshmallowist. Get to know Oonagh…

1. Describe your bakery business:
I whip up gourmet marshmallows and mallow teacakes in unexpected flavours, from Raspberry and Champagne to Cannabis and Pink Grapefruit. These are sold in premium retailers such as Harrods, Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason. I originally trained as a chocolatier and pâtissière in Paris before moving back to UK and starting my business from a Portobello Road Market Stall.

2. Describe your kitchen:
Our bakery is in an Old Mill in Farsley, Leeds and funnily enough is just next door to Chef Works Europe! It’s a really beautiful space – it has a beamed ceiling, swathes of natural light, far too much floor space, room for all my mixers, an organised larder and a walk-in freezer. I’ve only been in here just over a year so I’m still in love with it.

Mallow Tea Cakes like never before by The Marshmallowist, Oonagh Simms.

3. Favourite Chef Works item and why?
I’m so smitten with my personalised Gramercy Chef Coat – it achieves the unenviable task of making me feel stylish whilst in the kitchen and despite me covering it in sticky, gooey mallow it washes to look brand new again.

The Marshmallowist, Oonagh in her favourite Gramercy Chef Coat.

4. First job:
For a short amount of time I was a terrible waitress in Paris! I was definitely not suited to being on that side of the kitchen. It was serving pretty average food to coach loads of tourists in the Latin quarter in the height of summer. I eventually left mid-shift and took an overnight train to Nice where I spent the rest of the August holiday on the beach instead.

5. Favourite cookbook:
The Flavour Thesaurus. I LOVE this book. When I first started whipping up marshmallows I loved being inspired by cocktails or unusual desserts pairing herbs and spices with seasonal fruits. The marshmallow recipe I created is perfect for carrying flavours because it doesn’t use egg white and is soufflé like in texture so you can taste the different layers and notes of the flavour develop as you eat them. This book really helps you think about flavours in this way.

6. Your awards/career highlights:
There have been quite a few – my book deal with Penguin/Random House. My CBD marshmallows going viral after being eaten by Philip Schofield on This Morning. Moving into my new bakery and getting to work with my sister every day.

7. Your baking inspiration:
Not so much baking, but my chocolatier inspiration is Pierre Marcolini. The 6th arrondissement in Paris is where I was seduced by chocolate stores and where I first discovered Pierre Marcolini’s tiny gem-sized Carrés of chocolate, carefully stencilled with the origin of their cocoa bean, such as ‘Ghana’, ‘Brazil’ and ‘Venezuela’. Buying a box of chocolates from him meant unwrapping layers of glossy black tissue that were encased in heavy black boxes (the sort that ‘shoosh’ when you prise off the lid), tied up with a flourish of silk ribbon and handed over in a rope handled carrier bag. I was inspired by every part of this.

Marshmallows and Tea Cakes come in exquisite packaging making the perfect gift.

8. Your speciality bake:

9. Favourite dish to eat:
This would change all the time, but as it’s a hot July day I can only answer with a lovely big Italian salad – perhaps with beetroot and orange and fresh fish, preferably on a beach with a chilled glass of wine!

10. Weirdest thing you ever ate:
I’m not really sure there is any food I would consider to be ‘weird’, I’m quite open- minded when It comes to food.

11. Favourite ice cream flavour:
Pistachio gelato.

12. Favourite family recipe:
My mum is not a baker, however she is a wonderful cook. She never writes anything down or uses recipe books, but everything she makes is delicious. My parents love having a proper starter and main course at weekend dinners and meals can last for hours. I love being around their table and will happily eat anything they serve up because it’s always amazing.

No explanation required… 

13. Favourite wine:

14. Who would you most like to bake for?
My friends and family.

15. And who would you least like to bake for?
Anyone who isn’t adventurous with food or doesn’t like experimental flavour combinations. I like people to be open and interested with tastes and food!

Oonagh at work with her trusted Kitchen Aid.

16. Favourite things to do when not baking:
Walking my dog Alma in the woods behind my house.

17. Your latest project:
Christmas planning-we’re expanding our chocolate range for Christmas, so my days are a whirl of flavour and packing decisions.

18. Favourite city?

19. Your greatest indulgence?
Buying chopping boards and ceramics for my kitchen at home!

20. And finally, your all-time best baking tip?
‘Two Hands’ I’m always surprised at the amount of people who don’t use both hands when baking or cooking. They should always be as busy as each other.

Photography: Stephen Bootle.

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