Calum Franklin has become an Instagram star for his pastry skills, posting photos of stunning creations from the kitchen of Holborn Dining Room, where he's head chef. His pâté en croûte nearly broke the internet with its intricate patterns and two-coloured pastry. We went for a peek behind the scenes, to find out how he makes it.
"I've never actually trained in pastry," Calum explains, "I never wanted to be a pastry chef and a few years ago I thought it was a gap in my knowledge, so in my free time I started teaching myself a lot of stuff, and I found out it's something that I'm quite obsessive about.
"I'm obsessed with patterns and that's why I find it interesting. It's also very relaxing, especially in a mad place like this to be able to do these kinds of crafty things, it's really nice."
Calum explains how the pastry has really caught the attention of people online, "people are obsessed with pastry! Look at the Great British Bake Off, and you walk past Bread Ahead in Borough Market and there's just like, 100 people looking through the window, at some knackered Polish bakers, making sourdough.
I had five weeks off work recently because I had some surgery and sourdough was another gap in my knowledge, so I was like right, in this five weeks I'm going to nail some things down. I did it in quite an obsessive way, like I had 20 different starters from different people and different recipes and then did it methodically. I think the further you progress in your career as a chef the more you do that as well; you become more obsessive about small details as you go on."
We talk about his famous pâté en croûte — basically meat enclosed in pastry with a very savoury jelly on top — and we ask if he's considered entering it into Championnat du monde de Pâté Croûte, a competition in France. He has: "We're in the process now of trying to get in, for next year. There's never been a British person in the competition.
The French still have a view of British food and it's going to be very difficult to change that. Regardless of the fact that I think London is miles ahead of Paris on the restaurant scene but it's just ingrained in French people that British people can't cook."
"I might have to change my name to something French. I think it's really funny the idea of a British guy entering the competition, trying to take them on, and I will do something ridiculously British.
We've already been thinking about what we'd do but that's all top secret… There's also some exciting things happening here next year, that we're developing. We're going to be pushing things forward a bit, creating more things like the grouse pithivier, the pâté en croûte, these old classical arts that have been lost in London."
"I think it's important for us in here to teach the young kids how to do it. Because it's cool! As a chef, the first time you cut something like that it's hugely satisfying. The first time we got the pithivier right — because it took a few times to get it perfectly pink — I remember looking at the other chefs and we were all grinning."
We talk about his other pastry creations, "The pork pies I did for somebody else, as a favour, but they actually came out alright so we'll probably do those in the deli. It's hard to hand raise a pie. People who make pork pies have generally been doing it for a long time, that's what I realised. Beef wellington goes back to when I was at Roast in Borough Market, we did a good one there and when we opened here, after like, a year and we'd settled the kitchen I said 'right, it's about time we put a wellington on; I want us to try and do the best one in London but I also want to put it at a price where it's accessible to people."
"It's one of the greatest achievements of British cooking, and I want people to come to London, to visit and to be able to eat something like that and go away with a good image of what we do. So that's why we make it accessible here — it's £26 with roast potatoes. That's still expensive but for what you get — I will lose money every time we sell it but it's worth it.
"It takes three days from start to finish, we cut the duxelles by hand so when you're doing it on a big scale, for 200-300 guests, that’s a lot of chopping. On a Sunday, all you hear in the kitchen is the sound of all the chefs chopping mushrooms."
It's mesmerising to watch Franklin making the pâté en croûte, calmly and methodically shaping as the kitchen buzzes around him. "The black pastry is coloured with cuttlefish ink, and I cut the shapes and lay them in the side of the tin, then when the other pastry is laid on top and filled, the black pastry gets pushed into the side, creating the pattern. As it cooks it melds together as one."
"Then we’ve got some pancetta, then inside that is the farce, which is bronze turkey from Wales, smoked bacon then down the middle — originally we were doing foie gras and then I was like, it's not really a British thing. So then I thought let's do sage and onion stuffing. The stuffing is like a boudin, almost like a mousse which is made with turkey breast, egg white, double cream, sage and onion. It’s formed into a sausage shape in cling film, then poached."
We watch him add the lid, carefully crimping the edges with his fingers before going around again, tidying it up to make it perfect.
Franklin then makes holes using… a pen lid. He laughs, "Yeah people think I’ve got all these special tools but actually it's just this pen lid. "I’m quite ghetto with the techniques sometimes, so I use on pen for the holes, and another for the pattern on top. It's the Holborn Dining Room pen that we give to the guests.
"It was a relief working out how to do it," he tells me, of part of the design. I asked French chefs how to do it, and no one would tell me. They’re really secretive about it and eventually this one guy, who lives in Montreal in Canada said 'OK I'll tell you, but you're not allowed to tell anyone. So obviously I've told loads of people!" he laughs, "knowledge is for sharing."