Gerard Chouet, Head Pastry Chef, Fairmont Hotel St Andrews

The Staff Canteen

Former two Michelin-starred pastry chef, Gerard Chouet, recently joined Fairmont St Andrews as the hotel’s new head pastry chef.

With over 25 years’ experience, Gerard has worked and trained with some of the industry’s top professional chefs including Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and more recently with Andrew Fairlie at his Gleneagles restaurant. Gerard is a keen forager and has become well known in the industry for combining traditional French techniques with Scottish panache.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Gerard to find out more about his continuing journey to change people’s perceptions of British and Scottish food, what has kept him in Scotland and that using electronic scales is the best thing he’s learned from a career spanning 25 years.

Fairmont St Andrews Brunch low res
Fairmont St Andrews Brunch

What is it like to be head pastry chef at Fairmont St. Andrews?

Fairmont St Andrews is a renowned hotel in Scotland and I’m really excited to have joined such a prestigious group. It is great being head pastry chef here because the Fife region has a huge local larder of some of the freshest ingredients in the UK, and as a keen forager I’m looking forward to making the most of all these flavours on the doorstep and celebrating the best produce to an international audience.

The hotel also offers a great platform to train and develop talented young chefs which I really enjoy doing and am passionate about. I hope to inspire the next generation of pastry chefs in Scotland.

I also love changing perceptions of what people think British and Scottish food is, and particularly how delicate and refined chocolate and patisserie can and should be.

The hotel offers such a great opportunity to help change some of these perceptions and champion best of Scottish and British cuisine.

Are there many differences between working at a hotel and at a restaurant?

A hotel is 24/7, we run a round the clock operation, breakfast, lunch and dinner across five busy luxury restaurants, and that is not forgetting an afternoon tea service or our 24 hour room service as well as our meetings and conference facility. So, compared to working in one restaurant, working at a hotel is like working in a small city! It is of course very exciting and involves a lot of forward thinking in order to create dishes we can replicate across so many different menus throughout the resort.

What are the biggest challenges in your role?

To me, patisserie is more challenging, elegant and more technical than many other disciplines in the kitchen. The precision and technical ability of patisserie is a similar concept to a physician, you have to be precise.

It takes practice, patience and even more practice to develop skills and techniques to become a pastry chef and this can make it hard to recruit new talent. The reality is, only those dedicated to becoming a pastry chef will succeed – it’s not an easy profession, it takes a lot of time and dedication, which isn’t for everybody, but I think part of my role as a pastry chef is about sharing my experiences and skills with the next generation of chefs. I always teach students to work with enthusiasm because people are far more receptive that way.

Info Bar

Signature dishes

Chocolate bonbons with crunchy chocolate on the outside and melting ganache in the centre

Apricot and rosemary macaroons

Desert island desserts

There’s so many, can I have ingredients instead: Bread, Cheese, Almonds, Chocolate and Rhubarb

In your 25 years of experience, what is the biggest lesson you have learned?

To use electronic scales. You need to be precise in desserts and pastry.

How has your foraging experience influenced you in the kitchen?

Foraging has always influenced my culinary flair, even from a young age. I grew up in Burgundy in France, we had our own garden and never bought from the store and would forage for herbs, fruits and berries, freezing what we didn’t use so that we had produce all year round, especially tomatoes.

I take a lot of inspiration from nature, Scotland has some of the most amazing produce and I love working in such naturally rich environments. Fife, where the hotel is based, is thriving with naturally diverse produce so I enjoy spending my time adapting and experimenting with these ingredients in my pastry menus. Things like wild berries and flowers will continue to grow in popularity as chefs look for alternative flavours and cheaper ingredients indigenous to their area.

You are a specialist chocolatier, when and how did you discover your love for chocolate?

My mum was a great cook and massively encouraged me to enjoy and experiment with cooking. We used to have lots of family parties with all the neighbours and I used to help out in the kitchen. From a young age I saw how much people got excited over desserts so I started to make some very simple things like marmalade using fruit from the garden.

During school I realised that my passion was in the kitchen, and in chocolate, so at the age of 19 I left school to do a professional apprenticeship in a pastry shop which gave me the knowledge of a commercial kitchen, I then did a Master apprenticeship and worked in various pastry shops perfecting my skills and techniques. I’ve spent much of my career working in the UK including at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Hotel Tresanton in Cornwall and Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles.

Gerard Chouet
Gerard Chouet

How have the two patisserie schools you visited in Paris shaped your skills as a pastry chef?

I love developing and creating new dishes, particularly using chocolate – the options are endless and although it's sometimes temperamental there is always something to learn from cooking with chocolate. The variety of cocoa textures are huge so combinations are almost endless – it’s also fun to play with, and the final results with patisserie can be exemplary, it’s surprising what you can achieve.

I did a stage in Bellouet Conseil pastry school and Valrhona Chocolate School in Paris where I learnt a lot about plating desserts, sugar work; these kind of things which are difficult to learn here on your own in Scotland. I used these opportunities to fill in the gaps in my career and I used the things I learned in competitions, which are a great way to try out new techniques, do research and experiment with things to see if they work or not.

What took you from France to Scotland?

When I first came to Scotland my plan was to stay for one year, and I’ve been here for nearly 13 years. The mentality is very different than in France where you have a lot of people screaming and shouting. This was not my experience in the UK and so I think this has kept me here. The pastry scene in France is very traditional and can be extremely hard to establish yourself there. Scotland offered me a chance to make a name for myself and be more innovative with my desserts.

When in your career did you decide to focus on pastry and why?

I have had a fondness for desserts from such a young age, I always knew this was what I wanted to do so the focus on my career has always been on patisserie. At the age of 19 I left school to do a professional apprenticeship in a pastry shop and have never looked back since.

2016 Fairmont St Andrews hotel exterior NEW low res
Fairmont St Andrews hotel

Would you advise young chefs to choose a specialised area early?

Patisserie is highly specialised and technical. It takes several years to learn the skill and to perfect the delicate nuances in balancing flavours. It takes a long time and working under experienced chefs to get to a pivotal place in your career so I do recommend specialising early, being focused and staying passionate about your area in the kitchen.

*A question from our sponsors Callebaut:

With special occasion dining being so popular, do you add special pastry dishes to your menu to allow your guests to celebrate, making their meal even more memorable?

At Fairmont St Andrews we always try to go above and beyond for all our guests. If we are told that a guest or group are celebrating a special occasion then, where possible, there is nothing more that I love to do than offer something special for them.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th October 2017

Gerard Chouet, Head Pastry Chef, Fairmont Hotel St Andrews