London in the past few years has seen a flock of talent moving and opening pastry shops in the city like Cédric Grolet at the Berkeley or Albert Adrià and his Cakes & Bubbles. Harrods has also opened a chocolate hall with top products from around the world.
Located in Mayfair on Mount Street, The Connaught hotel is home to Helene Darroze at the Connaught. This three-Michelin-starred restaurant is a tribute to elegance, personality, and sophistication with every small detail tailored to your needs. On my way out, I was disappointed that the pastry shop, called The Connaught Pastisserie, was closed so I decided to go the next day. It’s Executive Pastry Chef is Nicolas Rouzaud, who began as an apprentice at his best friend’s uncle’s pastry shop in the South of France at just 15 years old. Afterwards, he worked in Paris at the Bristol hotel, among many other fine pastry jobs when he finally moved to London.
When you walk in the pastry shop you can find his beautiful creations with seasonal flavors. Rouzaud offers from pain au chocolat in the morning to his signature desserts like the Connaught chocolate dog, “We worked on a special custom mould which took share of the hound, which you can find on The Connaught’s crest. The chocolate hound also has its own wardrobe and will be sprayed white topped with a red scarf over the festive period. During the summer, the hound turns yellow with black sunglasses”, says the chef.
Where did you grow up? Could you share a childhood pastry memory?
I was born in France and grew up in Toulouse. My parents had a garden filled with fruit trees, including apples and figs. We would also have strawberries, cherries, grapes and raspberries growing everywhere – which I loved picking throughout the season and used to decorate desserts and cook pies with. I also loved working with chocolate and would spend hours in the kitchen concocting the perfect recipe for a chocolate mousse.
Describe how you decided to become a pastry chef and explain each of your previous work experiences.
I was 15 years old when my best friend’s uncle, who owned a traditional bakery in Toulouse, was looking for someone to help out over the busy summer months. I jumped to the chance. The early morning smell of freshly baked bread and its warm environment was extraordinary, I knew at that moment that this was my calling. I have so many memories that I dearly hold from my time there.
Following that, I started an apprenticeship in a traditional pastry shop in the heart of Toulouse. Cakes were at the heart of the kitchen, and I learned that art of crafting fine patisserie, with a careful focus on the finishing details. I then moved on to baking, and spent a year fine tuning my bread making skills, learning the traditional baking techniques. It’s a true science, and the early mornings got easier!
After several years moving from small bakeries and pastry kitchens, I challenged myself and moved to Brussels where I took on a role in a much larger scale production company where the quantities for making cakes and desserts were huge. It was a fascinating time, and this role really helped me to prepare myself for where I am today.
I took on Paris a few years later, where I landed a dream job at Le Bristol where you were taught discipline and luxury gastronomy. I was there for eight wonderful years, before moving to London to become Head Pastry Chef at The Lanesborough and lead a new team for its reopening.
How was your experience, and challenges moving to London? How was it like to change from a restaurant life to The Connaught Hotel?
My biggest challenge was the language as I spoke very little English, but I caught on quickly.
Moving to The Connaught was particularly exciting, as we were to launch a new restaurant with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and had to come up with a brand new dessert menu and afternoon tea offering. We take great pride in weaving our offering with our neighbourhood and started offering pastries to passers-by at the start of every season from Jean-Georges at The Connaught. Between lockdowns we opened The Connaught Patisserie on Mount Street, from morning pain au chocolat to dinner party desserts, there’s something for every mood and occasion. We really got to know our neighbours and have built a strong relationship with them. They often come in with requests for me to make their favourite childhood cakes, which pops up in our seasonal offering. We know their birthdays, special occasions…being able to sprinkle extra sweetness with cakes is very rewarding.
‘The Connaught Patisseries starts early. We work on adding the finishing touches to every freshly made cake before opening at 8:00 AM (on weekdays). The cakes are displayed in our refrigerated display cabinet, which was built to look like a jewellery box’
Could you describe a day inside the Pastry shop?
The Connaught Patisseries starts early. At 6:00AM we see our overnight bakers come up with fresh pastries fresh from the oven. We work on adding the finishing touches to every freshly made cake before opening at 8:00 AM (on weekdays).
The cakes are displayed in our refrigerated display cabinet, which was built to look like a jewellery box. Every cake is precious and special. It’s a real team effort, and working together is very important and reflects on the finishing results.
What kind of pastry items can we find in the pastry shop?
My team and I create pastries and cakes to carry you through the day – there’s a large sculptural clock that hangs in the patisserie, not to tell the time, but to show customers what they can expect and when, from an early morning pain au chocolat, to delicate afternoon patisserie, and cakes to pick up on the way home for a special post-supper treat. Loaf cakes and ‘gâteaux de voyage’ – cakes historically designed to last throughout long pilgrimages – will sit on the counter, from lemon madeleines to financiers and fresh from the oven chocolate cookies.
The much loved Connaught hound which graces the hotel emblem, has been reimagined as a chocolate hazelnut cake, a miniature work of art which has become The Connaught Patisserie signature and dresses up for key calendar dates including Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
We also create large decadent cakes to order designed for birthdays, celebrations, or simply to tell someone you love them. These can be collected from the shop, or, if customers are in Mayfair, the team can arrive at your door laden with cake boxes.
‘There’s a large sculptural clock that hangs in the patisserie, not to tell the time, but to show customers what they can expect and when’
What is your favorite time of the year to work in the shop and why?
That’s a difficult question to answer. To be honest I love all seasons of the year. Each season brings a different ingredient and celebrated date.
Over the summer, the pastries turn fruity and light. I love working with raspberries, peaches and apricots. We also roll out our homemade ice-cream trolley to refresh our friends and neighbours on very hot days. Autumn brings figs, apples and pears. We will work on creating a collection of pastries that are more gourmand for the season, including pecan and pumpkin pies for all those celebrating Thanksgiving.
If I had to choose a favourite season it would be winter. There are so many flavours to work from… spices, chocolate and oranges. We sprinkle festive colours to our cake collection and add a touch of nostalgia with the sweet aroma of gingerbread.
What is your signature dessert and why is it your favourite?
The signature dessert at The Connaught Patisserie is our Connaughty Hound made with milk chocolate mousse, soft insert of hazelnut praline and a chocolate sponge glaze with hazelnut and milk chocolate.
The hound is representative of the Connaught hotel logo. We worked on a special custom mould which took share of the hound, which you can find on The Connaught’s crest.
The chocolate hound also has its own wardrobe and will be sprayed white topped with a red scarf over the festive period. During the summer, the hound turns yellow with black sunglasses.
‘Our best seller is the signature Connaughty hound, I think people love the idea that the hound changes seasonally, and it’s a real piece of art’
Could you describe the different pastries that are served at afternoon tea?
The Afternoon tea at The Connaught changes every season with a special festive offering over Christmas. The afternoon tea offering features five miniature fine pastries. The cakes reflect the season and are highlighted with ingredients available at that time of year. On the top of the afternoon tea stand we have a warm dark chocolate fondue to dip biscuits or fruit of the season for guests to share around the table.
Afternoon tea isn’t complete without scones, clotted cream, and jam. We offer plain and wholemeal raisin scones.
What is your top selling dessert, and why do you think that is?
Our best seller is the signature Connaughty hound, I think people love the idea that the hound changes seasonally, and it’s a real piece of art. We have lots of dog owners visit with their canine companions to enjoy the chocolate hound. Other very popular cakes are the Paris-Brest and the St Honore.
“We take great pride in creating jewel-like cakes that are pleasing to the eye, ultimately, they must taste good”
How often do you come up with new pastry ideas for the Pastry shop and what do you take in consideration when you select the choices?
Our cakes are forever changing which allows our guests to return and try new pastries. I’m a huge believer in using seasonal ingredients. Some cakes will be limited edition, such as the tarte with mirabelles. Some will remain longer. By using seasonal ingredients, we really get to work with the best of flavours nature has to offer. Nothing beats a summer strawberry or an autumnal pear. We take great pride in creating jewel-like cakes that are pleasing to the eye but ultimately, they must taste good. I take great pride in my team, and couldn’t do it without them. They are all especially proud to be working for The Connaught, and create cakes that people can enjoy for all occasions.