Martin Chiffers on why “pastry chefs must do sugar art"

Martin Chiffers / Sugar Championships 2017 senior winner sculpture

Martin Chiffers, pastry chef and former president of international Pastry Team UK, co-judged the 2017 UK Sugar Championships last week. We caught up with him to talk key skills, and keeping the art of sugar alive

How important is this competition compared to other pastry chef competitions? 
It's a foundation for our younger generation and people first going into sugar. Some people here today have only been doing sugar since January [three months’ ago]. This will then lead on to bigger and greater competitions like the UK Open, the European Cup and the World Cup etc. It's important that it keeps the sugar art alive and helps our younger chefs aspire to achieve more. 

Some might say that sugar work is not as key as other patisserie skills. Why do you say it is?
It's an art. Internationally as well, competitions are recognising it. Of course, you don't actually eat sugar sculptures or chocolate sculptures, but it's important for chefs to know how to use the equipment, and it's an art form. At the end of the day, it's a way for us to express ourselves too. 

How does it relate to other skills required by pastry chefs today?
If you're working in a hotel, doing a large buffet display, you'll need to know how to make a large chocolate and sugar display, to promote your pastries or to create a theme. It's maybe not as crucial in a restaurant on a day-to-day basis, but it is definitely key for buffets, big cakes, or large events. 

So all pastry chefs need to master sugar art?
Yes. I don't think you can call yourself a pastry chef if you can't do at least some sugar and some chocolate work. It's the way I was trained; when I was younger I only did sugar, not even chocolate. I do believe that a pastry chef should be able to do some chocolate, sugar and sculpture work, even if it's just a bit of ice sculpting, or pastillage, or how to make a wedding cake. Until you can do all those, you can't really call yourself a pastry chef. It's not just about making a few desserts. 

(Photo: L: Junior winner Jules Chambe of Le Manoir; R: Senior winner Remy Pugeot of Grosvenor House Hotel)

What specifically were the judges looking out for at the UK Sugar Championships this year?
Good pulled and poured sugar that is shiny with good colouring, reflecting the light, and with a strong style and a theme. Really putting the ‘show’ in showpiece. We had some really exciting pieces. 

Your business now focuses on chocolate. How does sugar work feed in with that?
I actually do sugar classes as well, as it’s part of the skills. There still aren't that many people that want to do sugar classes, but whenever we've put them on recently ‒ also with [captain of Pastry Team UK 2017, winner of Best Sugar in Lyon in 2017, and judge at the UK Sugar Championships 2017] Florian Poirot ‒ they've all filled up.

Martin Chiffers, patissier, chocolatier and consultant, was president of Pastry Team UK, from 2011-2017, accompanying the team to the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie in Lyon every two years. 

The  2017 UK Sugar Championships were held at University College Birmingham on 12 April. Competitors had six hours to create a sculpture. As well as Chiffers and Poirot, the judges were 2014 winner Jamie Houghton, patissier Michael Nadell, and former Pastry Team UK sugar candidates Javier Mercado and Nicholas Bouhelier.  

  • The winner of the senior category (24 and over) was Remy Pugeot, 26, pastry chef at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.
  • Winner of the junior category (23 and under) was Jules Chambe, 23, first commis at two Michelin starred Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire.

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