Sarah Frankland

Sarah Frankland, pastry chef and chocolatier

Sarah Frankland

Pastry chef and chocolatier Sarah Frankland's philosophy is rooted in balance. As executive chef at Surrey's Pennyhill Park, she makes sure desserts blend sweetness with sour, bitter, salty and umami notes, an ethos shaped by her years working alongside the likes of Angela Hartnett, William Curley and Graham Hornigold.

There are few first jobs more fitting for one of the country’s top pastry chefs than working in a chocolate shop (and few which sound as idyllic to the rest of us). But that’s how Sarah Frankland got her start, a Saturday job at a local shop which not only did away with earlier dreams of becoming a fashion designer, but set her on the right path. Putting its influence simply, she says: ‘I realised that chocolate makes people really happy, so I decided I wanted to be a chocolatier.' Today, she’s that and much more, an accomplished pastry chef with a wealth of experience, deep understanding of chocolate and desire to help younger generations of chefs thrive.

Though she had her sights set on all things chocolate, Sarah soon discovered she’d need to study pastry as a whole and at sixteen moved to London for an apprenticeship at Westminster, landing her first job at Angela Hartnett’s Menu at The Connaught (‘I knew I wanted to work for a top female chef’). Having earned its first star in the same year, it was an intense first introduction to the professional kitchen, but one Sarah took in her stride. ‘I was peeling and coring apples, shaping tartins, peeling and dicing boxes of pears and segmenting oranges,’ she smiles. ‘They were the basic jobs, but I used to push on and ask the pastry chef to teach me other things.'

Angela’s then-head chef Neil Borthwick (and now husband) recommended Sarah work with chocolatier William Curley and, after two and a half years with The Connaught, that’s what she did, staying for almost seven years, making the stock for his three London shops, working across the business as it expanded and eventually becoming head pâtissier. Under William’s tutelage, Sarah says she developed her appreciation of the complexities around chocolate. ‘It isn’t just milk, white or dark,’ she explains. ‘There are lots of different origins and terroirs; it’s so much like wine in some respects because how and where the cocoa is grown will change how the chocolate tastes. It grows very wildly, you can’t make a plantation of it, and it picks up on the aromas of the plants around it. Cocoa from Madagascar, for example, often has a red fruit taste, while Peru can be more tropical. It really depends.’ Around that time, Sarah embarked on stages in Strasbourg, Paris and Tokyo, deepening her understanding of the pâtisserie there.

Next, she joined The Hakkasan Group (now the Tao Group), working alongside Graham Hornigold initially at Yauatcha Soho in 2013 (where she’d been a loyal diner) and, later, Yauatcha City as well. It was a time of freedom and being able to find her own style, which is today rooted in balancing what she calls the five elements of taste; sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. ‘I say William taught me to cook, but Graham taught me about taste,’ she says, ‘and thinking about the whole meal. Sometimes in pastry we can concentrate on our aspect and don’t think about what’s come before.’ At tastings, Sarah says, Graham would have the team try chilli sauce first, to reflect the dishes diners might have had. ‘Balance is important in all areas, but the main kitchen tends to concentrate on it more. In pastry, a lot of people focus on the sweet side, but you need salt, you need acid, you need umami. We need to talk more about seasonings in desserts.’ Sarah points to her white chocolate, lemon and miso sorbet as an example – it's not billed as having lemon or miso on her menu, the ingredients instead used as seasonings to balance its sweetness.

In 2016, Sarah moved out of London to join Pennyhill Park in Surrey as its head pastry chef. In August 2022, she took an unusual step back into the main kitchen when she became the hotel’s acting executive chef for three months, before taking the role on permanently from October. She oversees all its food (with the exception of Steve Smith’s Latymer), including the conferencing and banqueting, Hillfield restaurant, spa restaurant, in-room dining and afternoon teas. The nature of the role means Sarah can also focus on developing the team and nurturing new talent. ‘We’re taught how to cook but we aren’t taught how to manage and look after people, but I really enjoy that,’ she says. ‘The cheffing industry has got itself a bad name, but we are the ones who can change it.’

In the last few years, Sarah’s been a regular on the competition circuit, becoming a finalist in 2019’s Bake Off: The Professionals, winning Pastry Chef of the Year in the Craft Guild of Chefs awards in the same year and scooping Best Chocolate Snack To Go UK in the Cocoa Barry World Chocolate Masters 2017. Now, she says, is the first time in her career she’s not had a plan. ‘I’ve always been very driven, but I’ve achieved all of those things – now I feel more chilled and want to help other people achieve those things, too,’ she says. But her biggest culinary aim – to make people happy – remains the same as when she first set foot in the chocolate shop as a teenager, a goal perhaps best exemplified through her love of rethinking and refining childhood favourites (Sarah has put her spin on nostalgic classics including Jaffa Cakes and Jammie Dodgers). ‘It’s the joy that it brings people,’ she says. ‘It brings a smile to your face. We aren’t saving or changing the world in cooking; we create memories and happiness for people.’