On a sunny morning recently, I headed over to the beautiful Chipping Norton, to visit Paul who is the master behind the Cotswold Baking. On a busy farm he has his own unit where the magic happens, and I walked into the kitchen to delicious smells of sweet delights, and rows of tasty looking cakes to make my tummy rumble. He made me a cup of tea, and we got chatting.
Paul has an incredibly interesting background, from serving in the RAF, to working with Michel Roux at The Waterside Inn, he certainly is a man of experience, and it shows in the incredible pastries and cakes which are coming out of his kitchen.
He started off at a Bakery in Somerset at just 14 years old, working the early morning shifts which come with working in a bakery, and fell in love with baking. He told me how the police would swing by at 3am to keep themselves fuelled during their night shifts, which I imagine must have looked quite funny in a bakery to any passers by!
After this, having a father who had been in the military, he decided it was time for him to sign up. So he headed off to the interview, and walked out a member of the RAF, ready to start his training. Once he completed his training, Paul became a chef in the RAF, providing the meals for everyone that was on his base. This equated to around 1500 meals a day! That’s a huge amount of food to be churning out, and he assured me it was good food as well, not just typical batch food. Seems like a lot of hard work to me. Eventually, he ended up serving in the officers mess, which was then for around 20 people, a much bigger opportunity for him to refine his skills. He said the whole experience was great fun, but there was definitely a mentality of work hard play hard as they would be serving up the food all day, and then go out in the evening.
Once Paul left the RAF, he knew that his love of bakery came from working as a patisserie chef, so he decided that he needed to work with the best. He applied for a job working with Michel Roux at The Waterside Inn in Bray, which he was ecstatic to find out he had got. He knew that it meant starting out wherever the opportunity arose, and happily took a job working on the canapés section, waiting for his chance to move over to the pastry section as soon as he could. After his shifts he would ask the patisserie chefs what they were doing, or take his chances on helping them out where possible. After 6 months, he got his break, and moved over to the pastry section, where he worked for 3 years, refining his skill under undoubtedly one of the best chefs in the world.
Paul decided that 3 years was enough for him to have learnt everything that he needed, and that it was time to move on, so he and his wife moved to Oxfordshire, where they took over the running of a pub in The Cotswolds – The Falkland Arms. They worked hard serving up some incredible dishes to locals and tourists alike, but Paul finally decided it was time for him to start up his own business, and serve up some of the best cakes and desserts in the county, so he set up Cotswold Baking.
What I really loved about his set-up, was how well he thinks about everything that he does. I knew, ahead of visiting Paul, that he makes lots of gluten free and vegan options – an important thing in today’s society. He explained that he would only make something gluten free (or vegan) if it made sense, so if something wasn’t going to come out well, then there would be no point in making it. I also learnt a top-tip for baking gluten free, you should always make the pastry wetter than usual, and leave it overnight before using. He and his wife generally eat gluten free anyway, and have found it relatively easy, and he says that things like brownies and roulade he would always make this way, as it just makes sense.
Paul makes cakes and desserts for private clients, as well as catering for lots of shops, cafes and restaurants across the county. He gets though a huge amount of ingredients – he was waiting for a delivery of almonds, and said that he gets through approx 40kg of ground almonds a month! When I visited he was starting to prepare 3000 desserts for the opera over the summer, along with moving his unit (to a slightly bigger one) AND moving house… phew!
His most popular creation is most certainly the croquembouche – which I was amazed to learn you build inside a silver stand, from the top down, transport inside the stand and then slide off at the end, not that I’ve ever made one before but at least I know for next time.
If you’d like to buy some of Paul’s creations, you can order from his website (he makes everything to order) cotswoldbaking.co.uk – or you can find him at Deddington Farmers Market, and Southam Farmers market regularly. I would advise you get yourselves one of his delicious loaf cakes, which I was lucky enough to take home and sample (it was delicious!)