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Maya, you’ve had quite an illustrious career – the Commonwealth Games, the Halkin, and now New Forest Hotels. When did you realise that you wanted to
be a pastry chef ?
My beginning as a chef wasn’t typical. I didn’t go to college like most chefs do. I was a rebel. My mum wanted me to become an accountant and work for a large corporation, have life all set between Excel spreadsheets.
After trying to fit within Kimberly-Clark or Capgemini, I have decided that life behind a desk wasn't for me. I finished a Masters in Archaeology at the Jagiellonian University of Cracow and wanted to work at The British Museum. But that didn't go according to plan, as you can imagine. Life always throwssome challenges ahead for us to discover. I came over to the UK and wanted to improve my English. I started working in a restaurant, but sometimes struggled with understanding the processes mentioned on the menu. Eventually I asked the head chef - who incidentally is now my husband - if I could come into the kitchen to work for free and see what is going on behind the scenes.
After 3 days, I was offered a job as his commis chef and never looked back. I felt a belonging behind the pass - the rush of adrenaline during service. Pastry came a little bit later. It was least favourite section to work in the kitchen - no one wanted to work there. All the chefs wanted to play with flames, but I was intrigued. As soon as a position became available, I went for it. I have discovered that becoming a pastry chef requires a lot of patience - following the recipes to the letter, like your life depends on it. Pastry has its own rules, completely different to the rest of the kitchen.
Where there unique advantages / benefits in having such varied work environments?
You get to see different aspects of catering and service - from fine dining to casual to afternoon teas to large sporting events. You start to feel comfortable with whatever challenge is thrown at you.
What are the greatest challenges working as a pastry chef?
The pressure, the deadlines, the hours, being away from family, trying to work with other chefs that have different priorities to yours. And also temperatures - for example, when working with chocolate.
Where have you trained?
"I felt a belonging behind the pass – the rush of adrenaline during service. Pastry came a little bit later"
I have completed several courses at the Callebaut Barry Chocolate Academy in Banbury, guided by Julie Sharp, Beverly Dunkley, Mark Tilling and Clare England. I am truly grateful for their time. And with the help of my tutor, head pastry chef Darryl Collins, from Yumii Patisserie, I am working hard to become an even better chef.
Is there anyone in particular that pushed you on your culinary journey or any personal hero's in the chef world?
One person helped me realise that I love cooking for people - my husband, David, who has been a chef for over 38 years. He has not only mentored me as a chef, but also introduced me to the world of connections, compounds between flavours, ingredients, foraging, the pleasure of sharing your passion with others - costumers - because to me, even a simple plate of food made with a proper attitude makes a massive difference. From the world of pastry chefs, I find the work of Sophie Ann Pie, Dominique Crenn, and Jordi Roca breath taking, Cedric Grolet is also a true inspiration.
What is the most challenging technique to master?
Sugar work and chocolate.
Your Creations are one of a kind - like nothing we've ever seen. Are there any plans to release them to the public as a brand?
Thank you so much for the kind words. I have lots of plans for the future. We're still working on the New Forest Chocolate Company Brand - so watch this space! Also, if you ever stay with New Forest Hotels, chocolates will be available as part of the stay.
What is your favourite dessert to eat, to make and to teach?
To eat - Nathan Outlaw's mango soufflé with a passion fruit ice cream, served with a glass of Nyetimber Demi Sec. And my favourite cake is a Black Forest.
My favourite dessert to make and teach is called Fallen Apple. I have really enjoyed creating this dish with the help of my managing director, Garry Baldwin. As you know, everything created by nature is simply perfect, so the end result was to reconstruct a true experience of eating an apple. The clean, fresh flavour makes your mouth water. The apple is made of the white chocolate mousse and served with pecan, cinnamon and golden syrup crumble. I have worked on the fluid insert that contained fresh apple, lemon, ginger and tonic water, so that when you cut into the "fruit", it will ooze out. The concept of the dish is to draw your memory to the classic apple crumble.
How do you go about conceptualising and designing your creations?
I look for inspiration in art and nature. I'm interested in astronomy too. Through chocolates, I try to inspire people, make their imagination run wild, but also to slow down and relax, just be for a minute.
What inspired you to create the beautiful geometric milk chocolate bars?
I really enjoyed creating geometric chocolate bars, inspired by the art of Katsushika Hokusai, his rouge waves, vibrant green and blue tones, our connection to nature and place. As a child, I used to love painting.
What gives you the most satisfaction?
The Biggest pleasure is to hear that you have made someone happy - through giving part of you, your work. If you are true to yourself, the costumer or guest will feel that as well. It's worth waking up for in the morning.
What is your favourite flavour combination to date?
I really enjoyed ale, biscoff and salted caramel in a gold chocolate shell. But also homemade crab apple jelly from the Orchard in Beaulieu in White chocolate shell.
We often relate tastes to memories. Are there any that are sentimental to you?
It's in our nature to be going back to the memories of home cooking - comfort food made by someone we love. In my life, the greatest cook of all is my granny Irena. "There is always a granny," as Anthony Bourdain used to say. My granny loves to pickle fresh cucumber, red pepper and onion in sweet light juice. She serves them with baby potatoes covered in butter and spoonful of dill and thyme roasted chicken.
Granny Irena's recipe for pickles
2kg fresh cucumbers, cut into ribbons
1 large red peppers, cut into long stripes
250g white onion, cut lengthwise into stripes
2 spoons of salt
For the brine
250ml vegetable oil
Mix all the brine ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil. wait until it cools down.
In a large bowl cover the rest of the ingredients with the brine and leave covered for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, move into jars and pasteurise for 7 minutes - or just enjoy fresh.
Share with us some favourite sweet haunts around the world?
For cake and afternoon tea, I would recommend the Mandarin Oriental and Dominique Ansel in London. Or French Laduree - in London or Paris. For stunning fish, Nathan Outlaw in Cornwall. In Poland, the restaurant of Wojciech Modesto Amaro. And for some true modern art on the plate, Yann Bernard Lejard, Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain.