Simon Jenkins: the life of a pastry consultant

by Tom Shingler27 February 2018

When a restaurant is lacking in the dessert department, expert pastry chefs like Simon Jenkins are parachuted in to improve things across the board. Tom Shingler finds out how he makes that happen.

Tom Shingler is the former editor of Great British Chefs.

Tom Shingler was the editor at Great British Chefs until 2021, having first joined Great British Chefs in 2015.

Tom Shingler is the former editor of Great British Chefs.

Tom Shingler was the editor at Great British Chefs until 2021, having first joined Great British Chefs in 2015.

Pastry chefs are a unique breed. They’re the chefs who have chosen to focus their entire careers on one specific course – dessert. While many ‘normal’ chefs often turn their hand to the sweet side of their menus as well as covering starters and mains, pastry chefs are true experts in their field. And amongst all the pastry chefs in the UK you’d struggle to find someone more accomplished than Simon Jenkins, which is lucky for restaurant owners – he’s currently working as a consultant, swooping into kitchens and sharing his knowledge with the staff.

After deciding to become a chef over joining the forces or studying carpentry, Simon headed off to catering college to learn the basics. But while pastry wasn’t much of a focus, he fell in love with it. ‘There’s just more finesse and artistry involved, and I love how precise it is,’ he says. ‘It’s also very scientific, which I like – you have to understand the processes behind what you’re doing so when something goes wrong you know why. So many factors can change the end result.’

Simon’s first job was a bit of a lucky break – after writing to various restaurants he got a job working with John Burton-Race in a two Michelin star restaurant. ‘It was a very disciplined kitchen but you were made to be creative with things like the petits fours, which had a huge effect on me. From there I went to The Waterside Inn, which was very classical and I learnt so much about pastry and the different derivatives. After that I was at Le Manoir, which helped me realise the bigger picture. It was the first place I’d worked where the pastry teams were split up, so you relied on each other to get things done.’

This grounding in some of the best restaurants in the UK meant Simon quickly became an accomplished pastry chef with plenty of Michelin-starred experience under his belt. There’s nowhere better to master the French classics than The Waterside Inn, and Le Manoir is renowned for its focus on training chefs to become the best they can be. But when did the switch from pastry chef to consultant happen – and why?

‘I got into consultancy after helping to open a few different hotels and soon found the pace was too slow in normal pastry chef jobs,’ explains Simon. ‘A few different people asked me to come and do things for them, and I realised I could continue doing that as a full-time job. I’ve been doing it for over two years now and I’ve been very lucky with it.’

While pastry cheffing and pastry consulting have obvious similarities, the ebb and flow of day-to-day work differs significantly. Pastry chefs will create the same desserts over and over again, changing dishes as and when the menu does. Pastry consultants, on the other hand, are given briefs by restaurants looking to improve one or all aspects of their dessert offering. That could mean new recipes, an audit of kitchen equipment or staff training. While Simon always ensures he’s on-hand to give advice after a job is done, it’s a much more varied job, which is good – but it’s not without its downsides.

‘Do I prefer consultancy to being a pastry chef? Yes and no. Some days it’s great and I have a lot more flexibility in terms of spending time with my family, which is fantastic, but in terms of fulfilment it can be tough. As long as the clients I’m working with are diverse and I can keep busy then it’s good, as I get the chance to go into the kitchen. But you do need to back up everything you do with lots of paperwork – I always provide the recipes afterwards and make sure I’m available to help a client after the job finishes.’

While Simon has his own style and can create incredible works of edible art that are easily Michelin star quality, he has to ensure he provides what the client wants. ‘My style isn’t very regimented or classical; I tend to be more natural on the plate so there aren’t dots of gel or sauce all over the place,’ he says. ‘If whoever I’m working with is looking for something similar then that’s great, but if not I have to match their style. It’s a specific skill to be creative according to a brief; you can’t just do whatever you want and expect it to work. It might not fit in with the restaurant’s style, it might be too expensive to produce, the kitchen may not have the right chefs or equipment to make it – there are lots of factors to consider.

‘It can also be frustrating not having a base,’ adds Simon. ‘When there’s a bit of downtime and you want to try something out you can’t because you don’t have a kitchen, but I’ve got good contacts in the industry so I draw on those. It’s also tough when your own pastry creations don’t see the light of day – I’m always creating things to briefs, which are different to what I’d do myself. But I’m looking to get involved in pop-ups and things like that where I can unleash my inner creativity a bit more.’

However, with Simon it’s clear the pros outweigh the cons. Working with multiple clients at the same time, coming up with recipes at all price points in lots of different styles, training staff and improving kitchens means there’s never a dull moment. While he’s not sure if he’ll remain a consultant for the rest of his career, it’s certainly where he wants to be now. And after just one look (and taste) of the incredible desserts he prepared for our meeting, I don’t think there’s anyone a restaurant owner would rather have improving their pastry section.

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