Introduction

Introduction

By
James Martin
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978-1-84949-557-8

In my time, I’ve been privileged to work in some of the best kitchens in the world, alongside some of the greatest chefs. Don’t ask me how, as I’d say it’s mostly been down to luck – being in the right place at the right time. But I guess somewhere along the way you have to make your own luck, and of course you still have to produce the goods, as you do in any job.

For me, though, it’s not just a job. It’s a life, and one that I will always love. Ever since I watched my grandparents making pastry in front of the old telly, rubbing butter into flour by hand, I’ve wanted to cook; this, I suppose, was when the seed was first planted.

Nowadays, of course, the pastry bench is the place to be, with bake-offs all over the place. But it was a very different scene back in the early 1990s, when a young lad from Yorkshire entered the kitchens of some of the most well-known and well-respected chefs in the country. To say I was bricking it would be an understatement! Aged just 17, I quickly realised that there was going to be no shortcut to the top.

Pastry wasn’t really what I had in mind at the time, but fate intervened: the pastry chef went to the loo, never to been seen again. And so after only three days I was on the pastry section, becoming head of it within four months. Back then, no-one wanted to work on the pastry section. To some, it wasn’t seen as manly enough, for there was no heat and sweat and fire, but I reckon the real reason was the hours. As a pastry chef, you work longer shifts than anyone in the kitchen: there are early starts for the breakfast stuff, and you can’t go home until the last table has ordered dessert. Not that it bothered me. In fact, it made me like it even more. I was on £90 a week, clocking up 115 hours most weeks, and I didn’t know any different. What I did soon discover, though, was that when you’re working with the best, you absorb everything like a sponge, and so all those hours paid off.

But it’s only when you sit down to write a book that you get chance to share all the recipes, tips and advice you’ve picked up along the way. It’s now almost ten years since my first desserts cookbook came out, and I’m really proud that it’s still in print and still going strong. I’m especially thrilled when I hear of young chefs using it as a guide to baking and pastry.

With my next desserts book – the one you’re holding in your hands – I wanted to take things further, to show how my cooking has evolved and how much I have learnt, and am still learning, from the great chefs I’m lucky enough to meet. The rum baba is a case in point. There are good ones, and there are great ones, but for me the very best rum baba in the UK is Pierre Koffmann’s. The recipe I’ve included in this book is as close as I’ve got so far, and I reckon it’s pretty close. It might even be close enough to save you the train fare to London to eat at his amazing restaurant, The Berkeley. Although, of course, it’s still worth making that journey for so many other reasons...

I remember Pierre Koffmann telling me why chefs need to concentrate on the pastry section: not only is it the biggest section in the kitchen, but also it’s their dessert, or even just a petit four, which is the last food you taste before you leave the restaurant, so it needs to create a lasting impression.

Whilst I hope most things in here look impressive (and to be honest, it’s easier to make a cake look pretty than a duck leg), the taste must always come first. So what you’ll find in this book are the ‘best of the best’ recipes I’ve found, made up and borrowed, together with some basic recipes at the front and some handy troubleshooting tips at the back. Of course it’s not possible to show you everything to do with baking and pastry in one book, but it will point you in the right direction. The rest is up to you!

This is a book I’m extremely proud of, and I’ve done all I can to make it work on every level – I even insisted on plating every single dish for the photography, which was all done at my house. I hope you enjoy it.

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