For this week’s F&Be, we had the pleasure of meeting Verónica Garrido Martínez, who is the head pastry chef of Great Scotland Yard Hotel, one of London’s best-kept secrets…but one that is sure to break out soon.
We met for coffee in the hotel’s 40 Elephants Bar, which elegantly— and whimsically—pays homage to the all-female shop-lifting crime syndicate that operated out of Elephant & Castle in London from the late 1800s to the 1950s.
Underneath the glass ceiling and “shattered” chandelier, Verónica shared with me her recipe for success—equal parts determination, creativity, drive, and talent—that have kept her on a steady journey that has taken her from southern Spain to some of London’s most celebrated restaurants and hotels.
Hi Verónica! Where are you from and what was your first job?
I’m from Cartagena, a coastal city in the Murcia Region in the southeast of Spain. My first job in a kitchen was in a banquet restaurant. I had just started culinary school and planned to get some work experience in some Michelin-star restaurants in Madrid during the summer, so this job allowed me to save money while attending school.
How did you decide to become a chef?
I have always been surrounded by food and great ingredients! My grandparents used to have a restaurant by the beach where I grew up, so pretty much the whole family was involved. When I was little, I would go through all of my parents’ cookbooks and ask to make all the recipes! I kept my mom quite busy! However, becoming a chef wasn’t always my first instinct. My dad was adamant about me going to university; however, I struggle with ADHD a bit, so staying still with a book was quite a challenge for me, so I decided to go to cooking school and I fell in love right away!
Why pastry and not cooking?
I just love that you have so many choices and colors. Working in the kitchen requires more of an instinct, but the pastry is colorful—you can just play. You can run as far as your imagination can take you. The more skills you have, the more creative you can be.
You trained in Spain, then came to London. Can you tell us a little bit about your training and what has motivated you to work in London?
From the start, I was certain that I wanted to work in Michelin-starred restaurants and learn from the best at the highest level, so I went to Madrid during school summer break. My teacher got me a job in a gastronomic restaurant after the executive chef there sent me to do work experience in another Michelin restaurant in town.
After I finished school, I went to France to do my internships, then came back to Madrid, where I got my first paying job at a Michelin restaurant as a pastry chef de partie. After a while, I saw there was a vacancy at Sergi Arola Gastro (two Michelin stars). It was one of the best restaurants in Madrid with a renowned chef, so I went for it and got it! I worked with some pretty genius chefs and learned so much that it made me realize that I wanted to travel and grow within the industry, so I packed my suitcase, came to London, and told myself that no matter how hard it was going to be, I was going to reach a senior level.
Even from the beginning of your career, you were working in Michelin-starred restaurants helmed by the likes of Gordon Ramsay and the Galvin Brothers. What key steps have you taken in your career that brought you to where you are right now?
Starting up in a new country is never easy if you don’t speak the language very well. If you can’t express yourself properly, you can’t manage people. When I moved to London, I took a step back career-wise. My first jobs in London were as a demi chef at Petrus then at The Ritz, so I could learn English.
It takes a lot of self-awareness and humility to take a step back, knowing that you can do the job but also knowing that you can’t do it to its fullest potential. As a woman, do you think we’re more inclined to do that? Yes, you can’t generalize, but I think a lot of the time, that is a female way of thinking.
Were you part of the opening team at Great Scotland Yard Hotel?
I’m proud to say yes! I had been working at Galvin at Windows for quite a while when their former executive chef Alex Harper approached me with this great new project. I’ve enjoyed it since day one.
Great Scotland Yard Hotel incorporates elements of its past as the former headquarters of the Metropolitan Police in the 1800s into its current incarnation (or should I say, incarceration?) as a five-star hotel. How does your menu reflect this colorful—and very British—theme?
We have different outlets here, for example at The 40 Elephants bar, we pair our signature Black Diamond cocktail with a little black diamond coffee bonbon. We also serve iced mustache and Bobby hat cookies with hot beverages. In the Sibin Whisky bar, we do a tasting of different chocolates pairing them with some awesome whiskey; The Parlour, our tea room inspired by the Imperial Hotel Delhi and taking influence from East India Company, is where we mostly serve British seasonal classic afternoon tea cakes; and our main restaurant, The Yard, will be a London home for chef Niklas Ekstedt from September, so I really adapt to every one of them by their unique style.
You will soon be launching your Bouquet de la Reine Afternoon Tea service in collaboration with the British perfumers, Floris. Taking inspiration from a fragrance that was created for Queen Victoria’s wedding is a dramatic (and multisensory) way to merge history with patisserie! So how does this work?
I try to prepare flavors that go with their fragrance notes— jasmine, violet, rose, vanilla, there's blackberry, and blackcurrant as well. When you try to create pastries, especially pairing them with perfume, it needs to be delicate. You don’t want a heavy punch of flowers, so we try to infuse some cream with some jasmine tea, for example, or use rose tea. We have pistachio and rose plum cake that we serve with all the pastries. For blackcurrant, we have caramels, for example, or we use vanilla-infused biscuits.
Do you find a theme presents more room for creativity?
Sometimes you work with other people and you clearly have to go with their theme, which forces you to dig into stories or different styles or cultures or gastronomies. But then also I like to pull from my own imagination as well. I'm a big fan of rock and pop, so I want to do Easter eggs with David Bowie’s iconic Ziggy Stardust face makeup. It’s a very fun thing. It's also a very London thing. It’s my little wink to rebellion. This building allows me to be a bit more cheeky.
Sounds fun, I can see why you would want to come and be a part of the new Great Scotland Yard.
When Alex approached me, the project sounded so great. I thought, “This is it—this is the perfect move.” I didn't want it to leave the Galvin Brothers, because it was a great job, but I will always try to make a good career move. Obviously, in London everything is super busy and exhausting—hard kitchens, a lot of hours, so you always have to think—is it a good move for me?
The hotel opened in December 2019, so it hadn’t been open for very long before the pandemic hit. And even though UK hotels were finally able to open a few weeks ago, international travel is still not allowed. What has been keeping you busy (and sane) during this time?
Reading, music, and exercise—not everything is in the kitchen! Sometimes taking a break can provide a breakthrough that makes a difference. That is how I coped with the whole situation while I was on furlough, but there was also a bit of baking of course!
What are the qualities you think it takes to be a great pastry chef?
In your rise to the role of head pastry chef, what are some of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome?
Big masculine egos and good old female stigmas, which, unfortunately, are still around. I remember my first Michelin star restaurant. I was the only girl. And then when I moved on to Sergi Arola Gastro, it was a two Michelin star, I was the only girl. But definitely, you can see that changing. You have more women, including women in the front, managing a lot of males. A lot of chefs, when they build up their teams they are looking for more balance.
Are there specific skills that have contributed to your success?
Learning how to communicate.
Keeping cool. Working under pressure can be challenging, and learning how to deal with a tricky situation—and how to react—is key.
Learning how to organize yourself, finding a system that works for you.
What advice do you have for dealing with those personalities and also getting the best out of your own team?
Ignore all those big egos. The best kitchens, honestly, are where the teams are united and they just go for it. There's no line between gender, there's no line between pastry and kitchen—there’s just a team. Go all around the world, the best restaurants—11 Madison Park, Noma— have that philosophy. It’s like a great, big family and they empower each other.
Dish with us–what is your favorite dessert to make?
What would be your favorite dessert to eat?
ICE CREAM—all day long if I could!
Is there anything you don’t enjoy baking?
I’m quite hyperactive so when I bake I get very impatient to see results!
What do you think is going to be the next big dessert trend?
I think back to basics—traditional patisserie and baking, but well done. Great product sourcing is quite a trend already.
What are your top 3 can’t-live-without items in your personal kitchen?
What 3 tips or tricks can you share with home bakers?
Read the recipe properly
Check you measured the ingredients accurately
Watch the clock—it’s important to manage your timings carefully
What is one dessert a home cook can make that will be sure to impress their guests?
Summer is my season! My favorite thing to eat is roasted peaches with thyme and lemon almond cake!
Until we can all travel freely, would you be able to share a recipe– say, a ‘felonious torte’–with us?