As part of our collaboration with The Cake Professionals, we're thrilled to bring you this exclusive interview with none other than Cherish Finden - a name food lovers will be sure to recognise! You're in for a treat... Find out how Cherish got to where she is today, why a positive outlook and strong work ethic are key ingredients for success and her priceless tips for a career in a competitive industry. Over to you, Christine!
Meeting Cherish Finden
Cherish Finden is not scary… the bright red mini mille-feuille earrings were an instant giveaway! She’s focused, hardworking, a seeker of perfection, but certainly not scary. An afternoon in her company at The Langham London left me with an experience of the real Cherish as a thoroughly warm, encouraging, team-minded woman at the top of her kitchen game.
She’s known to the nation as a ruler-bearing, stickler-for-detail judge on Channel 4’s Bake Off: The Professionals (previously Crème de la Crème on BBC2). However, Cherish is much more than her TV role. With over 20 years as a chocolatier and pastry chef, she has an awards list longer than your arm. Having begun cooking for her family at eight years old, she stepped into her kitchen career at 16. Cherish has since worked, learned, taught and judged from Singapore to Bermuda and is firmly established as an internationally acclaimed pastry chef.
We were meeting to discuss her involvement in The Cake Professionals Awards and judging. What struck me from the moment she walked into The Langham (a place she left as executive pastry chef over two years ago) was the warmth of the welcome. It stretched from hugs at the concierge coat drop-off, to easy conversation with Bob van den Oord (The Langham’s MD, who happened to be strolling through the lobby) when we left. Everyone we met had a smile and a moment to share with Cherish. No-one was even the slightest bit terrified!
Challenge your limits to the maximum
There’s no doubt when you see Cherish’s designs and accomplishments that she works with a goal in mind. In fact, each year she sets herself a particular goal for that year. It’s always one that stretches her. After all, she argues, how can you get better, if you aren’t pushing beyond what you are currently doing?
“I was not a very confident person when I was young. I would sit by the corner on the last table. I would tuck myself away. I didn’t talk. But being in a competition made me a happier person because I had something to look forward to, something to push myself forward. Every time I did not win, I’d ask myself, what I can do to improve? Every time I won, I became more confident in myself and my work.”
Go back to the basics
No matter where you are in business, it pays to go back to basics and learn from those who have themselves been taught well. Cherish was generous for praise of folk like Peter Knipp (her exec chef at Ruffles, Singapore) and Martin Chiffers (International Chocolatier) who had directed her, guided her, challenged and sometimes critiqued her work. Why? For business to really work, the product needs to be great. It’s our best marketing tool.
“Get your basics very strong. If you cannot make a good sponge, you cannot make a good wedding cake. The cake itself is so crucial. The filling is also very crucial. How you actually cover the cake so its sides are straight and it isn’t wonky is also crucial. Go right back to the basics, forget the pretty Instagram stuff, go for the basics. The best basics, the best flavours.”
Cherish’s story did not start with privilege or opportunity. It started with poverty, family illness, and everyone helping out as they could. Her life in pastry and cake has been a tenacious, determined, day in day out affair. Nothing has happened fast. There’s a lot to be learned for faithfulness in the long haul. Of keeping the end in view.
“Don’t think it will be easy. If you want to do a good job you need to focus. If you want to learn then you need to put in the time. Put in the extra two hours in the day to learn the skills. It will not be easy. You will fall down a lot. You will cry when you do not get it right. But then you will get up again. Every time you will learn and get better.”
Education, (and education from those who will show you your areas for growth as well as the places you are doing well), is the backdrop to Cherish’s push for perfection. At 16, Cherish enrolled in culinary school. Having struggled academically in school, it was here for the first time she felt at home.
“It’s all about understanding… if you’re making a sponge, how long do you beat it for? How fast do you beat it? What is the temperature of the butter? What is the temperature of the mixture? Did it split? Why did it split? Do you cook it gently lower, or faster higher? What are the results? What if I choose to emulsify the fats first, or if I do it the all-together grandmother way, which makes the better cake? Even how you rest it, and how long you rest it for, all of it makes a difference. You will not know what difference your choices make if you have not tried and tested the different ways. When you understand what it takes to produce that piece of cake, you will have the best cake.”
Focus on the positive
Throughout my afternoon with Cherish, she spoke fondly of the teams she’s run and worked in, and of the importance of that team’s attitude and energy. The kitchen in her view is a place where order and calm should reside. And where the focus is not on the mess-ups and the apparent failures, but on the successes.
“What was it you got right? Focus on that. There is nothing to gain from focusing on what you didn’t get, what didn’t work. If you have made a mistake, if you didn’t get it right, cry, be sad, that’s ok. Ask yourself, what can I learn from this? Energy is so important. Remember how you succeeded the last time. You are still able. Make a plan to do it again, better.”
Cherish’s intentional choice to be habitually positive, to turn low moments into learning, and to refocus and work hard, has no doubt enabled her to get to where she is today.
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