Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about what you do?
I’m currently a freelance pastry consultant after working my way up in kitchens from a commis (junior) chef to a head of pastry. This means I help restaurants to come up with new menus and train their staff on how to make these dishes.
What does the average day look like for you?
Since going freelance my day is always changing. A typical day in the kitchen starts pretty early, usually around 07:00–08:00. I’ll go through recipes, testing them with different ingredients before training someone else on how to do it. It usually involves a lot of tasting! A day in the kitchen can go on until about 23:00.
What would you say is the most exciting opportunity you’ve had in your career so far?
Getting to make a cake for Prince Charles was really fun, especially as I had no idea he would be cutting it until I saw him on the day. I was commissioned to bake a cake for a charity event for Baroness Nicholson for the AMAR Foundation. When I turned up to the event with the cake, I found out it was for him! He cut it, ate a piece, shook my hand and told me how much he appreciated the fact I had used fresh cream and not buttercream.
I also cooked for Beyoncé and Jay-Z very early on in my career! When I was working at a high-end Japanese restaurant, the kitchen was open like a fish tank; we worked looking at all of the customers. One night, Jay-Z and Beyoncé were two of those customers. That was a very fun night!
Getting to meet lots of people is always a good part of this job, especially as nearly everyone finds it easy to bond over food.
You recently set up Countertalk – a collective that aims to connect chefs, promote their work and run events. Could you tell us more?
I set it up after being fed up about the lack of female representation in the culinary world. It can be really tough to get the same amount of recognition and respect just by being a female chef as the industry is so male-led, especially at the top.
I also set it up to give more exposure to those restauranteurs and chefs who don’t have the budget to promote themselves. The industry in London is so huge you can almost feel a bit isolated by it, so Countertalk works to bring everyone together through it to encourage mentorship, education and networking. It’s also very much focused on staff treatment and making sure kitchens are healthy environments to work in.
How do you hope Countertalk will influence the food industry?
I hope it will create more unity among chefs in London. I only advertise jobs where the kitchens treat the staff properly, so I am hoping that it will inspire companies to implement better working practices.
Do you have a signature dish or recipe?
I love making anything custard based! I would say, however, that people always get excited by my puff pastry.
What has your career taught you so far?
Resilience! Learning how to be on my feet for 18 hours a day and having fun with it.
What are your memories from your time at the University of Southampton?
I had so much fun living in a house with seven other girls; there was always something going on! I also always enjoyed taking part in the experiments as part of my course.
Studying psychology isn’t the usual start to becoming a chef: are there any unexpected ways in which your university experience has influenced your career? Was baking and cooking a passion of yours while you were studying here?
I always joke that I needed a psychology degree to be a chef! You are in a mixing pot with so many different types of people every day, often dealing with a lot of different scenarios. I always seem to end up being the one listening to people’s problems; I think my psychology degree helped me in that way. Also, it gave me the ability to write well, which can be a massive help with structuring emails and recipe writing.
While at Southampton I was always baking for housemates or for charity functions, too. I also helped to set up the Cake Decorating Society which helped me to develop my skills. I researched lots of cookery courses, then went to Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in London.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to follow a similar career path?
Do some work experience in a kitchen you think you would want to work in for a week or two before committing to it.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got some fun events planned for Countertalk in 2019. For example, in January we held a screening of a documentary called The Heat, which is all about female chefs. We have events coming up all about pasta, ice cream, coffee and bread, too.
Follow Ravneet’s work on her Instagram profile