Words Minna Ford Photographs Minna Ford and Ella Stewart
I had the pleasure of going to afternoon tea with Ella Stewart, a local patisserie chef who is a recent graduate in Bakery and Patisserie Technology, but in her own words ‘cannot stop baking’.
After a walk past Oare Creek, I met her in her parents’ kitchen, where she was putting the finishing touches to some violet and lemon shortbread biscuits, decorating them with cornflowers she had picked from the garden and pressed quickly that morning under a pile of books and a CD player on the kitchen table. On first bite, the lemon flavour came through with a pleasant and delicate aftertaste of violet. She also offered me vanilla buns filled with raspberry puree, made with raspberries grown in her garden and from a recipe she had made up the day before. Of course I gladly accepted everything.
As we chatted, she showed me a huge stack of recipe cards, collected from her time in Spain, at university, in various jobs and her own inventions. Ella grew up in Oare and studied at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School. She was a good student in almost every subject and was encouraged by the school to stay for A Levels but her patisserie-flavoured dreams were strong. After the school dropped Food Technology as an A Level option, she tells me that she practically flipped a coin to decide between taking A Levels in Spanish, Art and Biology or going to Broadstairs College to study professional cookery, hospitality and service.
She chose the latter and, in my opinion, braver option and, during the two years at Broadstairs College, also worked as a chef at The Three Mariners. At college the course included front-of-house training as well as cookery, which Ella didn’t enjoy so much but appreciated the insight into the service side of things as she believes there is often too much separation between the two environments. She tells me she didn’t find the course challenging enough, and so instead of taking the optional third year course in patisserie, Ella decided to do an internship in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Spain. At Trigo in the city of Valladolid, Ella worked in the kitchen as a pastry chef for four intense months, translating recipes dictated to her in Spanish as best she could. Nobody there spoke English, and her Spanish was limited, but she managed and learnt a lot linguistically as well as culinarily.
After a lockdown spent in her family home in Oare with plenty of time for baking experimentation far beyond most people’s banana bread escapades (and my disastrous unintentionally flourless Victoria sponge), Ella decided she needed to develop her art further, and chose to study Bakery and Patisserie Technology at University College Birmingham. There, her modules included ‘Bread’, ‘Patisserie’ and ‘Confectionery’. She had an exam on ‘Croissants’ as well as one on ‘Afternoon Tea’ and her homeworks included practical tasks such as making a wedding cake, which had to be eaten by somebody to be saved from going to waste. (This is where I envy her flatmates).
Earlier this year, she graduated with a First and wrote a dissertation entitled: ‘Investigating the feasibility of unconventional floral botanicals as a new flavour trend in the UK patisserie industry’. She researched why some floral flavours are on the market in the UK, such as rose and violet and others are not. Her primary research included experimenting with more unconventional floral flavours such as geranium and poppy flower, which are popular in French and Turkish cuisine but rarely tasted elsewhere.
In the future, Ella would like a job that is practical but still creative. She dreams of being an executive patisserie chef, or an assistant to Ottolenghi in his test kitchen.
She will be living in Faversham throughout the summer and is open to commissions for unconventional, beautiful and, most importantly, delicious cakes.
To inquire or just browse, Ella’s instagram is @patisserella.
Text: Minna Ford. Photographs: Minna Ford and Ella Stewart