Sarah Barber

Hotel Cafe Royal, Corinthia, Me London
& Dinner by Heston Blummental

“The glorious world of chocolate”

Next up in our #ChefWorksWearers blog series is leading Patisserie Chef, Sarah Barber.

Sarah’s been working as a pastry chef for over 18 years, creating deliciously cutting-edge desserts at restaurants including Hotel Cafe Royal, Corinthia, Me London and Dinner by Heston Blummental.

Inspired by her Grandad who was a professional chef, she’s been passionate about food for as long as she can remember. After two years in the industry, she moved into patisserie and has been refining her style in five-star hotels and Michelin Star restaurants ever since.

Not content with just cooking, Sarah is also actively involved in schemes to encourage young pastry chefs to enter the industry and has also written a pastry-related book, Patisserie Perfection published by Chef Media.

Here she talks to Chef Works about all things chocolate-related, including her favourite brand, the increasing use of chocolate in savoury dishes and the urgent need for more young patisserie chefs to enter the industry…

Why is chocolate so important to you?

Its versatility and the various mediums you can deliver using it. There are so many different brands and types of chocolate you can choose from to create a huge array of different dishes. It’s a really exciting ingredient.

Which chocolate is your favourite to work with?

Valhrona – it’s super high-quality and the range is huge – there’s several types of dark, milk and white chocolate to choose from. So, if I want a really bitter, dark chocolate there’s something and if I want a milk chocolate, there’s about eight different types to choose from. Valhrona’s large range means there’s so much scope and that makes working with it brilliant.

How does UK compare to other countries when it comes to chocolate?

I think we’re getting better at patisserie here in the UK. It’s still not like France where there’s a patisserie on every corner, but we’re getting there.

The like of GBBO, Bake Off Professionals and Masterchef have massively changed things and elevated the profile of chefs, including patisserie chefs. The perception of the industry as a whole is much better now, and more people know what a patisserie chef does.

I think it’s a good thing that chef-led programmes are on the TV all the time now – the increased profile of the industry is a great thing as it encourages more young people to become chefs.

Pastry chefs are a dying breed, so we need to encourage more young people to enter the profession. However, it’s a tough industry and many restaurants don’t nurture their talent and expect their chefs to do ridiculous hours. When you find a chef with great potential you should nurture them and really look after them. Teach them everything you know and then try to keep them as long as possible. Making people do 19-hour shifts – a regular occurrence in our industry – is damaging and not sustainable. I think we need to re-evaluate how we do a lot of things. If we tackled that as an industry, then I think we’d attract and keep a lot more talent.

How do you know what chocolate to source?

I look at what the business needs and what its demands are – not all establishments require the finest quality – I’ve been lucky enough to work in high-end kitchens, so I’ve always worked with top quality chocolate.

What’s the marker of the high-quality chocolate?

The taste and flavour profiles. Valhrona Manjari chocolate is internationally known for its red fruit tones. Therefore, to create an amazing chocolate and raspberry mousse, I’d use that.

For each chocolate in the range has profile tones, so you can match them with other products to create a huge amount of flavour combinations. There are not many brands that do that or have such a large range – even high-end high street places have limited ranges that are catered to the mass market. True, high-end chocolate is a very niche market.

Tell me more about the mediums you work with when it comes to chocolate?

There are so many things you can create using chocolate, but some of the things I do include moulded chocolates, bonbons, chocolate show pieces, petite gateau, entremes, Danish pastries, croissants and chocolate decorations.

Tell me more about the mediums you work with when it comes to chocolate?

I’ve recently just worked with and mentored a team who I entered into Bake Off The Professionals. They had to create themed chocolate show pieces and I was closely involved in the process. The things they created were amazing!

Where are you planning to take chocolate next?

I think the most important thing to focus on is training and developing young chefs – teaching them about chocolate, it’s quality and what you can do with it. It’s all about helping develop their skills in the areas of chocolate and patisserie.

What dessert would you like to be remembered for?

Reinventing the Black Forest Gateaux – it was for part of my Sarah in Wonderland range of desserts for the The Cafe at Hotel Cafe Royal, London’s first dessert-only restaurant. It was all about new takes on modern classics and reinventing them. The reinvented Black Forest Gateaux was called the Mad Hatter and it was made using chocolate mousse and Kirsch-soaked cherries moulded into a sphere, like a chocolate bomb. It came with a Kirsch and cherry drink on the side and was really theatrical.

Who’s your chocolate inspiration?

A dominant person in the industry right now is Cedric Grolet, the French executive pastry chef at Hotel Le Meurice. He uses great ingredients and techniques and inspires a lot of young pastry chefs.

What do you think about chocolate being increasingly used in savoury dishes?

It’s a huge trend at the moment. When I was at Hotel Café Royal, I had an amazing bakery team who did beetroot croissants and they were a massive hit.

People are definitely experimenting more and more when it comes to fusing savoury and sweet flavours – there’s lots of vegetables being paired with sweet flavours and meats too.

I went to a tasting event recently and they made us try a whole range of weird flavour combinations all involving chocolate. There was spinach and chocolate, as well as celery, beetroot and truffle. All of them worked together really well, so it’s a trend I endorse!

Thanks to Sarah for taking part. Visit www.patisseriebysb.com for more info on Sarah Barber.

Photography: Michaela Strivens

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