Abigail Scheuer, Le Choux27th June 2018
What’s it really like to start a business in hospitality? We started an interview series to find out.
This week, we talked with Abigail Scheuer, Founder of Le Choux, about the difference between Paris and London, Yorkshire puddings and choux buns, and the one pastry every baker hates to make.
Choux seems to be very much in vogue right now. Why has a hundreds-year-old French pastry suddenly become everyone’s favourite treat?
This pastry has transformed dramatically in the last few years, especially in Paris. Pastry chefs have developed and refined the pastry, from controlling the oven temperature, the consistency of the pastry and baking it with a crumble topping.
A choux bun used to look like a Yorkshire pudding with icing on top. It’s now been developed in the same way a macaron has, to a perfect bun glazed and filled. In the same way, you can find doughnuts with all different flavours and the same can be done with choux! The pastry is baked and contains only a little butter so it’s lighter than most pastries.
What’s the one pastry that all bakers hate to make?
I’m not sure about the pastry, as everybody has different things they love and hate, but I know that every pastry chef has a creme patisserie nightmare story.
They normally start with “when I used to have to make twelve litres of creme pat to make…” I hated to be on crème patisserie duty when I was at work!
Paris is like Mecca for pastry chefs. What do they have that we don’t?
Parisian pastry chefs are like scientists in a lab, for a start.
In Paris, they are constantly innovating and use progressive ideas alongside a respect for tradition, which means they are able to achieve the highest standards.
When I worked in Paris, I was always hearing about ‘savoir-faire’ which means ‘know how.’ You must know and understand the way things are made before you can manipulate and change them.
Every pastry chef in France needs to qualify and pass a CAP Patisserie exam before she or he can work, he must know ‘les bases’ – the fundamental skills, like shortcrust pastry, croissant pastry, creme patisserie, creme anglaise – before being able to make changes and improve them.
This makes room for progressive ideas with a twist on the traditional technique, and the result is phenomenal. We simply don’t have this strict rigour and determination that they have.
This may also be due to it being very competitive in Paris; there are so many patisseries and boulangeries so the pastry chefs strive to make their work stand out. Pastry and cuisine are both highly respected professions in France, whereas in the UK, often the chef is the dessert chef as well.
"Markets and pop-ups are cool and are the place to find high-quality artisan products. I love that so much about London"
We obviously have a lower barrier to entry here. Does that help English bakers be more creative? Or are they just more likely to cut corners?
Honestly, I think a bit of both.
I think that English bakers are very creative, but also more likely to cut corners. On the positive side this leads to innovation because they find a way of doing things in another way, but in France, they have to stick by the rules!
What will it take to make baking – and hospitality in general – more respected on this side of the Channel?
It already is becoming more respected, as people have started thinking about where their food and ingredients come from, and people are more conscious now than ever of what they are consuming.
I think this will continue to increase with the excitement of artisan and handmade products being more respected than mass-produced alternatives.
Food & drink is suffering a major skills shortage right now. Is this the case in pastry too? And what can we do to solve this riddle?
There are ways we can solve this, and I feel very passionately about this.
With Brexit, it will be harder than ever to share our skills and bring in new talent to innovate ideas in all industries, particularly in food and drink.
To be honest, things aren’t looking so good for pastry as last year was the final year that the government offered pastry apprenticeships. I was willing to take on an apprentice this year however I could not do so because I was not able to teach them cookery.
The new apprenticeship is only available for a commis chef, not for a pastry chef. And to solve this problem, they should bring back pastry and bakery apprenticeships and promote them more in schools as a valued option.
Le Choux has popped up all over London. What do you think pop up culture has done for the London food scene?
Markets and pop-ups are cool and are the place to find high-quality artisan products. I love that so much about London.
Pop-up culture has given chefs and foodies the opportunity to test their concepts out on the public at a relatively low start-up cost. This means people can build on a business and see if it works before developing it further, or before investing in bricks and mortar.
As a result, top chefs and bakers are open to starting up on their own, elevating the quality of the food and making it exciting for everyone.
Provenance and heritage have never been more celebrated in food. How does this translate to pastry? Is it something that people ask you about?
Yes of course. It is always a pleasure to work with great raw ingredients.
People consider what they consume now more than ever – as we discussed earlier – so it is natural for artisans to be increasingly focussed on sustainable practice and championing their producers and suppliers more.
People do ask me about this, and I like to work with a focus on ethically sourced ingredients wherever I can.
And I’m not a vegan, but my eyes are not closed to the damage that we are doing to animals and to our planet.
Most of our products are sourced locally, especially the dairy and eggs – which we use a lot of! I’m open to new ingredients coming in as countries and passionate suppliers start to make their products widely available.
We aim to work with high quality, ethically sourced ingredients with new creativity and a luxury angle, but with a low damaging impact.
As people’s perceptions of dairy change, can you see traditional bakeries moving to more ‘free from’ ingredients? Or is this a no go?
I certainly think that bakeries will move towards ‘free from’ ingredients, indeed they’re doing it right now; I’ve seen this done so a lot this year.
We’ve been working towards a vegan choux as we know that more people are turning towards a vegan lifestyle. It is something that we are conscious of.
I believe in a balanced diet, but I do agree that animal products should be consumed a lot less than they are. But I also really love butter and cream…so I’m having particular difficulty getting rid of these!