Chef Nicholas Patterson was first introduced to pâtisserie in 1987 when working at Stanneylands Hotel in Cheshire. In 1989 while working at The Royal Garden he won the prestigious Porter Prize London for 'Young Pâtissier of the Year', and in 1993, while at Café Royal, Chef Nicholas won first prize in the 'Michael Nadel Dessert of the Year'. He spent time in Paris learning from some of the French masters, including Pierre Hermé.
On returning to London in 2004, Chef Nicholas joined the team at Claridge's as Head Pastry Chef. Here he fine-tuned the hotel's renowned afternoon tea experience, which went on to win the 'Best London Afternoon Tea' in 2006 and 2011. To add to his already burgeoning prize collection, he also won 'The Craft Guild of Chefs - UK Pasty Chef of the Year' award in 2008.
Chef Nicholas then moved to the Shangri-La Hotel in the Shard in London, before joining Le Cordon Bleu's team of Pâtisserie Teaching Chefs in 2015.
What made you want to become a pâtisserie chef?
I loved home cooked meals. My brother was a baker and my mum was a very good cook. We used to watch all the cookery programmes together and had a pudding every night.
So I finally made the decision to attend catering college, but they didn’t offer a dedicated pâtisserie course, so I took bakery which allowed me to diversify into bread and flour. I adored my lessons and I made neat rosettes, which was when I realised that I was quite a detailed person and it all just clicked.
I didn’t realise until a bit later on that you could actually be a pastry chef – so I found a position as a Commis in a small team and in a few weeks I was making chocolate and bread. But before all of this I thought my life was going to revolve around meat cleavers and cookery books that I had received for Christmas.
What made you want to be a teaching chef?
During my time in many professional kitchens I used to take ownership of the junior chefs and took a great deal of pleasure in hearing them pass on the knowledge that I had taught them to others in the team.
I feel just the same about being at Le Cordon Bleu, I love coming back to the grass roots giving the students a great culinary training, with the right tools, with the right equipment and the perfect environment.
Are there any trends that you are most passionate about within your field?
Probably French pâtisserie and a French style and bringing it to London. I really enjoyed my time working in France and always followed what’s happening over there and tried to emulate that here. I wanted to learn from the best in France so I downgraded from a Sous Chef to a Commis Chef and began my traditional training, whilst gaining a better command for the language and worked hard to gain respect in the kitchen and let my team see my potential.
What made Le Cordon Bleu stand out for you?
The equipment is second to none and all of the students are so dedicated. I’ve come from a luxury cooking environment, and at Le Cordon Bleu I know that I’ll be able to teach my students with the very best ingredients and each student will have their own lobster or mango or whatever it is they are working with, which is fantastic! It gives the students a real feeling for what they’re doing and when they leave to work in a working kitchen they won’t be fazed.
I love coming back to the grass roots to give students a great culinary training.
One tip for an aspiring pâtissier
Dedication and practise! You can read as many cookbooks as you like, but unless you repeat the technique and practise, you won’t perfect the skill. Lots of pastry chefs use continuity to make them tick, so setting the discipline of making the same product perfectly time and time again is crucial.
What do you think is the hardest technique to master in your field?
One is the art of consistency and the second is sugar work, particularly pulled sugar work.
How did you find the transition between working for hotels and top retailers?
They are both very different roles, but even so – you still need to be consistent in your work. In retail you work a lot more closely to calculations and are in the development process a little longer.
When I was working in France I was more directly involved with shops, which does sometimes feel like a production environment. Each day of the week has its own specific task – for example all day Monday would be one task and Tuesdays always another. This did become slightly monotonous, but I do like to be ordered and have a routine.
What has been the proudest moment of your career to date?
I think there have been two. The first is working for Pierre Herme, I think I was probably the first English person to work with him, and I dropped on the opportunity just by chance – a theme which has ran through my entire career. The second has to be winning the ‘Craft Guild of Chefs UK Pastry Chef of the Year award’ in 2008. This was extra special to me as you have to be nominated by your peers.
How do you go about fine-tuning a signature dish?
First of all I would look to get the basic idea on paper, and then I would look at how I could incorporate different knowledge and skills from a previous dish. For example a chocolate mousse could be infused with flavours – many dishes can be transformed just by adding in different flavours.
Inevitably I think you develop your own style when developing, but I will always ask my team for their thoughts – especially the juniors! It makes them feel like a part of the team and they will one day go to respect their juniors too.
When approaching the team, I will take 3 – 4 variations of the dish and we will discuss the decoration, the textures – if it’s too soft, too crunchy, hot or cold. If there is one tip that I could give to students looking to take a development role, it would be don’t have too many people opinions too early on as your ideas can become very confused.
What does it take to create signature Christmas and Easter gifts that are a sell out across London?
Well first of all you need to establish what’s in season and what’s fashionable. But I have a warning when it comes to creating these items for retail – and that’s don’t create signature items that you like, create something that you think customers will like and what they will want to buy! I learnt that lesson the hard way.