A Michelin-starred chef turned dessert connoisseur says he has the ‘best job in the world’ taste testing up to 100 puddings a week and dreaming up sweet treats for supermarket shelves.
James Bennington, who spent 10 years cooking in some of London‘s top restaurants including Chez Bruce and La Trompette, now spends his days experimenting with chocolate, whipping cream and baking cakes as he creates exciting new products.
The fine dining expert works for Waitrose as an in-house chef, where he spends his days conjuring up the next big thing in the worlds of desserts
Speaking to FEMAIL, James told how he takes inspiration from everything around him – whether that be an episode of Great British Bake Off, or his children’s colourful toys.
James Bennington, pictured, who spent 10 years cooking in some of London’s top restaurants including Chez Bruce and La Trompette, now spends his days experimenting with chocolate, whipping cream and baking cakes as he creates exciting new products
‘In some ways they aren’t dissimilar professions, I still get to work with food and make exciting creations, it’s just now I do it for hundreds of thousands of customers, not just the diners in a restaurant,’ said James.
‘I still get excited when I see one of the products I’ve created on the shelves – it’s a real buzz to know something you’ve worked on for over a year is going to be the centrepiece at someone’s Christmas meal.’
A typical day for James involves cooking up a storm in the kitchen to create new and exciting dishes, working with suppliers to get these off the ground or experimenting with new flavours.
He will also taste a huge amount of his products over the course of a week – including vegan jelly, sugarplum cheesecake and giant Jaffa cake desserts.
James will also taste a huge amount of his products over the course of a week – including vegan jelly, sugarplum cheesecake and giant Jaffa cake desserts. Pictured, Waitrose desserts
‘On an average week when we are testing new recipes and products, I taste over 100 different desserts in a week, sometimes more. You definitely have to have a bit of a sweet tooth in this job,’ James said.
He gets his inspiration from a number of different places. From scouring different cultures and cuisines, to street food and fine dining restaurants.
The chef says he even gets inspiration from watching The Great British Bake Off or from the colours and shapes of his children’s toys.
‘We spend a lot of time out and about, eating in other restaurants, visiting food markets and other countries, and of course we take inspiration from food trends on social media,’ he said.
James draws inspiration from ingredients and cooking techniques that will give his products a mouth-watering taste, such as this chocolate caramel vanilla choux wreath
‘We take inspiration from all sorts of places. The Great British Bake Off focused on mirror glazes and that was a trend we’d identified and have incorporated into our Jaffa Cake Dessert.
‘We also looked at elegant French patisserie as a theme, making sure our desserts a beautiful centrepiece.
‘As strange as it sounds, my kids’s toys are a great source of inspiration too. They are nostalgic, playful, fun and comes in all sorts of shapes, colours and sizes – so are great for getting your imagination fired up and the creative side of the brain working.’
The festive period is always a busy and exciting time for the chef, and he is flat-out creating fresh seasonal dishes, trying to predict what we’ll be eating next Christmas – before this one is even over.
He continued: ‘This year, we also looked into the past for inspiration too. Christmas is all about making memories, so if we can inject an element of nostalgia into our desserts, re-imagining classics with a modern twist, it creates a talking point at the dinner table and fuels the imagination, making dining an experience.
‘For example, we took one of our best selling biscuits – or cake depending on what side of the fence you sit on – a Jaffa cake, and created a dessert based around those iconic flavours.’
The festive period is always a busy time for the chef, and he is flat-out creating fresh seasonal dishes, trying to predict what we’ll be eating next Christmas – before this one is even over
James stresses he doesn’t like to copy products, instead being the trend-setters in the food world to create products with a unique edge and truly mouth-watering taste.
He continued: ‘Often the trends you see in restaurants will make their way into the food we eat at home, but as a supermarket, customers expect us to be trend-setters and look to us for inspiration, particularly with different cuisines. So it’s important we make sure we are leaders in innovation.’
When developing his sweet treats and desserts, James often conjours up weird or wacky ideas and has to work out how these can translate to products that customers will want to pick up from supermarket shelves.
‘Our white chocolate “sprout” dessert last year was definitely one of the more unusual desserts we’ve created, and this year we stuck with the theme of creating something that isn’t quite what it seems with the cheese cake,’ he said.
James gets his inspiration from a number of different places. From scouring different cultures and cuisines, to street food and fine dining restaurants. Pictured, one of his desserts
‘Whatever we create, particularly at Christmas, it still has to be a crowd pleaser. In the past we’ve taken flavours like miso and used it in a caramel and chocolate dessert.
‘And this year we took plum, spiced ginger and honey – traditionally sweet flavours – and infused it into our meat dishes as well as desserts.
‘You have to be clever and creative with your flavour combinations to make something more unusual work.’
James says he always tries to inject theatre and excitement into the products, so that customers can enjoy have a truly immersive and sumptuous experience at home.
He was even inspired by Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant to create a cheesecake disguised as a wheel of cheese sitting on a wooden board – which is actually a dessert made with an almond sponge base and a hidden compote inside.
James says he always tries to inject theatre and excitement into the products, so that customers can enjoy have a truly immersive and sumptuous experience at home
‘This is definitely the most fun part of my job. For your Christmas dessert you want the wow-factor, it’s the finale of the festive feast and a chance to leave your guests with a lasting impression,’ he said.
‘Illusion cakes were firmly front of mind when creating this year’s Heston from Waitrose & Partners Fig & Port Cheese Cake.’
The chef uses his vast knowledge with a skilled team at Waitrose and says it’s ‘it’s all about being the best.’
‘When I was working as a chef in restaurants, we wanted to present our diners with the very best quality dishes.
‘The best part is bringing the ideas to life at the end and seeing the final product on the shelf.
‘who wouldn’t want to eat delicious food for a living? I’m so lucky to be able to combine my passion for food, with my job.
‘I work with some of the best people in the business and every day is different – so I would definitely say I have the best job in the world.’
Source: Food Recipes and News