By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
Having worked within the kitchens of some of Europe’s most prestigious restaurants – notably Can Fabes near Barcelona and L’Atelier Joël Robuchon here in London – multi award winning pastry chef Joakim Prat opened his first solo venture last year. Located close to Kensington’s French Lycée, just seconds from South Kensington underground station, Maître Choux specialises in choux pastry, unsurprisingly, crafting the most intricately beautiful and tantalisingly delicious éclairs available outside a Three Michelin-starred Parisian restaurant. Available in a range of flavours, the éclairs are made daily and join a selection of filled choux buns and chouquettes (bite-sized spheres of hollow choux pastry dusted with pearl sugar).
And with the patisserie having been open for around a year now, we recently caught up with the chef to discuss the past twelve months of Maître Choux.
Maître Choux has been open for almost a year now, how have the past 12 months been?
The past twelve months have been incredible. The learning curve has been extremely steep, but we are finally able to take a breath as we have an incredible team of people both in the kitchen and in the shop who make sure that everything runs smoothly, with the customer being our priority. The initial stress of diving head first into this entrepreneurial adventure has finally subsided to the euphoria of constantly seeing smiles on customers faces, raving reviews, giving me more time to spend creating new flavours.
Could you tell us a little bit more about your background as a chef?
I started working in the kitchen when I was 14 years old. Straight away, I loved the busy environment, the orderly chaos, and the focus it takes to consistently be at your best. Both individually and as a team. Before l’Atelier I was if not the, one of the, youngest Executive pastry chefs in the world in a Three Michelin star restaurant at the age of 25. The restaurant was called Can Fabes and was the Three Michelin star brainchild of great Spanish chef, the late Santi Santamaria. This really shaped me and taught me how to manage people on top of simply creating desserts. This was quite pivotal to me as this allowed me to really take my career to another level. Then following this, I came to work for Mr. Robuchon in London at l’Atelier where I was in charge of all the desserts for the restaurant and the catering.
How does owning and running your own patisserie compare to working within the kitchens of the likes of L’Atelier and Can Fabes?
While the quality and consistency of the desserts is similar as we are really producing Three Michelin star quality desserts on a daily basis, the main difference is that no one else is accountable if something goes wrong. Therefore, you really have to constantly stay on your toes to avoid all the pitfalls. This can be quite exhausting, but at the end of the day, the end result directly depends on what you put in, and I will never be satisfied with anything less than perfection. I guess I now understand why some of my previous mentors took everything at heart so much. Your reputation is constantly on the line, and you cannot allow yourself to slip!
What made you decide to set up Maître Choux in London? And in its particular location?
Éclairs are the most sold pastry products in French patisseries and I felt like they ought to receive more exposure in the UK. The entire population of pastry-addicts that are the French cannot all be wrong in their pastry of choice! While the quality of food in London has skyrocketed to the top of the World’s rankings over the past decade, there has not been an equivalent rise in the quality of desserts that Londoners can indulge in. The choices that Londoners face when it comes to buying everyday desserts are still quite limited to what I would call comfort food bakery products such as brownies, banana bread, cupcakes, sponge cakes, etc. Maître Choux is here to change this and this is why I picked London instead of Paris which already has a strong dessert offer.
My goal is to bring the finest quality desserts to the general public without having to go to expensive fancy restaurants. Set in the heart of South Kensington, the design of the shop also stands as a reminder of French pastry heritage. It is elegant yet playful and reflects the modernity and visuals of our products. The location was perfect for us as it is right opposite the French Lycée, which means that the word of mouth within the French community would spread quickly. This could have gone both ways! I am extremely proud of what the team has accomplished as our desserts are constantly raved about in the area!
Having began to supply Fortnum & Mason at the end of last year, do you have any more plans to set up any new concessions or even open another site in the near future?
Not at the moment, but of course we are looking.
Of the éclairs available at Maître Choux, which is your personal favourite?
My personal favourite is our pure Arabica coffee éclair. However, our best sellers are the Hazelnut Treasure (hazelnut and milk chocolate, coated in roasted hazelnuts and milk chocolate) and the Red Love (filled with a vanilla cream, raspberry puree, and topped by a raspberry macaroon). I guess I like classic flavours the most when it comes to my own personal tastes.
And when you’re tired of choux pastry, where’s your favourite place to eat in London?
I really love the cooking of Arnaud Bignon at the Greenhouse. If I feel like something more casual, I love places like Nopi, Palomar, Ethos, Bocca di Lupo, Barrafina, etc. There are so many good places to eat at in London!
Maître Choux can be found at 15 Harrington Road, London, SW7 3ES.