Professional chef Rebecca Heath launched her patisserie business in April, after a year of furlough and reduced hours. Ahead of co-hosting High Tea at the Garden Kitchen Café at Hoveton Hall, she talks about her culinary journey, via a Michelin star restaurant in Copenhagen
Where in the world did you learn your craft?
I attended Westminster Kingsway College in London when I was 18. This enabled me to move to London, I studied there for three years and gained a wealth of knowledge while working/doing work experience in my spare time in a variety of amazing kitchens, including Morston Hall (when I came back to East Anglia in the summer holidays), the BAFTA headquarters, Sheraton Hotel Park Lane, Coutts Bank, and pop ups around the city. My education combined learning both kitchen skills and front of house skills, helping me appreciate the need for a mutual respect between the two sides of the pass.
Within the curriculum, each year there was a period where you completed work experience. In my third year I had the incredible opportunity of going to Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham for a month. At the end of my time there I was offered a full-time job to become part of their brigade after I completed the end of the college year. The two years I spent in Nottingham were the most valuable of my career, it shaped me into the person and chef I am today. Being around such passionate and focused individuals that had such immense talent was so inspiring. It’s also where I learnt that if you want to be the best you can be, you need to work tremendously hard for it, constantly challenge yourself and make sure that you enjoy what you do.
When I left Sat’s, I moved to Copenhagen and started working at Restaurant Studio in the centre of the city. It was a weird experience for me at first as it was a very different kitchen to any I had worked in before. I would almost go as far as saying it was laid back compared to the English kitchens I had worked in previously! It was fantastic though. They concentrated a lot on foraging and used Scandinavian techniques that were completely new to me. I have always seemed to work in open kitchens, it is second nature to me to be both in charge of a section and to also be responsible for serving/clearing tables and interacting with guests, but at Studio it was the closest I’ve worked to diners!
How was everything looking for you at the start the pandemic?
Before the pandemic hit, I was working at Figbar in Norwich. Once it was announced that hospitality venues had to close, it was scary, not knowing what the future held for you and for your place of work, wondering when we would be able open again. We had a plan for every time we thought things might be getting better and we may be able to reopen, but most of these were scrapped as the lockdown went on for longer and longer. We all just wanted to help as much as we could and ‘do our bit’ to help keep the business going.
It’s been a challenging time for the hospitality industry in particular – how have you managed to adapt?
It was very alien being furloughed, I’m sure there are plenty of other sectors that felt similarly but I can only speak for the hospitality industry. When you are someone that works all the time, works most evenings, long days and doesn’t have a whole lot of free time and then suddenly to not be able to work for a prolonged period it’s hard to adjust, what does a normal person do in the evenings!? I did a lot of decorating, landscaped my garden, and tried to keep busy and my mind occupied! When hospitality was able to reopen again, we were on reduced hours due to people still not really wanting to go out and I needed to be doing more. I started doing dinner parties (Covid safe) and drop off menus at Wolterton Hall in North Norfolk (I am now the private chef for all dinner parties there) and started selling baked goods and patisserie items to my neighbours. It really took off at Christmas when I offered festive goods as well, this made me believe that I could make a proper business out of it, I was still on reduced hours at Figbar so I had plenty of time to develop my products. I launched my business, Hestia Patisserie, in April and it was lucky that I did as I was then made redundant. I took that as a sign to throw myself completely into my own business and I haven’t looked back! Touch wood Hestia has gone from strength to strength, slowly morphing into something different to how it began and has enabled me to use more of my skills by doing so.
How has the co-hosting collaboration with Alex Firman and the Garden Kitchen come about?
I was introduced to Alex through a friend and started helping him out at Garden Kitchen when they needed an extra pair of hands. I feel very lucky as he seems to have taken me under his wing and not only gives me amazing business advice but also helps me continue to better myself and hone my skills. I think it’s important to have a mentor who wants to help you improve as much as you do and has faith in you, wants to boost your confidence, and is honest with you.
The co-hosting collaboration has come about through Alex supporting Hestia Patisserie, wanting to help me promote my business, to give me a platform for my work. He knows what it is like to open his own business and how much he appreciated help he was given when he was starting out, and now he can help he wants to do the same for others. This is also the first year that Garden Kitchen is opening through until December and Hestia Patisserie’s Afternoon Tea is just one of the great events that they have organised within those months!
What can High Tea fans expect from Wednesday?
Exciting flavour combinations, a marriage of modern and classic techniques and a wonderful excuse to spend time with friends and family! The seasonal menu will change each month with some festive flavours in December to get people in the Christmassy mood, using local produce and suppliers to showcase what Norfolk can offer!
As it will be autumn/winter, what ingredients will you be focusing on?
I will be focusing on ingredients such as pumpkins, blackberries, and mushrooms to name a few! I hope to use warming flavours with lots of fresh components to create a balanced menu. Autumn is such an abundant time of the year with amazing produce and hopefully I will be able to showcase that in each menu. The November menu will incorporate some flavours and techniques from cuisines such as Asian and Russian fused with classic afternoon tea showstoppers and warming, autumnal patisseries with spiced fruits, hits of acidity and freshness and nostalgia.
Any future plans or collaborations you can share?
It is still early days for Hestia Patisserie, so my focus is continuing to build upon what I offer people both with dinner parties, events and also with cakes and patisserie.
I called my business after Hestia, the Greek goddess of cookery, the hearth and home. Greece has been a massive part of my life, having lived there and since spent a lot of my life immersed in its culture. All the olive oil I use in my dishes is sourced from my parents’, or their neighbours’ olive groves in the northern part of Corfu. I have also just begun working solely with a honey company called Corfu Bee Garden, it is run by a wonderful couple who currently have 800 beehives (soon to be 1200!). They sell lots of different types of honey, depending on where the pollen is sourced, which makes them fantastically versatile for different applications (darker, richer honeys to lighter, more delicate honeys). There is a doctor in Athens who completely buys up one type of their honey as it has been proven to have properties that help cancer patients.
The new Garden Kitchen Café Pop-up High Tea with Hestia Patisserie will run every Wednesday, October 13 to December 15, from 2pm, at Hoveton Hall. To book, call 01603 784500. Visit @hestiapatisserie on Instagram.