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The Pastry Chef's Tale – Anthony Millon

When and why did you start cooking?

I was interested in cooking from the age of 5 or 6 years old and spent lots of time learning to cook with my grannies in the Champagne region of France. One came from the city and the other from a farm so I learned how to cook both savoury and sweet in different ways. From an early age, I also used to eat out in restaurants regularly and loved it, so this is also where my passion for cooking stems from. I used to really love following illustration cookbooks when I was younger and so would definitely recommend these for young children.

What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?

I knew I wanted a professional career as a chef and gained lots of hands on cooking experience in many restaurants throughout France and Belgium including pastry shops. When I was 15, I started a cooking diploma at a cookery college in the north of France, where I learned all the basics I needed. I then went on to do a diploma in pastry so was studying for five years in total.

Where have you worked professionally as a pastry chef?

My career really began when I started working at then Michelin star restaurant Le Chateau de Divonne, on the border of Switzerland. I spent three years here, starting as a commis and then a chef de partie. We had to make everything by hand from the bread and Danish pastries to wedding cakes so I learned and improved many of techniques; it was a great experience.

I then moved to the five star plus property, La Réserve in Geneva, which is part of a luxury hotel group. I spent three years there as a sous chef and gained experience in their five restaurants, which all had a unique cooking style from luxury brasserie to fine dining.

I made my way up to Scotland for my next role, where I was pleased to take the role of head pastry chef at five star The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, which then held 1 Michelin star. I was responsible for training and developing staff and also improving standards and procedures so it was a challenging and very rewarding role that I spent three years in.

Since June 2011, I’ve been head pastry chef at The Vineyard, and have built up and trained a great team who I enjoy working with on a daily basis. I love everything we do here at The Vineyard from making the desserts in the restaurant and afternoon tea to wedding cakes and impressive seasonal displays.

What is your pastry philosophy?

My philosophy is to keep it simple, light and fresh. I always start with one main ingredient and then work around this and only have a maximum of three flavours. We try to use local produce when we can, but its also about using the best ingredients.

Trends you see emerging in the industry now?

Since the rise in popularity of TV Chefs, often I see young chefs coming into the industry thinking that it doesn’t take long to become a fantastic chef, but what they need to recognise is that they have to learn the basics first and understand common techniques, before they can become a great one.

What has been the proudest moment of your career?

What I love the most is working with my team and creating stunning chocolate and sugar work displays for Easter and Christmas for example, and seeing the team working away on each individual section of the display, and then their sense of achievement and how proud they are when it all comes together.

Describe a culinary technique that you have either created or borrowed and use in an unusual way.

What I really like to do is use a water bath to cook rhubarb at a slow temperature with the skin on. I cook it from raw in a vacuum bag, which helps to infuse the herbs and spices more easily.

Who’s the coolest chef you’ve worked with?

I’d have to say Daniel. He’s so friendly and easy going - we work really well together. He trusts me, respects what I do, and doesn’t question me, which is so important.

What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?

Train in a good cookery school and choose the first restaurant you work in very carefully, somewhere that’s know for it’s classic cuisine and has a hard working ethic. If you can survive for at least two years, you’ll have a good grounding and it will set you up for the rest of your career.

If you could have any chef cook for you, who would it be and why?

I think it would have to be Regis Marcon, a 3 star Michelin star chef in Grenoble, France. Benoit Vidal, who was Head Chef at Divonne, worked for him for many years and had nothing but respect for him.

If you could go anywhere for culinary travel, where would you go and why?

It would have to be Spain. They are beginning to open some fantastic pastry shops and so would love to visit them and sample their range of fresh pastries. I’m also a big fan of charcuterie too so Spain is good place to go for this I think!

What are your top three tips for pastry success?

You need to have patience, weigh your ingredients properly, and trust your instincts.

What are a few of your favourite flavour combinations?

Crushed strawberries, crème fraiche, a squeeze of lemon and bit of sugar – a perfect combination. My granny used to serve this to me all the time when I was younger so it brings back good memories. 

What are your most essential tools?

To use your brain and think logically.

What are your favourite cookbooks/magazines?

Le Journal du Patissier, which is a monthly magazine. It always seems to feature new trends, interesting recipes, competitions and famous pastry chef news. Ganache is another magazine that I enjoy reading from time to time.

Where do you like to eat pastry?

Ladurée, a French luxury bakery and sweets maker house, which is known as the inventor of the double-decker macaroon, and also one of Pierre Hermé’s pastry shops in France; he’s been universally acknowledged as the king of French pastry with shops in Tokyo, Paris and London.

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