How I got to where I am now:
I started cooking from a very young age with my mother and grandmother. Then, from the age of 15 I would work weekends in local pubs and restaurants before enrolling at the Somerset College of Art and Technology when I was 16. I was there for three years and while I was studying I got the opportunity to work in a five star hotel in Jersey for six months which is where I got a real taste of the industry and of pastry - it really opened my eyes to what I could do with this career and pushed me forward to do something. I realised that there weren't the same opportunities in Somerset and that if I wanted to make it in this industry I'd have to move away from where I grew up.
When I came back from Jersey I got a job at Coombe House hotel in Devon as a commis chef and worked there for two years, working my way up to a chef de partie. I was put into the pastry kitchen, that's where I really found my love for it, but I realised there that if I wanted to continue in pastry and work my way up I'd need to go to London to train.
I moved into London on a bad day - July 7 2005 - just as the bombs were going off, but got on with looking for a job and took my CV around to a few places, hoping to get something. The Mandarin Oriental came back to me and I worked at Foliage under Chris Staines. When I started there were three of us in that section, but about six weeks in there was only me in pastry. My dream of coming into London to train with people didn't really happen, so it was a bit of a sink or swim situation. However, I learnt very quickly and had the support of Chris and the team. Eventually we found someone and I worked with her for four years before leaving to work with Claire Clark at The Langham hotel as her junior sous chef where we did the Langham relaunch.
Neither of us were there for very long, but Claire gave me a good piece of advice while I worked with her - she said 'before you move forward, go backwards' and I had to go back and learn classical skills. It was hard to hear, but she was right. I actually went back to work at the Mandarin Oriental because hotels give you the greatest experience and I thought it was the best around. So I went back there to work underneath Graham Hornigold as junior sous chef, eventually becoming his sous for two years.
When Graham was headhunted by Hakkasan to be the company's executive head pastry chef, he asked me if I'd join him and be the head pastry chef of Hakkasan London, so I accepted and that's where I am today.
My biggest achievement:
What I'm doing now. When I came to be the head pastry chef of Hakkasan I was very young (26) and to be running one restaurant at that age would be enough, but to have two was a major achievement and something I'd never had the opportunity to do before. I felt very special to be part of such a successful group.
My greatest challenge:
It was probably coming to London when I was 19 and starting afresh, not knowing anyone or where I was going to go. Being a bit of a country boy, I thought I'd come to London, learn as much as I could and run home again, but that never really happened, I got hooked and stayed with it.
My future plans:
There's a lot going on with Hakkasan and HKK. We are growing a lot and my role is changing slightly within the group, so that's keeping me occupied. I'm very happy with the company I'm with, so finger's crossed I'll be here a little longer. It would also be good to produce more young pastry chefs who in turn inspire more young pastry chefs. I want people to know this isn't a scary industry and that if you want to come and work in pastry, give it a go. That's my main goal.
My top tips for a career in pastry:
If you're thinking about becoming a pastry chef then read books and look at the programmes on TV like Great British Bake Off. Find out who is at the top of this industry and follow them. With social media these days you can follow everyone and find out what they do. Do a course and if you can, go and visit a kitchen and see what they do. I'm happy for people to come and spend a day with us and try it out before they get involved.
When you do enter the industry, it's good to get some basic, classic training. Find out where is best to work. Hotels are great, but you can also get good training in some good restaurants now. Unfortunately our industry is slightly weakened by the fact that we don't have so many young people coming into it, so I want to put it out there and say 'you can come in, learn your trade and develop a career in pastry' There are opportunities and pastry gives as many opportunities for a career as the hot kitchen does.