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Kitchen Confidential: What I learned in Cherish Finden's kitchen

Millie Simpson22 September 2016

At the Michel Roux Jr Cookery School we pride ourselves on our attention to detail. To make sure we had got the ingredients of our puff pastry and patisserie classes just right, we sent our pastry tutors, Bridget Colvin and Millie Simpson to spend a day with doyenne of patisserie, Cherish Finden. Their day started in the kitchens of The Langham London Hotel (home also to Cooking the Roux Way chef, Chris King.)

We asked Millie to tell us what they found out.

As a fan of patisserie and with a massive sweet tooth, I was thrilled at the prospect of spending a day with Cherish and her team and seeing at first-hand how she works magic with sugar and pastry on a grand scale. On our arrival, Bridget and I were presented with hats to wear with our chef whites and when Cherish discovered I hadn’t brought an apron with me, she produced a pristine pinny – monogrammed with ‘Cherish’ - from her locker and showed me how to tie it properly. Now that we looked the part, we were ready to join the team.

Bridget, Cherish and Millie

Bridget and I were assigned to prep a party for 125 guests in the banqueting hall for which Cherish had created an amazing dessert: a spectacular edible toadstool garden that showed off to perfection her witty, fun loving designs, her peerless patisserie skills and exacting standards of presentation.

We were put to work plating 125 portions of dessert and adding the finishing touches for the pass. Each plate was a fantastic confection of chocolate soil; meringue mushroom stalks; sugar-covered, choux bun mushroom heads - dotted with white icing and filled with a chocolate and a strawberry cremeux and raspberry coulis; and tiny edible viola flowers.

First, we dabbed each plate with glucose syrup to stick down the fine meringue pieces and dusted chocolate soil around the mushrooms; next, we piped filling into the choux buns taking care that each bun received a squirt of cream of identical weight. Other members of the team were busy preparing beautiful strawberry & pistachio macaroons, dressing tiny lemon sponges with exquisite rose sugar work and building miniature chocolate opera-style cakes. We got to taste a few mouthfuls, too!

There is a real buzz to be had from delivering 125 perfect plates to the pass and distributing them amongst the waiters in a beautifully choreographed dessert service. Only when the last plate had been served was the team satisfied that their work was done. It was a treat and a privilege to study Cherish’s stunning desserts at close quarters and to see for myself the level of skill and time required to achieve such perfection.

So, what did I learn?

Preparation is critical: Cherish and her team had been preparing for this event for weeks. There are always going to be some minor mishaps along the way so a level of preparedness and an ability to anticipate and deal with problems as they arise is essential. So too is clear leadership.

The young, friendly patisserie team is calm, dedicated and highly skilled and, taking its lead from Cherish, demonstrates incredible technical skill to construct elaborate sweets that delight the eye and the taste buds.

Patisserie at this level requires both patience and speed to assemble the finished product. Home bakers too, can make sure all the elements are in place to assemble and finish a dessert swiftly and smoothly.

Perfect patisserie depends not on magic but accuracy: precise weighing, measuring and timing; so much so that Michel Roux Jr considers pastry making to be a science.

Cherish and her team have elevated the science of patisserie to a high art form, and while the level of technical skill and artistry on display at the Langham are worlds away from home baking, Bridget and I will be reminding our students that the same simple rules for success apply: respect for the principles of pastry.

But perhaps one of the keys to her success, and one of the most valuable lessons we can pass on to our students, is the genuine pleasure Cherish takes in creating patisserie and bringing pleasure to others.


Inspired to learn the art of perfect pAtisserie?

Make your own pâte sucrée and crème pâtissière, all with the expert guidance of Roux chef Bridget Colvin.

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