English-born Chef Graeme Bartholomew initially learned pastry craft at Slough College before moving to Switzerland to perfect his pâtisserie and sugar work. After moving back to the UK, he gained experience in top kitchens such as the 5-star Mayfair Intercontinental Hotel and 1 Michelin-star The Clivenden Hotel. After teaching for 7 years, Chef Graeme returned to the industry in 2002 at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel as Head Pastry Chef, before joining Le Cordon Bleu London in 2008 as Pâtisserie Teaching Chef.
What made you want to be a pastry chef and a teaching chef?
I think the initial idea of becoming a chef came from a girl that my brother was seeing. She used to come over quite a bit and she was at a catering college. From spending time with her I grew more and more interested in the world of food and began cooking at home.
Being a teaching chef is great! One of the best jobs you could have. The satisfaction of seeing apprentices and student's progress is lovely, and being a part of moulding someone and possibly changing their future is so fulfilling.
What do you enjoy eating the most?
I have to say I can’t resist a great steak or shellfish – either of those really get my taste buds going. There used to be a fishmonger at the end of my road where I used to live, and I would frequently spend several hours watching how they would gut and fillet a fish. I was completely captivated.
What is your earliest food memory?
Scrumping for apples – they always tasted the sweetest! And after that came raspberry and blackberry-picking. When produce like this came into season, it was fantastic! So now I grow my own fruit and vegetables and appreciate every harvest.
Who has been the biggest inspiration on your culinary journey?
I think it would have to be my lecturer at the college I went to. He always inspired me to achieve good flavour combinations and present my dishes in a neat and tidy way. I’ve taken that lesson with me everywhere, and I still take pride in creating good looking and good tasting food.
One tip for an aspiring pâtissier?
Never give up.
"Being a part of moulding someone and possibly changing their future is so fulfilling."
Do you have a favourite sweet flavour combination?
A New York baked cheesecake!
Has cooking always been a pleasure for you?
I’ve always loved cooking. If you’re happy and you are in a job doing what you love, you’ll naturally be at your best – even when you are producing the same product many times! But the difference is seeing someone different eating it and enjoying it, and that’s what makes cooking special.
How did you feel when you landed your first job in a 5-star hotel?
Fulfilled! It had always been an aspiration of mine and it came true! Of course I felt nervous, but in my opinion if you have nerves it shows that you care. Nerves make you listen, pay attention and retain information – when you don’t have them anymore you are more likely to make mistakes and become complacent.
What’s been the strangest cooking request you’ve had?
One has to be Bruce Springsteen – he used to request caviar and peanut butter in the afternoons.
How did you train your palate to be able to distinguish and match flavours
I had an acute palate from a young age, but I think it’s important that when you eat food - that you start to build an opinion of flavours and describe what you can taste.
What would you choose to make at home on a cold winter's day?
Crumpets or a drop scone.
What do you think is the hardest technique to master in the sugar world?
The shaping of pulled sugar - without a doubt.
What is it like to participate in national and international level competitions?
Stressful, but exhilarating! At 24 I competed in the catering Olympics in Frankfurt and won the bronze prize. I had created a sugar basket, but once in the car and two miles down the road it cracked! When I arrived at the destination and found my table – which happened to be next to The Dorchester team who had a small army of people, I was terrified!
Favourite kitchen gadget?
A whisk that I cut the ends off to make straight rods so I could make candy style spun sugar. I have had this for over thirty five years in my knife kit - it holds many memories!