In the second of our ‘Behind The Ropes’ blog series, we speak to Britannia’s Executive Pastry Chef, Stephen Espouy, who, we’re proud to say, recently won third place at the UK pre-selections of the World Chocolate Masters (WCM).
Stephen joined Britannia in May 2015 and leads a small (but perfectly formed!) team who work in Britannia’s brand new Pastry Galley. He is responsible for making all the desserts in the Royal Deck Tea Room as well as the exquisite petits fours, chocolate delicacies and dessert canapés served at dinners and drinks receptions on board Her Majesty The Queen’s former floating palace.
How did you get your start in the pastry industry?
When I moved to Scotland as a teenager I often worked for my father who owned a bakery in Victoria Street in Edinburgh. Latterly he opened a chocolatier in the city’s Royal Mile where I started working full time after finishing school. My career developed and progressed thereafter as I took opportunities to work all over the world from Life with Cacao gourmet dessert cafe in Kuwait to the Ritz Carlton Sharq Village & Spa in Qatar.
When the role of Executive Pastry Chef at The Royal Yacht Britannia came up, my family and I were looking to move back to Scotland from Qatar so it was the perfect opportunity for me.
What are the challenges of working as a Pastry Chef?
The biggest challenge on Britannia, in particular, is logistics. We work in the original Royal Galleys on board the ship which are relatively small with low ceilings, and we have portholes for windows! Recently the kitchens expanded to include a brand new purpose-built Pastry Galley which is a real bonus for the team. The new galley has increased our work space, storage and facilities.
You have worked in numerous places around the world, who would you say has inspired you in your career and why?
Throughout my career my father has been a source of inspiration - he has a great palate and fantastic ideas. And chocolatier chef Olivier Nicod opened up my eyes to what is possible when I worked with him at my father’s chocolatier.
My former boss Nawaf Al-Sharekh at Life with Cacao in Kuwait taught me a lot about running a business and managing people. And finally, I very much enjoyed working alongside Consultant Pastry Chef Stephane Sucheta in Kuwait.
Hailed as the ‘most challenging and inspiring chocolate competition’ in the world of gastronomy, and the most prestigious to win for chocolate chefs, tell us more about your involvement with the World Chocolate Masters.
The UK pre-selections were held in London on Monday 9 October. I was competing against 5 of the most talented pastry chefs in the land which was nerve-wracking! Our brief was to create a patisserie, a ‘snack to go’ and a show piece for the judges. The theme was ‘Futropolis’ to inspire thoughts of how life will be in the cities of the future. It was a long, hard day in the competition kitchens, but I was so pleased to win third place.
What advice would you pass on to anyone considering a career in pastry?
Start at the bottom. It’s really important in pastry to master the basics and the classics. This will give you a base to build on. The learning and evolving never stops!
What are your plans for the future?
I’m looking forward to Britannia’s exciting hotel project launching next year. Fingal will be a luxury 23 cabin floating hotel berthed near Britannia in the historic port of Leith. It will feature a spectacular ballroom so I’m planning to create show-stopping desserts to match!
Stranded on a ‘dessert’ island – which desserts could you not live without?
Chocolate in all forms! And I love ice-cream, especially with fresh fruit. Strawberries are a favourite, and cheesecake, and chocolate gateaux… I could go on…!
Have you had any kitchen disasters?
Thankfully no disasters! But there are always things that can, and do, go wrong, especially during service when time is of the essence. All we can do is take a deep breath, stay calm and start again, or find a solution to the problem. Losing your cool achieves very little!
Who would you invite to your perfect dinner on board Britannia?
I would invite my wife and children to join my perfect dinner, but on the other hand, I would’ve loved to have been invited on board Britannia as a guest of The Queen when the yacht was in Royal Service – that would’ve been a real once in a lifetime experience.
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