Interview – Tom Stephens
A combination of early childhood memories and an inherent desire to delight guests with an unusual yet elaborate sweet dining experience is the inspiration behind Head Pastry Chef Tom Stephens? new Afternoon Tea menu at Aviator.
When I was younger, my grandmother and I used to bake together. At the time, I didn?t think it would evolve into my full time vocation, but after landing the role of working in the kitchen of a busy bistro in my early career and spending time in the pastry section, I couldn?t think of anything I wanted to do more.
Over the years, I?ve learnt that guests come to expect sweet menu items including Afternoon Tea to be more creative, so you can push the boat out a little more and design dishes that are daring and imaginative. Starters and main courses are generally eaten for sustenance, whereas sweet menu items are considered treats. So, I?m of the mind-set that if our guests are treating themselves to a dessert or an Afternoon Tea experience, I want to treat them with something special, unusual and memorable.
I?ve redesigned the Afternoon Tea concept at Aviator so that it lives up to this sentiment, offering an inspired tier of creative, delicately handmade and freshly baked cakes, scones and other sweet treats, elegant bite-sized finger sandwiches, alongside a selection of speciality teas and coffees. To ensure we keep our offering fresh, up to date and in line with the seasons, I?ll be evolving the Afternoon Tea menu regularly.
History of Afternoon Tea
The British tradition of Afternoon Tea dates back to the 1800s with Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford having conceived the idea of having tea, sandwiches and small cakes in the afternoon to keep her hunger at bay until dinner, which in the 19th century was traditionally served late in the evening. This became popular amongst the upper classes and soon became a good reason for social gatherings, beginning a trend that is still celebrated today.
Chocolate and hazelnut bavoir
The flavours of chocolate and hazelnut have always been something I?ve loved so a bavoir of rich, individual chocolate-centred layers, I feel, is the best way of incorporating this combination into the Afternoon Tea menu. A mélange of toasted pancake and a chocolate and praline paste is rolled out to create the base to this piece. The first layer is a chocolate crème Anglaise, followed by a hazelnut paste created with whipped cream. The final layer is a coating of chocolate and toasted cocoa nibs before the whole piece is finished with a luscious chocolate glaze.
Peach and Earl Grey mousse
The peach and Earl Grey mousse uses a combination of ingredients that are not typically found together and for me, are reminiscent of peach iced tea. I start this piece by creating circular discs from sheets made of a mix of white chocolate, biscuit crumble and butter, which creates the base. A gentle mousse infused with Earl Grey tea is then created, which is combined with gelatine, folded into whipped cream and set into baking rings before a peach jelly is placed over the top. Once allowed to set, the piece is finished with a dusting of Earl Grey tea leaves and edible gold leaf.
Passion fruit meringue pies
One of my favourite items are the passion fruit meringue pies. The exotic passion fruit curd has a similar consistency and is made in a similar way to lemon curd but with the difference of being infused with small cubes of passion fruit jelly. Placed into freshly baked pastry cases, an Italian meringue is then piped over the curd and offered a quick blow torch to add final texture to the piece.
Basil and plum sponge
My inspiration behind the basil and plum sponge was to add a unique twist to the traditional Swiss roll and to reconnect the piece to the Afternoon Tea concept by creating it in the shape of mini triangular sandwiches. A freshly baked muscovado sponge cake is frozen before it is divided into thin slices, which takes the utmost accuracy and precision. Each layer is topped with a sweet basil cream, made with a blanched Thai basil puree which is folded through sugar and whipped cream. The piece is then brushed with a plum nappage before being refrigerated to set. When ready, the sponge is cut into small, tidy triangles before being served on the Afternoon Tea tier.
In addition to the sweet treats, the Afternoon Tea menu also offers four types of sandwiches on a range of freshly baked, speciality breads including, chicken mayonnaise served on onion bread, goat?s cheese and tomato on tomato bread, egg mayonnaise served on pumpkin bread and smoked salmon and cream cheese on a granary bread.
A handful of fruit and plain scones accompany the other sweet treats on the Afternoon Tea menu and are served with fresh clotted cream and fruit jam.
Afternoon Tea is available daily upon pre-booking. Find out more or book an Afternoon Tea package.
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