What’s your baking specialism?
I’m best known for my chocolate work, having represented the UK in the Chocolate Master World Finals in Paris and I’m Chocolate Ambassador for Callebaut in the UK. Lately, I’ve become known for my chocolate showpieces (including creating Chocolate Dresses for the Salon du Chocolat in London). I teach both beginners’ chocolate courses and more advanced showpiece courses as Head Tutor at Squires Kitchen International School. I love creating new recipes for our classes, using different ingredients and trying out new moulds.
Pâtisserie is another great passion of mine as I’ve worked as a pastry chef since I was 16. I teach French classics such as gâteaux operas, fruit tarts, macarons and mousse domes. Pâtisserie has grown in popularity in recent years, following programmes like the Great British Bake-Off and Bake Off: Crème de la Crème.
How long have you been baking or in the food industry?
I have been working for over 25 years as a pâtissier and chocolatier. I remember from a very early age watching both my grandmothers making sweet treats and I always knew that I wanted to work in this area. I was 16 when I started working at a local hotel at the weekends in the pastry kitchen, which I loved. I rose through the ranks in different kitchens throughout the country, including hotels and restaurants such as The Lanesborough on Hyde Park Corner in London, the Lainston House Hotel in Winchester, for the Hotel du Vin Group in Winchester and Bristol and at the Pave D’Auge in Normandy, France. And I’ve been the Senior Tutor and School Director at Squires Kitchen International School for almost 8 years now.
What do you love most about baking and decorating cakes?
I love creating new recipes and passing on my knowledge and passion to my students. I also enjoy taking part in competitions, such as the World Chocolate Masters and Bake Off: Crème de la Crème in 2016.
As a professional, what baking skill do you find the most challenging?
Working with different ovens can be challenging, as they can vary so much in temperature. This can make baking things like macarons particularly tricky. I do always encourage my students to understand how their ovens work.
What’s your favourite food?
Definitely cheese! As I work all day with sweet ingredients, it’s nice to enjoy something savoury - so much so that I never have cheese in the house as I would eat it all…. I’m a big fan of English cheeses in particular.
I still love chocolate though, particularly South American chocolate. The volcanic soil gives the chocolate a stronger flavour.
When you bake at home, how do you like to work, what’s your style? With music, with family or maybe in complete silence?!
As most people will probably understand, I don’t like taking my work home with me, so I rarely bake at home – except for the occasional dinner party. When I’m not teaching, I like to bake and to experiment with chocolate in our Baking Room at Squires Kitchen. I love music so I will have the radio on and have a sing along with our Housekeeper Andrea!
How much cake do you eat each day, all in the name of ‘testing’ of course?!
I don’t actually eat that much cake or chocolate every day - I tend to taste things rather than have big portions when I am working. I try not to overindulge and never take anything home – I treat Squires Kitchen staff instead to whatever I’ve made. Plus, like a lot of people right now, I’m on a strict, healthy post-Christmas diet!
Which one baking skill do you think every amateur cook should know?
In terms of chocolate work, tempering is key – you can’t make anything from chocolate without having mastered tempering. People think that this is quite a difficult technique to learn but in my classes I show different, simple techniques that are achievable at home, such as working with powdered cocoa butter. For general baking, as I mentioned, learning how your oven works is essential. The temperature on the outside doesn’t always match the actual temperature inside and a good oven thermometer is a great help.
What do you most like about teaching? Please provide any interesting stories about your teaching experiences…
I love passing on my chocolate and pâtisserie skills and knowledge to my students. It’s a great feeling to share your passion with people who are interested in what you do and who are willing to learn. I’ve taught different groups of students from all over the UK and abroad.
I recently took on one of my students, Shirley, as an assistant here at the school. She works in IT but has a great passion for the food industry and uses her free time to volunteer at Squires Kitchen. She has been fantastic assisting me during my courses and is currently testing the recipes in my new book, Mastering Chocolate, which is due out in April.
To book on one of Mark’s next courses, click here.
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