Carla Henriques, Group Executive Pastry Chef
“The biggest influence on my approach to cooking has always been my mum.”
After a childhood spent mixing, folding, baking and bowl-licking alongside my mum, who managed a bakery specialising in traditional Portuguese pastries, I decided to head to London.
First off, I had to learn English, however. During my first shift in a busy London kitchen the head chef turned to me and said calmly: ‘Carla, I need a cucumber.’ I ran into the walk-in and stood staring at the shelves, desperately trying to remember what a cucumber was. A less-than-calm voice came from the kitchen: ‘Where’s that f**king cucumber?!’ When I came clean, he was nice about it, and he’d show me one more thing every day after that. That’s how I learnt English: one ingredient at a time.
I moved around a bit and picked up new skills everywhere I went, but the biggest influence on my approach to cooking has always been my mum. At her bakery, she’d make hundreds of Pastéis de nata every day, along with Bolos de arroz (rice muffins), Fi os de ovos (a sweet egg dessert), Pão de Deus (bread) and many more. I’m getting hungry now just thinking about them all…
When I was six or seven, I’d sit in the corner, and she’d give me some bread dough and I’d make baskets and eggs out of it. My hands would always be shaping, moulding, kneading, and stretching, making simple and then more intricate shapes. I loved it then and I still love it now. From time to time, it’s stressful but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
“My friends and former colleagues thought I was crazy. A steakhouse? What a waste…”
After I’d been in London for a few years I heard that a steak restaurant was looking for a Head Pastry Chef. I went to the interview out of curiosity more than anything, but when I met Richard it just felt good, and natural, and I accepted the job before I’d even done a trial, which is unheard of. I didn’t realise the reputation steakhouses had in London back then – tourist traps, culinary deserts. So when I told my friends they couldn’t believe it; they thought I’d just be slicing bought-in cheesecakes and building hot fudge sundaes.
That was 13 years ago, and I love that I’ve been able to push myself and the desserts we serve ever upwards. I’ve spent days in Switzerland with some of the best pastry chefs in the world, learning about the science of chocolate. In January 2017 I was in New York working at Gramercy Tavern, Nomad and Eleven Madison Park with incredible Pastry Chefs Miro Uskokovic, Daniel Alvarez and Mark Welker. At the charity dinners we do at Guildhall I’ve worked alongside great chefs like Claire Clarke, Skye Gyngell and Pierre Koff man. I’ve also been lucky to work with master chocolatier Paul A. Young.
Steak restaurant or not, we do something pretty special here. And not a frozen cheesecake in sight.