Competitive Arts: The Infinite Craftsmanship of Pastry & Baking with Chef Cherish Finden
In the crowded room, Chef Cherish Finden would capture your attention immediately. Her warm, impassioned tone, a cheerful greeting to SHATEC’s pastry students, the compelling anecdotes and maxims shared. “Simplicity is often best in baking, yet refined in precise coats of fine ingredients and textures. Best of all, [the desserts] bring smiles to your audiences,” she told us.
Her dynamism, her style, and gravitas radiated from her stories of breaking barriers of unparalleled proportions. Chef Cherish is Singapore-born, SHATEC-trained, London-based, and a decorated pastry chef, chocolatier, competition and baking show judge. Her visually arresting designs show a high regard for storytelling. While she has left her competition days behind (we counted 25 medals, including 18 Golds in her awards list!), her desire to reach project perfection never falters.
Chef Cherish lets us peer into her workflow and artistic process, where elegance, innovation, and customer experience are all central to creation. Read on to see how you can impress at the judges’ table and then take the pastry world by storm!
Make your visions come to life—Concept building and brainstorming is the most crucial and lengthy part when starting a dessert. Think about what will capture the audience, then research. Once you know what you’re presenting on the table, drill down to the focal points of building it. I like to create art and desserts no one has seen before. A-Maze-ing/A-Mais-ing tells of the power in curiosity. A popcorn meringue, it’s a ‘maze’ where you just have to ask: Why am I doing it? How should I take this on? When should I start? It helps rationalise everything I create.
Always strip it down to the basics—Know the ingredients, not overuse them, focus on taste, and always have a pairing in mind. The first spoonful of your dessert should always be the “spoon of genius”! The structure and molecules of lemon juice can make your cake stand out. Introducing natural colours into food is phenomenal, such as beetroot into pastry or chocolate. Using lemongrass, coconut, and mango, each draws out the best outcomes.
Measurements are everything—You need to follow recipe measurements precisely. One of my projects, the Langham Express train (measuring 2.5m by 1.6m tall), took nine months to plan for and create. As we were setting it up, I could not push parts of the train into the lift, due to a miscalculation! My poor staff had to carry the carriages across steps to get to the display.
Delight people with your creations—We have to engage with the audiences. I will not compromise on quality: go for taste first, visual quality after. Careful choice of ingredients will lift the dessert and they need to be the best possible products, too. It’s a challenge, but we should not mix up summer and winter ingredients. Summer’s best products are strawberries, raspberries, peaches, and apricots.
Taste the rewards after you have put in the work—Get opinions with your first attempt, and think hard about decorations. In any competition, contestants should always return to the judges’ platform improved from their last plate. It also helps to learn the culture and make the best of it. By incorporating tapioca pearls and the cha of bubble tea into a version of the Tarik in my afternoon tea collection, I got to share a slice of Singapore’s heritage with my customers through the origins of ‘pulling’ tea from the top.
Pastry is an art—I’ve taken up window display design, marker illustration, and sculpturing in NAFA, as well as airbrush techniques. Looking back at the Easter Eggs collection, displayed in The Langham London, 2015, I am proud of it. Created in 60 regal styles, we brought in icons like the telephone booth, the London cab (illustrated 2D on the egg). My pastry chefs also gave their dream designs so that all our dreams came true!
On the humble apple crumble—I would pick my own apples from a nearby farm: Bramley apple for making jams; Cripps Pink apples for sweetness; Granny Smith apples for acidity. I wouldn’t over-complicate an apple crumble, but add a vanilla pod into it for flavour. A touch of sugar to balance the sweet and acidic apple, then finish off with a crumble on the top of the mixture and bake to perfection!
All product photo credits to Chef Cherish Finden.