Interview – Neil Thornton
PASTRY CHEF, NEIL THORNTON, SHARES WITH US HIS PASSION FOR PATISSERIE AND THE INTRICACIES BEHIND MAKING A WEDDING CAKE.
I grew up in a small village in Surrey called Ottershaw, which is very quiet with not much to do and left school at 16 to go to college where I initially trained to be a Chef, however I very quickly realised that my true passion lay with patisserie. I have always worked as a Pastry Chef, mainly in London for establishments such as The London Hilton and The Wolseley, but decided that I wanted to be my own boss. I took on Le Papillon Patisserie, based in Woking in 2009, just as the recession was hitting. Many of my friends and family thought I was mad, however I was lucky and the risk paid off! It was obviously extremely tough in the beginning, however it was the wedding cakes that really kept the business going and we have just gone from strength to strength.
I have always had a particular passion for the creativity involved in creating a wedding cake. I would always make wedding cakes for friends and family members and when I took on the business at Le Papillon Patisserie I decided to try and create 10-15 wedding cakes a year. The wedding cake business seemed a lot more popular than I ever imagined creating 168 cakes in 2014!
Who inspires me? From a business point of view, self-made businessmen like Richard Branson. Anyone who can build an empire from nothing is a hero to me. Cake wise I take inspiration from classic patisserie and nature. I like to ensure cakes, no matter the design, look as edible as I can! I like to follow classic patisserie methods and trends in fashions, we do find that people find a picture of a cake and just want a copy but I love nothing more than when a couple have a fresh new design for me to work my magic on and get my creative juices flowing. I also find that every couple has something unique about them that I try to pick up on and incorporate into the cake. I find that ideas come naturally to me and that the couple really guide you on the design, after all it is their cake. I have also dreamt of a couple of ideas which have gone on to be best sellers!
I have thought of expanding the business due to its success; however, I am conscious that I do not want to lose the personal one-to-one service when creating my cakes and 200 cakes is my absolute limit in a year. So for the foreseeable future, the business will be remaining as it is. I have worked with a number of celebrity clients in the past, however I am sworn to secrecy so cannot divulge their identities! I do find working with celebrities slightly easier as they do seem more relaxed, I?m not sure why! Most people I have worked with have been lovely, but you do get the odd client where you have to have the patience of a saint!
Did I create my own wedding cake? Yes, of course! We had a croquembouche and a tower of desserts as we couldn?t decide on just one cake.
Did I create my own wedding cake? Yes, of course! I married my wife, Elise, nearly 5 years ago. Elise is from California, why we decided to settle in England and not in California I will never know! I made half of the wedding cake and then the staff finished it off and delivered on the day. We had a croquembouche and a tower of desserts as we couldn?t decide on just one cake.
Spare time is a rarity for me. I am a workaholic. However I wouldn?t have it any other way! When I am at home I just want to spend time with my Wife and Daughter. We go swimming, to the park and read books together. We do manage to escape the wedding cake business once or twice a year, usually in the Winter months, as Summer is such a popular wedding season that I can?t afford the time away.
We have visited countries all over Europe, Thailand, India, Seychelles, Caribbean, Morocco and of course America. I do love to travel when I get the chance. My all-time favourite place to visit would be Italy. This is where one day I will retire; the food, the people, the landscape, the weather and the lifestyle. It?s all just idyllic to me. One day!
Meet Neil and see some of his stunning creations at our forthcoming Weddings Showcase on Sunday 1st March 2015.
To view more of Neil?s cakes visit Le Papillon Patisserie.
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