Francesco Coratella – Italian Head Pastry Chef at Hakkasan Group, London
Francesco Coratella talks about the passion and fascination of being a pastry chef, about the importance of seasonal cooking and local products and London´s latest food trends.
A Q&A with Francesco Coratella
Francesco, you are an Italian Head Pastry Chef, working in London today with the Hakkasan Group. Where did your pastry chef career start?
Since I was young I always been passionate about food and I always loved help my mother and grandmother in the kitchen and get my hands dirty in flour and eggs.
At 14 years old I decided to pursuit this passion and leave home to start a culinary college in Abruzzo about 400km away from my native town.
My career in this industry started in the hot kitchen back in Italy where I use to work every weekend and seasonally between the 3 months college summer holiday to pay off my bill at school. In 2008 I had the amazing opportunity to stage in a well know pastry shop in a village near Bologna of the pioneer of the Italian pastry and awarded Pastry Chef Gino Fabbri, and it was there that I fell in love with the pastry world.
What fascinates you about being a pastry chef?
The most fascinating thing of being a pastry chef for me is the chemistry behind each preparation when combining always the same basic ingredients together but using different methods you can have an endless different result every time and therefore is a learning process every day, constantly researching how to make a better product respecting the raw material and most important of all keep it consistent at all the time.
Make customers smile and happy when they eat your creations is one of the best satisfactions that a chef can have, and this is my goal every day in the restaurant.
How would you describe your culinary line as pastry chef today?
Taste, seasonality, simplicity, and harmony with the hot kitchen food are my main criteria when I develop a new plated dessert.
When tasting a new creation, we always taste it against a signature dish from the hot kitchen to make sure that what we are producing complements the meal, is not to heavy, and also very important contribute to make memorable the guest experience.
Can you share some of your actual creations/recipes with us?
Golden fortune (Full recipe here)
I developed this dessert for the Chinese New Year 2017.
This dessert is inspired by the Chinese fortune coins (Feng Shui Coins). They are round and have a square hole in the middle. The round shape represents the heavens. The square is a symbol of the four corners of the earth.
The dessert is developed in a choux paste case layered with a lemon soaked sponge, roasted macadamia crunchy layer, piped on the top is a lemongrass infused mascarpone cream, filled in the centre with ginger caramel and closed on the top with a chocolate fortune coin casted with Mardirofolo dark chocolate 64% with bitter and sharp citrus note that is well combined and balance the flavour of the dish.
Tea and Cake (Full recipe here)
This is unique creation for Hakkasan London, where I decided to write the story on the menu to let the guests understand the work and research behind this dessert.
According to an ancient Chinese legend, a grateful Chinese man whose son was rescued from drowning by one of Lord Grey’s brigade first presented the bergamot oil scented Earl Grey tea blend to the Earl in 1803.
Tea and Cake is a celebration of Earl Grey tea, with an Earl Grey panna cotta topped with bergamot ice cream and accompanied by an Earl Grey cake dressed with bergamot cream, an Earl Grey meringue and jelly, and confit citrus and corn flowers.
Seasonal cooking has established itself in many kitchens. Which seasonal pastry concept do you have?
Respect what the seasons give us is very important to achieve the best result in terms of flavours and sustainability.
This becomes quite challenging when I develop a new dish that as to copy with a huge volume of covers, and to keep flavour consistency through the season we often have to work with high quality semi-finished ingredients, like fruit puree, combining them with the fresh seasonal product to maintain the same standard every day.
Another aspect in the gastronomy became the regional supply/cooperation with regional producers and suppliers. Does that also apply to your work?
It certainly applies to me as well, specially whit the fresh seasonal fruit, but not only.
In one of my latest project I wanted to combine the Chinese tradition with the local product and producer.
I decided to work with the honey one of my favourite ingredients and gift that the nature give us.
According to Ancient Chinese medicine, honey is a major component to earth, one of the five basic elements, and acts on the stomach and spleen meridians of the human body, and in London particularly in Bermondsey street we have one of the best quality honey producers in UK.
Earlier this summer I have organised a visit with my pastry team to Dale and Sarah’s apiary to let them understand and respect all the process behind the production of the honey, and to educate them to distinguee an industrial from an artisanal product which very often the young generation doesn’t acknowledge.
What are your favorite ingredients that you use for your pastry work?
Seasonal fresh fruits are one of my favourite ingredients, I grow up in Puglia, region where the Mediterranean clime favourite the farming of a lot of different fruit and veg all year long, and having an uncle farmer, every family meal the fruit on the table was a must.
Chocolate is another fascinating great ingredient, which I use with a lot of respect in my pastry creations. There is a huge and interesting world behind the chocolate that starts with the hard work of the farmer around the equator before that the cocoa beans are processed to become the common chocolate that we use every day in our kitchens.
Back to your roots in Italy; what was and still is your favourite Italian Pastry dish?
I love classic, and although can be foregone for an Italian pastry chef my two favourite Italian pastries are Panettone and Tiramisu’.
Where do you get your inspiration for your creations from?
Researching, reading, eating outside, self-studying, exchanging idea with people of different culture, travelling, visiting local market, but most important of all I always get involved all my chefs in the development process doing brain storming and give them chance to be part of building a dish, which then can potentially be part of a new menu, and is quite interesting to see how different people get inspired in different way.
How often do you change the pastry menus?
I always change menu seasonally trying to get the best of the products that the season can offer.
Since you have worked as a pastry chef in London for several years; how does this city inspire you?
London is an amazing city that never stops, where the times goes sometimes too fast, but I just love it!
Every corner of the city is inspiring and being a multicultural metropolis, you can find an endless diversity of food scene which inspire me every day in different way.
London has such a large and wide food scene. What are some of the latest trends you can see – especially with pastries?
People are becoming every day always more educated to acknowledge good product from an industrial and average product which is very positive for our industry because gives space to the smaller artisanal businesses to become more successful.
There is a big demanding on the market for healthy food, therefore Organic, vegan, and gluten free shops are increasing and consequentially as chefs we need to be always in constantly development to satisfy and don’t disappointing this slice of market that is becoming bigger every day, although I personally still prefer a nice classic butter almond croissant then a gluten and dairy free pastry.
As Head Pastry Chef, in charge of the pastry operations of the two restaurants in London of the Hakkasan Group, you manage two teams for a total of 15 pastry chefs. Is this job more a management job? Or do you still have the chance to work in the kitchen?
I must admit it is a challenging position where I need to commit as a manager but also as a leader working every day very close with my teams in the kitchens and splitting my self in both restaurants on a weekly basis.
But the true key for my successful job are my two passionate pastry teams with my two amazing sous chefs supporting me every day overseeing the London operations keeping high standard without never disappointing me. I am very lucky to have them with me.
How do you manage the twist between high volume of covers and maintaining this with a Michelin star standard?
When I first arrived in Hakkasan I was a bit scared to the idea of running a 600 covers dinner service at a Michelin star standard, and I couldn’t figure out how that is possible.
Thanks to my two great mentor and friends the former global Executive Pastry chef Graham Hornigold and the Executive pastry chef Daniel Pearse, whom guide and teach me how to achieve these standards.
Well trained team standardise recipes and methods across the two sites, working head and clever on developing new menus, organization, daily tasting of the final product plays a key factor on maintaining a Michelin star standard although the volume of covers.
Many foreign chefs are still keen to work in the UK – especially in London. How do you handle the recruitment of the chef in the Hakkasan Group? Can you apply directly?
Everyone is free to apply directly to the vacancies in Hakkasan Group.
I directly manage the pastry chefs recruitment for the two Hakkasan London, which is becoming very challenging because there are very few quality chefs on the market and with the big offer of jobs in London there is a lot competition to get good chefs on board.
Thank you very much, Francesco!