Life in the kitchen is no piece of cake

Working behind the scenes under intense pressure, life as a chef takes passion and determination, as one experienced chef tells us

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As legendary magician David Copperfield once said, “Passion will keep you going when the going gets tough”.

The backbone of any restaurant, a chef works tirelessly behind the scenes, bringing out his personality through food, dealing with intense pressure and catering to guests’ every whim. On his feet for hours on end, it takes determination, grit, and most importantly, passion.

No one knows this more than Laurent Allereau, executive pastry chef at Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi Grand Canal, who has spent three decades in the kitchen.

“It takes hard work, dedication and years and years of learning,” Laurent tells us over an espresso, a chef’s secret weapon for a 12+ hour shift. “You don’t become a great chef overnight.

“You need attention to detail, to be able to work fast and be able to cope with working under pressure. You also really need to have the passion; if you don’t then you will give up.

“My grandfather used to tell me, if you want to be the best you have to work with the best so that’s what I tried to do in my career.”

After gaining experience in his hometown in Nantes, France, Laurent’s passion grew along with his talent, and he was eager to learn more. Stepping out of his comfort zone, he moved to London to work with none other than legendary French chef and restaurateur Albert Roux.

“It was so difficult: I was the youngest in the kitchen, it was my first time out of France, my English was poor and I was away from my family.

“But I learned so much: attention to detail, the speed of work and how to work under pressure.

“The first two months are the most difficult because everything is new and you have to find the pace quickly. The first few months make or break you.”

Clearly able to handle the heat, Laurent not only stuck with it but excelled in his career, joining big hotel chains and travelling the world as a professional pastry chef before eventually joining the pre-opening team of the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi in 2012.

“It’s not easy to leave and work in a multi-cultural environment and you have to share your life with people from different countries, who speak different languages and have different backgrounds,” he explains.

“I think we are lucky in this region because everybody working here is an expat. All the people here are working with passion.”

Over the years, as with many professionals, Laurent has had to learn to adapt his skills to keep up with trends. The pastry chef has taken to social media to show off his impressive, bespoke celebration cakes, plus a rise in food intolerances has caused him to branch out.

“I’ve been in this industry for over 30 years; what we are doing now is completely different to what we used to do all those years ago.

“It is not possible to run a restaurant without a pastry chef; before it was if you had a chef who liked to work with pastry, but now you need to have a dedicated person to meet the demand.

“More people are gluten intolerant or allergic to nuts, so we have to take care how we prepare things, put more thought into ingredients and the process to achieve great cakes.

“I do a lot of cakes that are gluten- or dairy-free. I even make vegan cakes. All of this is a challenge and something that is relatively new to the industry.

“Nothing is impossible – how can you say you can’t do it if you don’t even try?”

It’s this passion that drives Laurent to try new things every day. The chef knows the sweat and tears are worth it, and encourages young chefs to never give up.

“Be ready to spend at least seven years to learn before becoming a great chef. Believe in yourself and learn from your mistakes day after day.”

WORDS Colin Armstrong

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