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Rising to the Top: Emma Watts, Pastry Sous Chef, Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, London

For our latest F&Be column, we are excited to feature Emma Watts, pastry sous chef at the tallest hotel in Europe, The Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard, which has restaurants offering unparalleled views across London. Emma studied drama at university, but it has been her love of pastry that has really allowed her to steal the show! Since completing her training at Le Cordon Bleu, Emma’s career has been on a steady rise to new heights…literally.

Emma Watts, Pastry Sous Chef, Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard, London.
Emma Watts, Pastry Sous Chef, Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard, London. Photo: Sloane Warren

Hi Emma! Where are you from and what was your first job?

Originally I am from Lincolnshire and my first pastry job was in a beautiful little hotel called the Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa.

How did you decide to become a pastry chef?

It was through my first job at the Petwood Hotel that I decided that this was the career path for me. Once I had made this choice, I decided to train at a culinary school to make sure I understood all the basics I would need to be successful. Then, I set my sights on working at some of the best restaurants and hotels in London! I've been at The Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard since 2018.

Congratulations on graduating top 3 in your Cordon Bleu course! What are the qualities you think it takes to be a great pastry chef?

Knowledge, dedication, precision and an eye for detail.

What steps have you taken in your career that brought you to where you are right now?

I think I had a fairly clear direction when I decided to become a pastry chef. My aim early on was to try and get a full understanding of all areas of pastry from working in Michelin starred restaurants to banqueting to afternoon tea. All of which require a slightly different set of skills, so training myself in all of these areas, has made it possible to progress to where I am now.

The past year has obviously been really challenging for everyone in the hospitality industry. What has helped keep you busy (and sane) during this time?

I think it has been fairly tough for all people working in this industry going from 100 MPH jobs to sitting at home and barely able to leave the house! A positive that I have taken from all of this is that I’ve had plenty of time to do all the paperwork relating to my job. So, when we finally do get back, all the costings, recipes and training will be up to date and we should have a smooth reopening!

Even without its incredible views of London, a visit to The Shangri-La is truly a destination, even the tea service brings a sense of magic and whimsy! What is your favourite pastry/cake to make?

Currently, it is any of the new pastries that I have been working on for the new picnic inspired afternoon tea that we are launching once the hotel reopens. My absolute favourite part of the job is designing new desserts and pastries for the upcoming menus.

Afternoon Tea, Shangri-La at The Shard
Afternoon Tea at the Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard. Photo: Sloane Warren

What would be your favourite cake or pastry to eat—especially in spring?

No matter the season, no matter the weather--banoffee pie!

What is your least favourite thing to bake?

Souffles! I don’t think they are particularly hard to make, but (don’t hate me here) I do think they are extremely overrated.

What do you think is going to be the next trendy dessert?

I’m not sure it’s any specific dessert that’s going to be trending, but the plating rather. We are in an age of ‘instagrammable’ food. So I think looking for new ways to make desserts look incredible as well as taste exceptional will be the focus. Currently, lace tuiles are really popular, so I’m watching this space…

As a woman in hospitality—and particularly in the pastry kitchen what are some of the obstacles you have been able to overcome on your career path?

I think working in a kitchen can sometimes feel like a very male-dominated environment. So, I think especially as a younger chef, this was quite a daunting feeling to walk into.

Is there anything you are hoping to help change in the industry over the next year, 5 years, or 10 years?

I have worked in some quite hot-headed kitchens in my time so I would love to be part of an industry where we can nurture talent without feeling the need to shout at chefs to motivate them.

For the home baker, what are your top 3 can’t-live-without items in your personal kitchen?

My Kitchen Aid, a good quality sharp knife and my favourite bright pink spatula called Mr Pinky!

What 3 tips or tricks can you share with home bakers?

  1. Never estimate! Follow every recipe and you are less likely to have problems.

  2. Don’t throw away vanilla pods. Once you’ve scraped the seeds, put the pod in some sugar and make yourself some vanilla sugar, or chuck it in a fruit compote--the pods have brilliant flavour too!

  3. Don’t be afraid to use salt in baking. It can really bring out the flavour in super sweet desserts.

What is your favourite thing to bake for a friend’s birthday 🥳?

I love making people's favourite desserts, I think it’s a bit more personal than making a birthday cake, especially if you know what it is, and can make it as a surprise.

Do your friends and family always expect you to bring treats?

Actually, no! My family and friends are very good. They know my job can be quite demanding and try not to put any extra pressure on me by expecting cakes every time I visit!

Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard, the tallest hotel in Europe.
Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard, the tallest hotel in Europe. Photo: Shangri-La Hotels

Please share a spring-inspired recipe to bake at home that will tide us over satisfy our sweet tooth until we can join you at the Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard in London?

My favourite thing outside of work to make is a classic, super tasty pavlova. Always popular with whoever visits and so easy to change up the fillings to keep it fresh and seasonal. We are slowly coming into some of the best months for seasonal English fruit, so why not make the most of it!

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