Chef Julie joined Le Cordon Bleu London in 1995, following an illustrious 10 year career as a Pâtisserie chef at elite hotels such as Sheraton Skyline, Gleneagles and Coppid Beech Hotel, and as Head Pastry Chef for premier event caterer Letherby & Christopher.
Chef Julie was promoted to Head Pâtisserie Chef in 2006 and has continued to add to her achievements, taking part in several international food festivals, appearing on TV and radio shows, and undertaking commissions for various celebrities and media events. She has also contributed to the publication of many Le Cordon Bleu books, such as Dessert Techniques, Home Collection and Professional Baking.
With boundless creativity, some of Chef Julie’s career highlights include the 15-tier, 25 ft high cake for the Queen mother’s 100th birthday and a four-tier replica of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip's wedding cake for an exhibition on the history of royal wedding cakes.
What made you want to be a chef and then a teaching chef?
I always cooked at home with my mum, mostly traditional foods with no measurements, and once I reached my secondary school I had a really inspirational home economics teacher who made me realise that I could do something I loved as a profession. I always remember her to be so glamorous, and with a class of 20 she magically appeared with the most amazing dishes, but had not seemed to have even lifted a finger. I think I was so struck by her organisation that this has stuck with me right the way through to teaching my own students.
What are you most passionate about in the food world?
I really enjoy being artistic and I love that side of creating food. From intricate decoration on cakes to pretty desserts and chocolate sculptures. Patisserie is really the area where food meets art. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in judging and creating some incredible edible art over the years and sometimes it hard to tell where the piece stops being called food and starts being classified as a work of art.
One tip for an aspiring chef
Practise makes perfect! You never stop learning, that’s what I say to my students. Never assume that someone of a lower position than you can’t teach you something – even a pot washer could teach you something about how the business operates.
What do you think is the hardest technique to master in your field?
Plating desserts! Every Head Chef has their own style of plating, it goes towards the identity of the establishment they work in. It’s hard to develop your own plating style without compromise. Not everyone will appreciate your style, you should listen to their feedback but remember it’s impossible to please everybody!
You’ve judged many high- level competitions, but how would you describe your teaching style?
I always remember that individual students will each have something different they want to take from every class. I try to get them to focus on understanding and mastering the technique and being consistent in their approach, rather than being only focused on replicating what they’ve seen in demonstration or elsewhere.
Do you have a favourite kitchen gadget?
My Kitchen Aid mixer – actually I have three – which is perhaps too many?! But I must confess I like to accessorize with colours, so every time I redecorate the kitchen it’s time for a new one! I have so many gadgets that are rarely used, but my Kitchen Aid is the workhorse of my kitchen, which is currently red.
What’s in your fridge?
Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh pasta, steak, chicken breast, yoghurts, Cheese Strings, Dairylea Triangles, sausages (not all for me - I’m sure you can spot a few of my son’s favourites). Also a few tubs of leftovers, as they say ‘once a chef always a chef’, I never quite got the hang of downsizing my recipes! Finally, of course absolutely no butter, cream, champagne, wine or chocolate – you do believe me don’t you?!
Practise makes perfect!
What is the most unusual item you have created out of chocolate/sugar/cake?
I have done so many over the years it’s hard to choose. One of my favourites was a life-size Wurlitzer duke box made out of chocolate that played music. It weighed about 80 kg and was for the wedding of a famous musician. It played a track he had written and recorded for his bride, and at the reception the children were asked to smash open the front part so that thousands of M&M’s came spilling out - only the red ones of course – very rock star!
Who has been your favourite person to cook for?
Regardless of all the celebrities I have cooked for, nothing comes close to being able to cook for and with my son. Watching him grow up to appreciate good food is very rewarding. I think it is very important for every child to learn the difference between freshly cooked foods and processed foods, and for them to understand where food comes from and the impact it can have on their lives. Making the right choices with food can start from a very early age.
If you could teach your students one thing what would it be?
Knowledge is meant to be shared so learn your lessons, perfect your technique and pass it on. You never stop learning, no matter how much you think you know. Even now I still like to learn new techniques and our industry is constantly evolving, so the learning curve never ends, it just becomes a little more gentle.
What’s your earliest cooking memory?
Definitely my Mum’s home cooking. I was very lucky that she was able to stay home and look after me when I was growing up, so she would always make fresh meals from scratch. She was quite experimental –not always deliberately – but experimental none the less. I will never forget her first attempt at making curry – thankfully my taste buds have now fully recovered! She was very proficient at making her repertoire of recipes and never used a recipe book (or scales for that matter!). There were always freshly baked biscuits and cakes at home, which made me very popular at school. It wasn’t unusual for our house to be inundated with groups of ‘friends’ after school!
What do you like to make with your son Rowan?
He loves making cakes, muffins and cookies, especially the mixing and decorating parts. However, just like his Mum, he’s not a great fan of actually eating his creations, so we usually end up giving them away to friends and neighbours. He also likes helping with my ‘mise en place’ when I make dinner – he is getting very proficient at slicing and peeling vegetables – although his ‘turned’ mushrooms could do with a little more work!