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Interview with Abraham Padmanaban, Head Pastry Chef

1. How would you describe your style of cooking?
I believe my style of cooking can be categorized as being modern as well as adopting an occasional take on French and British classic cuisine. But over the years it has evolved into an undefined area – I mix and combine what I feel complements the final result until I am proud of what I have created.

2. Did you always dream of becoming a pastry chef?
I did. When I first started as a chef in the main kitchen, I didn’t feel quite complete. When I moved to the pastry kitchen, I then felt that this was the job made for me. I felt 100% in my element and loved every minute of it. Even from a young age I was unstoppable in my creations – as a child I used to play with clay all the time. The best part of it is, now I get to do the same with chocolate!

3. What’s your signature dish?
My signature dish varies periodically, and I have a new one approximately every three months. I do however, have two dishes that stand out of my collection. The first one is called the Ice Cream Fiesta, which is composed of 5 timeless, traditional English desserts which I then transformed into ice cream. These desserts included apple crumble, sticky toffee pudding with brandy snaps and butternut sauce, as well as a lemon, basil and lemongrass crisp. Another few of the classics I mix up into the five different varieties are chocolate cheesecake, crispy base and banana, and Baileys crème brulee with caramelised banana.
The second one is a shocker – sausage and mash! I do realize that at first impression this sounds strange for a dessert but it’s been widely popular. I make the sausages out of chocolate sponge cake on a hazelnut base, top it with a chocolate ganache and a sprinkle of Frangelico. The mash is made up of condensed milk, and for the sauce I use regular beef jus with chocolate liquor and thinly sliced plums on top.

4. What do you enjoy cooking at home?
I absolutely love cooking at home, it’s my life. Cooking for family and friends is an inexplicable pleasure and remains a constant reminder why I love my profession so much. In terms of what I cook, I enjoy all types of cuisine depending on my mood and occasion, as well as how much time I can afford to invest in the cook-out. I have an especially weak spot for Italian and French cuisine, but I also love to branch out into all types of international specialty dishes.

5. What’s the best piece of cooking advice you could give our readers?
I always tell people to cook only if they love it. When it is someone’s passion to cook, it is always important to cook straight from the heart, and follow your own creative path. At all times, you should be cooking for yourself with a vision to cook for an audience that shares the same passion for fine cuisine as you. This makes the experience infinitely more rewarding.

My Trip to Sonoma, Califorina

Has it made the hard work worth it? Is the question I am asked the most when people heard what I won Employee of the Year. To anyone within the company who has the chance to try for the trip – Yes, it is worth every single minute of it!

I was truly honored and delighted to have won the trip to California and once it had sunk in and I had stopped bursting into tears I had already decided that I was going as soon as possible and was going to make it the holiday of a lifetime.

I look my partner of 8 years Steve and booked as soon as I could for October 2011. Having some family also in California that I hadn’t seen in 11 years just a 90 minute drive from Sonoma meant I was going be able to factor them into the trip too.

One of the best parts of the 2 weeks we had was going to visit the Peter Michael Winery. Even having worked for the company for 4 years I just had no idea how amazing the place was. Vast steep mountain slopes of perfectly straight vines stretched for miles around the gated entrance. Seeing the Vineyard poppy on everything was brilliant and really was a reminder of how closely linked we were despite the geography. The Michael’s kindly consented for Steve and I to stay in the Cabin, a building with bridge access over a stream to the entrance, hot tub and what can only be described as luxury accommodation.

During our stay we had the chance to have a tour of the winery and tasting of the wine. Cote de mere is a large platform on the top of the mountain fully equipped for 5* entertaining used for fund raising for the Peter Michael foundation every year. The view is staggering stretching across the whole of Knights Valley and each of the different wines can be seen. Tasting Sir Peters wines was a once in a lifetime chance. It was a fantastic experience and meeting the other guests brought it home to us how much of a wonderful and rare opportunity it was sitting around that table, drinking those wines and in that location.

The local sights were an excuse for a little more tourist behavior and we took the opportunity to go to the local petrified wood, eat in Calistoga and visit the Geyser. The staff at Sugarloaf Ranch could not have been any more hospitable and I would do anything to go back again for longer.

Following the trip to the Ranch we spent a couple more days with family in San Jose and even had the chance to visit a ranch where Steve fitted right in with the lads drinking bud and shooting very scary looking Guns for the afternoon. We hired a car and drove to visit San Francisco then down the coastal road route 101 with a final stop in at Universal Studios to celebrate Steve’s 30th.

All in all a truly amazing two week trip that could not have been made possible without the Employee of the Year status. I cannot thank the company or the Michaels enough and will continue trying to win to have the excuse to go back!

Beth Willis
Senior Events Co-ordinator
Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa