Ten miutes with Zoё Wager, executive pastry chef at Conrad St James hotel
Zoё greeted us with a great smile. She radiates a special tenderness that helps her creating deserts which bring happiness to the faces of her guests. You can feel that she loves to make people happy. And she loves to create. And taste new combinations. Curious, open and happy she is here for you.
How would you introduce yourself?
I’m Zoё Wager, the Executive Pastry Chef at the new flagship Conrad St James hotel in London.
What is your secret desire/ambition?
I have always loved photography after doing a course as part of my degree. I take photos and put them on social media but they are pretty amateur! Right now I only really use Instagram as it’s a great way to showcase the dishes I’ve created but I would love to develop this skill and have a greater ability in this area, particularly regarding food photography.
What is your ultimate dream?
I haven’t quite decided on one yet. It changes all the time! I want to work with like-minded people who I respect and who inspire me. I want to keep learning and perfecting the skills that I have. I would like the chefs that work in my teams to develop and have successful careers. If I enjoy my work, and am respected in my industry, and still have quality time to spend with my family I guess that’s what I’ve always dreamed of.
What is your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement to date is to have successfully created more than 34,000 desserts for the top tier sponsors on site in the Olympic Park for the London Olympics 2012. The menus and recipes were set months in advance, after being approved by Angela Hartnett, and I was involved in much of the planning and ordering of the whole operation before going on site for 17 days. I had a team of 9 pastry chefs in the production kitchen, feeding 11 satellite kitchens on site, and we made everything from scratch including the individual pastry cases for our lemon tarts!
What/who is inspiring you?
I feel like I am constantly inspired. Visually I am a huge fan of social media such as Instagram – it opens up a new level of communication between chefs who are often better at communicating through pictures rather than words, and it has made us all so much more accessible to each other.
What do you love most about your work?
I love how it changes all the time. Whether it is daily service, changing menus or amenities and special requests no day is ever the same. I love that I have such a platform to be creative and the only limits are those which I set myself according to the volumes of production and commitment to consistency. I count myself lucky to work in an environment I enjoy and I have a great team. One of the best things about my work is seeing the reaction people have, especially to the afternoon teas we create. Last year I was walking through the tea lounge during an afternoon tea service and a young boy was eating with his parents. I happened to see the moment when they were presented with the beach scene from our British Summer Holiday theme. He was so excited, identifying everything and couldn’t believe he could eat it all. These are the times when you know all the hard work is worthwhile.
What are your favourite flavours?
I really enjoy sharp flavours like citrus and passion-fruit. I use them frequently in dishes to cut through the sweetness and make things more exciting. I’ve been accused of being addicted to lemons, I always have them in my fridge at home and use them all over savoury dishes too. And salty or savoury flavours mixed with sweet, this is becoming more and more popular and I’m a big fan. I also enjoy more floral flavours such as rose and earl grey as long as they are well balanced.
How is your relationship with chocolate?
As I have developed as a pastry chef I increasingly enjoy working with chocolate. The scope of flavour combinations with other ingredients is so broad, and there are endless textures to explore. There is always something new to learn in the kitchen, and there are new flavours of chocolate being developed all the time.
Which chocolate desserts are on your menu, which of them is your favourite and why?
We have had a beautiful caramel chocolate dessert for the Autumn with blackberry and apple flavours. It wasn’t instinctively an obvious combination but it has been so well received.
We have just developed a new dessert for the restaurant with set chocolate ganache and bitter orange which will go on our menu in a couple of weeks. It’s definitely my new favourite! The orange works so well to compliment the chocolate to be warming yet sharp at the same time. And while the set chocolate is rich it’s slightly aerated to stop it being too heavy. I think it’s perfect for this time of year.
What was the best chocolate dessert that you have eaten and where?
We used to make a peanut butter and chocolate mille feuille, served with salted peanut brittle at The Whitechapel Gallery. It was very simple but just so delicious and really appealed to my love of sweet and salty flavours combined.
What would be your final message for our readers?
To eat in as many different places as possible and don’t be afraid to try something new. Sometimes the least likely dishes turn out to be the ones that stick on your mind and your palette for ever.
You can enjoy Zoё’s creatins at Conrad St James.