Chef Serena De Filippis graduated from Le Cordon Bleu London in 2017 with her Diplôme de Pâtisserie. She was born and raised in Naples in the south of Italy, and initially earned a law degree in a renowned Italian university, going on to become a criminal barrister.
After realising that her true passion lay in the kitchen not the courtroom, Serena decided to move to London to reinvent herself. She gained work experience as an assistant Head Chocolatier in a luxury chocolate boutique, then as an apprentice Pastry Chef in an award-winning French pâtisserie before attending Le Cordon Bleu London to gain formal training.
Serena now runs her own pastry shop in London, DOLCE Italian Pâtisserie, where she creates classic fine Italian pastries with her personal modern twist. Serena focuses on using simple but high quality, fresh ingredients - staying away from unnatural preservatives, food colourings and gelatine.
We spoke to Serena about how she came to realise she wanted to become a chef, what that journey was like and how she runs her business day to day.
What drove you to study the culinary arts?
"Baking and cooking have always been part of my life, as with almost every southern Italian. My dad is an amateur chef and he passed down his passion for food to me. In my family 'cooking' has always meant a way to take care of people you love, not just making food. Baking is something I’ve done my whole life - first as a hobby, making cakes for my friends and relatives celebrations. I graduated in a famous law school and then worked as a criminal barrister for few years before realising that it was not my path."
Why did you choose to come to Le Cordon Bleu London?
"When I was a barrister, I remember that during my free time I used to check Le Cordon Bleu website every now and then and dream about being a student of the school. After becoming disenchanted with the law industry, I decided to move to London and give it a try. I chose Le Cordon Bleu London because I knew it was the best I could ask for, and since day one I’ve felt like it was the right place for me."
How did the knowledge gained from the Diplôme de Pâtisserie help your career?
"It helped because it gave me not only the foundations and the techniques I needed to be a good pastry chef, but it also taught me how to be very organised in a kitchen and how to do things properly in a limited amount of time. These last 2 things have proven to be extremely valuable for my job."
What would you say is your most valuable learning experience so far?
"There is a quote that I love that I think answer to this question properly "believe in yourself and you’re halfway there"."
Was it always your goal to start your own business?
"I’ve always wanted to have something that was 'mine' - that I had to create from zero. Growing up I realised that I was happy when being in a kitchen and baking cakes. So why not doing both things at the same time?"
What are the best and most challenging aspects of owning your own business?
"The best aspect of owning my own business is the satisfaction I get every time my customers are happy about my cakes and about the service I offer with DOLCE. This is priceless. But also the fact that I can deal with and decide on every aspect of the business; production, marketing, social media, customer care, etc. This can be lonely and stressful at the same time. Before becoming a mom last May, I used to do everything on my own - I’m kind of a workaholic."
What would you say is the best thing about being a chef?
"The best thing about being a chef is the joy you see in people’s face after they eat your cakes and pastries. The fact that you make people happy with what you do and give them nice memories to remember in the future. To me it’s also a way to express my creativity."
What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
"To anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps I would say to go for it if it’s your very intimate, strong passion and you’re 100% motivated. There will be ups and downs, it will be tiring and maybe sometimes frustrating because it can take time to figure out what works well and what doesn’t, but you don’t have to let anything or anyone get in your way. At the beginning of my journey, my family and best friends were not happy with my choice and I didn’t get their support. It was hard for me but I was very convinced of my decision."
What does Le Cordon Bleu represent for you?
"It’s my happy place in London, it’s where I’ve finally been free to be what I really wanted to be."
What does your average day look like?
"I receive each order with at least 2-3 days of notice so I can organise myself and my days in advance in the best way. I bake everything freshly from scratch so it’s important to have a good schedule. Mornings start with baking in my kitchen and preparing all the orders. Then I reply to emails and messages, work on my social networks, look for potential partnerships or events that I want to attend. When I have some free time I think of new recipes and test them - or I take pictures of my cakes and pastries to use them in the future for my socials."
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
"The most challenging aspect of my role is that I have to take care of and supervise everything. If something goes wrong, I am the one to blame. That’s why I consider it a 24hr job - but luckily I love it!"
What inspires you every day?
"There are famous pastry chefs that inspire me every day with their creations, together with the food I try when I travel around the world. But I always keep a connection with my roots, my family traditions and the memories of my childhood when baking a cake."
What part of your role are you most passionate about?
"I sincerely like every part of it because it gives me the opportunity to be very versatile and eclectic. I deal with every aspect of it so I never get bored. Every day is a challenge and teaches me something new - also because I’ve never done this job before!"
Finally, what are your plans for the future?
"My plans for the future are to expand DOLCE London and to create a site in my country. Something slightly different but still connected to it. And I am already working on it!"
Find out more about the Diplôme de Pâtisserie, our professional cookery courses and other culinary programmes to see how you can follow in Chef Serena's footsteps.