Laura Petersen, Head Pastry Chef, The Coal Shed

The Staff Canteen

Laura Petersen is head pastry chef at The Coal Shed in London and also oversees pastry at older sibling restaurant, The Salt Room in Brighton where she was formerly head pastry chef.

At only 24 years of age the young pastry chef has worked with the renowned Raymond Blanc at his Oxfordshire restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and has garnered a number of accolades and awards, including having Brighton’s ‘most instagrammed dessert’ for her Taste of the Pier creation.

Now as head pastry chef of the steak & fish restaurant, The Coal Shed, Laura is bringing her award-winning skills to London as well as continuing to oversee the pastry section for Brighton’s The Salt Room.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Laura to talk about the opening of The Coal Shed, why she would recommend other pastry chefs to enter competitions and why she doesn’t have a sweet tooth.

The Coal Shed
The Coal Shed

How did the opening of the Coal Shed at One Tower Bridge go?

We had two mental weeks before opening where we focused on all our loyal customers, friends and family, and suppliers. We really wanted to prioritise them and test things as well so we’re looking good. A 900 seat theatre has just opened next to us so we’re hoping that will bring in a diverse custom too. On the opening night we did a theatre menu and some theatre sweet bags too for the people who didn’t have time to have dessert with us. The sweet bags brought in some of the elements from the Taste of the Pier in Brighton so I made some chocolate coals instead of the chocolate pebbles we have down in Brighton and some fudge and marshmallows.

What is the concept behind the restaurant?

We’ve taken the more popular dishes from the two Brighton restaurants and we’re saying we’re more 60% meat and 40% fish. So, it’s kind of a hybrid with the two in Brighton and we’re bringing up some amazing fish and shellfish from the south as well. I would say it’s a little bit more classical on the dessert front because I’m aware that it is a steak house and people want to see their favourite desserts so we have a chocolate bar on there, apple and blackberry panna cotta, custard tart and then sweets. There’s two parts to the dessert menu which encompasses the desserts and the sweets so it’s like the Taste of the Pier but you can order them individually so there’s fudge, marshmallows, macaroons, 99 ice cream cones, chocolate coals and doughnuts. We can change the flavours as and when we want to reflect the seasons so I’m already moving on to the next ones. So, we have spiced pumpkin fudge, coffee doughnuts, salted caramel ice cream, etc. We’re going to try and make the marshmallows plum so we can have a lot of fun with it. The idea is that you can have as little or as much if you like if you’re really full but want something sweet.

Info Bar

Signature dishes

The Taste of The Pier (a take on classics found on Brighton Pier)

The ‘Sweets’ a grown up pick and mix

Desert island desserts

Treacle Tart
Banoffee Pie
Lemon tart
Lemon sorbet

Have you got a favourite dessert from the menu?

Everyone else’s favourite is the chocolate bar and we’re getting great feedback because it’s not too heavy for a chocolate dish. Inside is a praline mousse which is super light and then we make our own aerated chocolate which is served with some malted ice cream. My personal favourite though would have to be custard tart. We’ve done a little pumpkin custard tart so we have brought in the American pumpkin pie and the British custard tart to make something a little different which is also seasonal as well, and it’s really simple. It’s a crème fraiche ice cream and a pumpkin curd so there’s always something on the menu which is a little different for those that fancy something they haven’t tried before.

Can you tell us more about your role, are you now head pastry chef for both The Salt Room and The Coal Shed?

I’ve moved up to London permanently which is a great opportunity for me. So I am now head pastry chef of the Coal Shed and I’m also overseeing the pastry in Brighton. Dave Mothersill who was head chef at The Salt Room has taken on more of executive role in the business so he’s up here to help us open and to give the head chef some support. So between the two of us I’ll be writing the menus and Dave will be in charge of implementing them because he’s living back down in Brighton.

Do you find communication one of the bigger challenges at the moment overseeing two places?

It can be quite difficult, especially if you’re locked into service for the day and sometimes you don’t even have a second to check the phone. I’ve got a great team back in Brighton who know how to run it day to day. I think the hardest thing for me was giving up the Salt Room to someone else’s hands because I’ve been there from day one and it’s my baby. But the fact I still have creative control is good for me. We need to make sure a lot of our coaching is going into the London one and we’re not leaving any behind, that’s what has got us here and what is equally just as important so we can’t take our eye off the ball anywhere. That’s part of the reason behind the team changes. We have a bar manager that’s fully in charge of the bar menu too so it’s keeping that consistency.

Laura Petersen
Laura Petersen

Have you always been a pastry chef or have you covered other areas of the kitchen?

I started off working in pastry because that was where my strengths lied. I’m self-taught and did a lot of my baking at home but there’s always times where you have to jump into other sections, and as a foodie I’m happy to get stuck in. When I worked at The Gingerman in Brighton, because it was so small I did starters and desserts so there has never been a time where I have not done desserts at all. Also, because the kitchen here is a bit different to Brighton we’re all in one bigger room but we’re going to cross train a lot more people but it’s nice for me to have a new challenge and to keep learning.

Are there any areas of pastry you would like to learn more about?

Always, chocolate is something that you never really know, it’s such a temperamental thing and I love working with it. But anything that’s new that I haven’t tried before I am always keen on doing.

What are your favourite ingredients and flavours?

Funnily enough I don’t actually have a massive sweet tooth, so personally I like quite clean, sharp flavours so I’m always a sucker for lemon meringue pie. The heavier winter dishes aren’t really my thing. When we have the lovely summer fruits and berries that’s when I enjoy writing the menus the most. It feels a little bit sparce at this time of year in the UK. I’m waiting for rhubarb and blood orange to come in again in January and that will see us through until March when we get an abundance of things that we almost don’t get enough time to do all of them.

What was it like coming 3rd place in Chocolate Weeks ‘Dessert of the Year’ competition?

To be quite honest I really didn’t expect it, the boss actually pushed me towards entering because he found out about it and sent of a dish that I already had on the menu at The Salt Room but it had to be a dish that was already on the menu or one we were going to feature. I had a dish in my head already so I just upped the ante on it, sent off a photo with some ingredients and was surprised to hear back that I was in the final 10 as it was a national competition. To even get that far I was pretty happy with. On the day we to plate 15 portions of the dish which is quite daunting but it was great. Luckily, I got to do the prep back at The Salt Rooms so everyone was done in my own environment which was nice so I didn’t have to do it all backstage. I was absolutely chuffed to come in third! I would have applied this year but it would have been the same week as our opening.

Apple Pannacotta
Apple Pannacotta

Would you recommend other pastry chefs to enter competitions?

Absolutely, it’s not all about winning, it’s taking part as well. You learn things from other people and it’s a great networking opportunity as well and you don’t know until you try.

*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 the meal even more memorable?

We do bespoke cakes on request which is something I love doing especially when people are really chilled about it and just tell you to really go for it and do what you want to do. I’ve done a few wedding cakes and a few big party cakes. I prefer them to be a dessert cake not necessarily a birthday cake so something that can be a centre piece that the whole table can share and enjoy. They’re normally topped with things from our sweets from the Taste of The Pier so that’s great for big parties and again here at The Coal Shed sharing a big thing of our sweet options looks really great. Once you have them in multiples I think they look quite striking. We also do private dining menus, a £45 option and a £65 one where we currently have options from our a la carte but we take them up a notch. We love fine dining and we’re all about big food and hearty flavours.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st November 2017

Laura Petersen, Head Pastry Chef, The Coal Shed