5 Minutes With: Ravneet Gill, Chef And Author Of The Pastry Chef’s Guide
Ravneet Gill wants you to know that you can bake. Whether you’ve discovered newfound baking skills, mastered the lockdown banana bread or triumph in dessert disasters – Ravneet is flying the flag that baking is for everyone. Enter Ravneet Gill’s debut cookbook, The Pastry Chef’s Guide; a no-nonsense baking reference manual that proves pastry is not as complicated as it may seem.
Formerly trained as a pastry chef at London institution St. JOHN, before taking on Head Pastry Chef at Herne Hill’s neighbourhood restaurant Llewelyn’s, Ravneet’s experience in the art of patisserie is next to none. While gracing some of London’s top restaurants with her not-to-be-missed dishes, Ravneet turned her attention to new ventures. She launched PUFF earlier this year, a pop-up bakery collaboration with pastry chef Nicole Lamb, hoping to bring people together over great dessert – but 2020 had different ideas.
Despite a national lockdown and the future of hospitality remaining uncertain, Ravneet shows no signs of slowing down. She has quickly adapted PUFF into an online bakery school, hosting a series of follow-along classes that have proven popular with the surge of interest in baking following the pandemic. Then there is Countertalk, a recruitment platform that connects chefs and advocates supportive and healthy work environments in the industry.
Ravneet’s compassionate nature is unstoppable, and one to be admired – so we knew we had to find a free minute in her schedule to catch up with her, even if it wasn’t over one of her signature bakes.
Congratulations on your new cookbook! Give us a sneak peek into The Pastry Chef's Guide, which is your favourite recipe?
Thank you! I’m stuck between the tiramisu ice cream, the cheesecake and the twice-baked chocolate cake – they’re all just too good.
What inspired you to specialise as a pastry chef?
I’ve always had a sweet tooth and a slight obsession with desserts, so it felt natural to me.
What role has food and cooking played throughout your life?
My mum is a brilliant cook but she never bakes. I was brought up with the spicy aromas of Indian food, even the simpler of dishes she made like a roast dinner would pack a punch. Food has always been an important factor in my family, it’s our way of showing that you care. Whenever we would have guests over there would always be a big fuss around what we would serve to eat. It wasn’t until University that I got into cooking for others and realised I wanted to be a chef.
Food has always been an important factor in my family, it’s our way of showing that you care.
What’s always stocked in your pantry?
As many different types of sugar as possible! But I always ensure I’m well-stocked with chillies, garlic and of course a good block of butter, or two.
What music do you cook and create to?
I’m always a fan of soulful R&B and afrobeat numbers to bake along to. When I want to dance, I switch to old school funky house.
Tell us more about Countertalk, the support network for chefs that you created…
I set-up Countertalk to pull together a network of people working in the food industry so we could all learn from each other and benefit from being in a community. I wanted to highlight the need for healthy work environments to keep the food world thriving, and to encourage it as a legitimate career path, while creating awareness about how businesses could improve their workplaces. Last year we went even further and vetted companies based on staff treatment, and in return, allowed them to post job adverts to recruit – but also to create equal opportunities for everyone.
During the lockdown, we’ve had to switch up the way we work. We’ve worked to set up a freelancer list, helping to find people last-minute opportunities and providing hospitality staff with info on their rights to claim furlough pay, as an example.
Describe some of the challenges you faced early in your career as a woman in the food industry...
As a female chef, you’re often in the minority – I was told early on to wear a wedding ring to avoid harassment. Climbing up the hierarchy involves a lot of push back in certain kitchens, however, in the right environment your skills get nurtured and everyone in the team respects each other (these kitchens do exist!). A kitchen is not without a few egos, so I’ve grown to learn how to deal with that in others, but also in myself. In the past, I’ve worked with a lot of challenging chefs who have been too proud to acknowledge when the ship needs steering differently because of their ingrained ideas of how a kitchen should run. Now I can recognise power struggles quickly, and identify when the issue is something other than the work at hand.
What advice would you give aspiring chefs – or to those who think they can’t bake?
Everyone, literally everyone can bake. The internet is full of resources to the point where you can troubleshoot any issue that you may have. It’s obvious to say but practising technique and always tasting your food will get you there. If you want to take the plunge and become a chef, spend a week or two in a kitchen you admire to get a feel for it – it’s quite a different world from the one you may imagine. Some people take to it immediately, while others decide that a slightly different approach may work for them – like working in a production kitchen or a bakery.
You’re also the co-owner of the pop-up bakery PUFF, which launched earlier this year just before the lockdown happened – how are you keeping the momentum going?
We had planned to keep PUFF as a year-round pop-up bakery, road testing various locations with ever-changing menus to reflect the seasons – but lockdown threw our plans out the window. However, we’ve pivoted and started an online pastry school; almost like a crash course in pastry without the need to go to cookery school. My co-partner Nicola and I planned the curriculum to cover all the basics to get people feeling confident enough to create their own desserts. It’s been a whirlwind: teaching ourselves how to film and edit video, design a website and curate a range of content, but the community of students keeps growing!
Which restaurant are you most looking forward to visiting now that they are slowly reopening?
At this point, any will do! No more washing up PLEASE.
Your dream dinner party guests would be...
I would love to host and cook for Issa Rae, Richard E. Grant and Larry David.
If you could spend one month anywhere, where would it be?
Without a doubt, Cambodia.
A memorable book you’ve read recently is…
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown.
Your first book, The Pastry Chef's Guide, has just been published – what’s next?
We’ll be continuing to run online bakery courses via PUFF, and hopefully re-opening the pop-up. I have a few fun personal food-related projects in the pipeline which should reveal themselves soon, but obviously it all involves cake – so stay tuned!