Meet Jessica Humphreys, pastry chef at Damson at MediaCity

PUBLISHED: 13:00 07 April 2015

Commis Pastry Chef Jessica Humphreys at Damson Restaurant

Commis Pastry Chef Jessica Humphreys at Damson Restaurant

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Meet the talented 19-year-old pastry chef whose culinary prowess is already turning heads. Emma Mayoh reports

You can’t question Jessica Humphrey’s dedication. While her friends are on nights out and attending college the pastry chef is working long days and nights behind the pass at the contemporary restaurant Damson at Media City. This would never do for many 19-year-olds but the commis pastry chef wouldn’t have it any other way.

She said: ‘I do miss a lot of nights out. But I’m happy with that. I want this career and this is what I have to do. I need to work hard. I need to focus.

‘People say I’m missing my teenage years. They’re wrong. I’m having the time of my life. I’m not bothered about going out.’

The Bolton teenager is already turning heads. While studying Professional Cookery at Bury College, she took the top prize in the Dougie Simpson ACF North West Pastry Chef of the Year competition. She won it two years on the trot - an accolade never before achieved. As well as pitting her skills against other cookery students she was also up against professionals. It was her Opera Gateau – a challenging dish of three layers of sponge and three layers of filling, including almond sponge, coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache - and mixed fruit bavoir that bowled the judges over.

She said: ‘I couldn’t believe it, it was crazy. It was a challenge, of course. There was some really good competition. For the two weeks before the competition all I did was make Opera Gateau.

‘It was really hard. It brought me to tears sometimes. But my tutor pushed me. I’m so glad I did it. It was amazing.’

Culinary skills run in the family. Her uncle, Gary Clarke, was head chef for BUPA and mum, Lisa, did catering at Bolton College. Jessica also has fond memories of Christmas when she would join her late grandma, Renee, and the other female members of the family and they all make a trifle together.

She said: ‘It was always a real treat because we all used to do it together. It was something we all really enjoyed.

‘I just love food. I love feeding people. It’s fun and I have got a lot of passion for it. My Bakewell Tart is really popular at church. I get asked about it every week. It makes me happy that people like my food.’

Jessica had originally planned a career in contemporary dance – she used to be a member of a local school. But it was when she discovered the joy of cooking and her love of creativity in the kitchen she decided pastry was the route to take.

She worked part time at Cake Delight in Bolton creating and decorating celebration cakes. But soon after her course finished one of the judges from the pastry competition got in touch with Jessica’s former tutor, Neil Harrison, to suggest she apply for the job at Damson.

She said: ‘I was nervous. I kept putting off making the phone call. I didn’t think I was good enough. I pushed myself to come here and I got a job.

‘I started in July last year. I wanted to go into work straight away. I didn’t want a gap year, I wanted to keep going. It helps with my confidence.’

Since starting her first full time job Jessica has flourished. She has cooked for Hollywood star Sigourney Weaver, Coronation Street cast members and BBC presenters as well as the many discerning diners who flock to this elegant and popular restaurant. She spends her days glued to her counter creating wonderful dishes as well as experimenting with new combinations and flavours.

Jessica, a former Harper Green School pupil, said: ‘I absolutely love it. I have got to make some really incredible dishes. I just really like making new things. I just like messing around with sugar and chocolate. There are so many different ways to get creative and there are lots of things you can make as a pastry chef. I love experimenting. I love eating it as well, too.

‘People find out my age and are really surprised at how far I’ve come. People think I’m still at school.’

But her ambitions are far from over. While she doesn’t have any plans to leave Damson she hopes one day to work in some of London’s top restaurants as well as with her hero and chocolatier, William Curley. She also has hopes to work in Australia, where the pastry industry is very big. But her dream is to have her own patisserie and cookery show.

She said: ‘People shy away from pastry; they don’t think they’ll be able to do it. Of course you can’t just wing it and put lots of ingredients together. With pastry, you have to measure everything out, even the water. One or two grams out mean it could go wrong.

‘But it’s just getting your head around the maths. I want to show people how easy it is. I am learning all the time and one day I want to help other people learn. I want to show people what I can do and teach people what I do.’

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