Martin Chiffers, international pastry consultant
Martin Chiffers at work. Photo: courtesy of Martin Chiffers
Martin Chiffers is a real renaissance man on the British food scene. It seems as if he was living a few diverse lives at the same time managing to cram into one day things which most would do in one week. Pastry chef consultant, president of the UK pastry team, pastry coach, owner of a pastry shop in Tokyo, food photographer, web and graphic designer … We met at the Cordon Bleu Cafe after his TV audition and talked about his career and chocolate.
When did you decide to become a pastry chef?
I grew up in a kitchen in Cornwall with my mother as head chef. I was visiting the kitchen with my siblings already from when I was 7 years old and at the age of 12 I was allowed to do salad preparation. I love working in the kitchen. My love for pastry was born at college when I learned how to create desserts and discovered that I have talent and good skills for this craft. I love the creativity and artistry in the pastry work, I like the chemistry, so the decision was easy.
Photo: Martin Chiffers
Where did you learn the skills?
I started at Cornwall Catering College and when I was 18 I moved to London. I’ve got my first job at the Park Lane Hotel as commis chef and from there I went to Claridges, then Hyatt Carlton Tower. I did the advanced pastry exam graduating with a distinction and from then on my career started to bloom.
What was most difficult to master?
I don’t think anything is really difficult to master if you are motivated to learn it and I was always very motivated.
Photo: Martin Chiffers
I can see that also from your awards….
Yes, I won quite a few of them. I have lost count. There are about 25 awards now…
And what was most challenging?
The hours. We really do long hours. Sometimes it seems the day will never end and there are not enough hours in a day. But I never had difficulty to learn anything … First I was focused on sugar. I did the competitions and I won them. I didn’t even like chocolate that much then. I was really focused on sugar. And also I was always told that you can do one or the other, not both. Sugar is hot and your hands are always hot, for chocolate instead you need colder hands. When I got older I moved away from sugar and became more passionate about chocolate. Now I love both. I love chocolate and working with it. I was also coaching Ruth Hinks to the fifth place in the world which is the highest place for the UK at the World Chocolate Masters. I’m also heading the UK pastry team and we made it to the seventh place worldwide which is a great achievement for the UK and myself.
Photo: Martin Chiffers
Your greatest teacher?
Probably Robert Mey. Even if I only worked with him for a short time he has taught me all the basics again. But he taught me the correct way, which is not always the case from other chefs. He was great at sugar work as well as in chocolate and was probably the most respected pastry chef in the country at that time. He is a great man and pastry chef and we are still friends.
Your most valuable experience?
I think my most valuable experience was to move abroad. I left for Singapore in 1997 to work at the Raffles hotel which was at that time the third best hotel in the world. Cherish Finden was working with me then. It was hard work but great fun. We had around 25 different promotions per year with different Michelin starred chefs and this international experience – working in another country, getting to know a completely different culture and cuisine – was one of the greatest things for me. After two years in Singapore I moved back to London to open the Great Eastern Hotel and Cherish joined me there also. After a few years I moved back to Singapore again to work at the Fullerton Hotel and after that to Vietnam, followed by Hyatt and Intercontinental Hotels in Korea and finally Dubai. This international experience opened my mind and palate to many different cuisines and flavours.
What inspired you to start working with chocolate?
I was inspired by the books by Stéphane Leroux. I also went to some of his classes and learnt some of the great techniques from him. But I don’t know… probably it just happened … I started working more and more with chocolate and loved it.
What is inspiring you today?
Seeing people I teach and train progress, being president of the UK pastry team – I have been the president for four years and my goal is to take this team to the podium position. Now the UK team doesn’t need to do the European cup because we are in the top 7 for the first time which is great – it gives us more time to practice.
Photo: Martin Chiffers
What is your relationship with chocolate?
A love relationship! I love to eat chocolate and I love to work with it. It’s such a versatile ingredient and there are so many things you can do with it!
Which are your favourite flavours?
I love raspberry and rose. Chocolate, raspberry and rose is such a great combination! I did once a raspberry and rose chocolate for Neuhaus. And a lot of people said that was the best chocolate.
What are you busy with now?
I’m working as a consultant on a new project for Windsor. This will be a new patisserie, take away, cafe and emporium, around 400 square meters with an open plan kitchen, so all chefs will be visible and the smells will come out of the oven. So you will be able to drink coffee and watch me in action. This will be a chain and the second shop will probably be in Knightsbridge. I am also busy teaching chocolate showpieces every month at Ruth Hinks School in Scotland.
Martin Chiffers with Ruth Hinks. Photo: courtesy of Martin Chiffers
And how do you like to enjoy chocolate?
I like to enjoy chocolate in good desserts, I like it as a drink, I can say I like it in any form as long as it’s a good quality of chocolate. I don’t eat Cadbury bars etc.
What was the best chocolate dessert you have ever eaten?
Difficult question. Maybe the melting chocolate sphere brings me loveliest memories. Today everyone is doing chocolate sphere, but it was for the first time created in Singapore in 2002 for the World Gourmet Summit and that was probably at that time the best chocolate dessert I have ever seen and tasted. And I tasted many of chocolate desserts!
What was your greatest achievement?
I have achieved so many personal goals but I think coaching Ruth Hinks to the 5th place at World’s Chocolate Masters (the highest ever for the UK) and then another new record for the UK, 6th place at the world Pastry Cup and the first time being in the top 7.
And what is your ultimate dream?
My ultimate dream is to get on the podium for the Coupe du monde 2017 and to enter and win the World Chocolate Masters next time.