You don’t need to be a musician to know what harmony sounds like, and you don’t need to be a painter to know when certain colours have consonance. Likewise, you don’t need to be a chef to know that certain flavours and textures are unified just right. This is called art.
“Whenever you eat things, you need a flavour and texture profile to be present. Because, even if you don’t know it, you’ll notice these things subconsciously,” says Gareth Williams. “You look for the savoury and the sweet, the crunchy, the chewy, and the creamy … Something like a tart or a cookie should have all those things, because that’s what food is about.”
Williams is a young chef with a young business called Covered in Crumbs. Last year Williams resigned from his position as the pastry chef for Restaurant Mason to focus on his business full-time. Since then, Williams, along with a lot help from his wife Paula, family and friends, has gone from making pop-up appearances at the likes of Sherwood Coffee Bar and (now closed) Locomotive, to appearing regularly at the Olive Tree and Hunt & Gather markets.
“When we did our first two pop-ups, last year, I wanted to introduce people to my pastries and see if they liked them or not,” Williams says. “So, we baked just enough to hopefully not have to take anything back home with us.”
Both pop-ups sold out of every cake and crumb in a matter of hours.
“That was amazing,” Williams says, “and a bit overwhelming, to be honest. We sold out in like three hours. We literally had nothing left. It was very cool and very encouraging.”
Williams’ cookies, cakes, tarts and other pastries sold out because, in a tart shell, he bakes works of art.
“I think a lot about the finer details of the things I bake. I want to make them look as good as they taste,” he says.
Encased in a short-crust tart shell that shatters into calculated chaos like a Jackson Pollock painting, Williams’ rhubarb + raspberry with custard + porridge frangipani tart looks like a garden of earthly delights. Juicy red raspberries, deep purple and teal edible leaves rest upon a ground of crunchy porridge crumbs and chunky lumps of soft rhubarb dusted like snow from white icing sugar.
“I love to add those little finishing touches by using things like edible flowers and other garnishes. I want my pastries to have a bit of style and prettiness about them, so that they look unique and complete,” Williams says.
Not even Annie Lennox could have conceived of the kind of sweet dreams Williams’ sweet themed creations conjure up. His almond + orange cake is a fresh flavour adventure that begins with zesty citrus sweetness pulsing like an ’80s analogue synth over and above a dense textural back beat made of eggs, flour and butter, before merging with a smooth, light and airy choral of cream and harmonic baked cake smokiness. Moving on …
“Fruit plays a massive part of what I do, and I try to find a use for everything, so that nothing goes to waste,” Williams says. “For example, I mainly want to use the zest from the oranges and lemons, but, I’ll blanch the rest in salted water and braise the fruit down in a sugar syrup over night until it goes all soft. From there, I can make it into a purée and use it across all my cakes and cookies to give them each an added bit of sweet and sour freshness.”
Having learnt the basics of baking from his mother and grandmother before heading to London to hone his skills working at The Ivy, in Covent Garden, Williams moved to Newcastle, where he soon found himself working with chef Beau Vincent from subo.
“Working with Beau, learning the skills for how to refine certain combinations of flavour and texture, and then realising I could apply it to pastry work was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me,” Williams says.
“I think being a pastry chef allows you to be just a little more creative in regards to the way that you work,” he says.
As when any skilful hand meets any blank canvas, Williams is able to create edible art with his Covered in Crumbs creations.