Leeds pastry chef Stefan Rose talks to Neil Hudson about cooking on Bake Off and why dessert could be the most important dish on the menu
Stefan Rose is used to performing under pressure. As head pastry chef at Leeds-based multi-award winning Crafthouse restaurant, he’s accustomed to turning out scores of dishes a day, each of them meeting exacting standards.
Television viewers will no doubt recognise his face from BBC2’s Bake Off Creme de la Creme, the final of which airs tonight. Stefan made it all the way to the semis and so left the series last week but he says it was an experience he thoroughly enjoyed, despite the added pressure of cooking in front of a television crew.
“It has been high pressure but a fantastic experience. We [his team included Leeds chocolatier Stephen Trigg, of Kirkstall-based Lauden Chocolate, which supplies British Airways and double Michelin Starred pastry chef Nelson Barros, of Galvins Restaurants, London] were really up against it. The biggest challenge was being in a new environment with different sized ovens and unfamiliar equipment. I think everyone struggled to begin with but we just got on with it.
“Working with cameras was a shock to the system but again it was something we ended up getting used to. Most of the time, we were really busy concentrating on what we were doing and the cameras were there but we were focussed on the food. Sometimes they would come up really close and you would be asked questions, so that’s when we noticed them. But we are all used to working under pressure in the kitchen.
“Because we were the last team, we didn’t have enough time to practice for the semi-finals. It was the first time we had made the showpiece and it was a very technical dessert, so I think if we’d had more time to practice, we would have done much better.”
I like the idea you can create something memorable. I think in terms of importance, it could be the most important dish on the menu, because it’s the thing that you leave the customer with. It’s your chance to make an impression on them.Stefan Rose, head pastry chef at Crafthouse, Leeds
The 30-year-old says he has always had a passion for food and indeed, it’s something which runs in the family. His grandmother Evelyn Rose, who died in 2003, received an MBE from the Queen for services to the food industry and she authored and co-authored more than a dozen books, her magnum opus being The Complete International Jewish Cookbook, first published in 1976 and revised three times, most recently in 2011.
“It ran very richly in my family and I grew up with it but it was not until I went to university I discovered a passion for food.” At the time he was studying for a BA in urban and political geography. “I used to love getting people around and cooking for them. It was a great chance to experiment and I found I had a passion for it.
“After uni, I ended up as a commis chef at the Hilton hotel in Leeds and that was just a part time job but I really liked it.”
From there he moved to The Waterfront, Brewery Wharf in Leeds, which was a transformational experience. “There was a great young head chef there, it was the first time I saw brilliant ingredients being used, it gave me a fantastic insight.”
However, it was at this stage his career as a chef took a slight detour, after he decided to take a year out to do an internship with local church to get theological training. He was in the process of applying to become primary school teacher when he had an epiphany of sorts and decided instead to take the plunge and follow his passion for pastry.
He subsequently did time at Anthonys Piazza in the Corn Exchange, before moving to a private members’ club, where he was put on the pastry section and basically taught himself how to cook desserts.
From there he went to the Create restaurant (now the Atlas pub) and worked under Richard Walton-Allen, previously of Harvey Nichols.”
“I absolutely loved it there,” enthuses Stefan. “Richard recognised I had a passion for desserts and he really brought that out in me, so working under him was excellent. They had a Michelin Bib Gourmand and food critic Jay Rayner even ate there.”
From there, he did a stint at the Michelin starred The Box Tree, Ilkley and also did work experience at Marcus Warering’s The Berkely in Knightsbridge, Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social and even a day at his food hero Gordon Ramsey’s three Michelin starred restaurant in Chelsea.
But when Crafthouse called to offer him a job as head pastry chef, he jumped at the chance.
“It was much closer to where I lived and I had seen the Trinity [shopping centre] grow from nothing, it was a long commute to Ilkley. I went to have a chat with Lee Bennett from Crafthouse and he hired me on the spot. That was in April 2013, so I’ve been there three years now.
“I like the idea you can create something memorable. I think in terms of importance, it could be the most important dish on the menu, because it’s the thing that you leave the customer with. It’s your chance to make an impression on them. I think the pastry section is often overlooked in professional kitchens.”
So, does he have a favourite dessert?
“I always love using rhubarb, other than that, I also love creating chocolate desserts, we always have a souffle on the menu - in fact, we do a great take on sticky toffee pud but because it’s a souffle, it’s much lighter and bit more elegant.”
The future looks bright too, with Crafthouse owners D&D London set to open a new Asian-themed venue in Victoriagate next year and another already confirmed for Manchester.
Right now, he’s looking forward to wedding his fiance, jazz singer Marlena Kelli in the summer and continuing to make sure people leave Craftouse with smiles on their faces.
“Leeds has a very vibrant scene, there are new restaurants all the time, there’s a real divers range to choose from when you eat, from fine dining to Cantonese street food. We’re always improving, always looking to make the perfect dessert. Bake Off was a huge pressure but I think in the end it made us all better chefs.”