Please note Pei Modern is now closed.
Lauren Eldridge has a confidence that belies her age. Not only is she a creator of magnificent desserts that at first seem simple, she understands the importance of creating great memories.
As a child she designed and cooked monthly dinner parties at home with her brother and parents. Now she is Dessert Chef at Mark Best’s Pei Modern at the Four Seasons Hotel, Sydney. When TML interviewed Lauren she had been at Pei Modern for only two weeks. (Lauren completed her apprenticeship at Best’s Marque before working her way up to head pastry chef).
Lauren is the first patissier to be awarded the prestigious Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year award. She joins an elite group of winners including her boss, Brett Graham (Ledbury, London) & Daniel Hong (Mr Wongs, Ms G’s) to name just a few. Part of her prize included working as a stagier at the top of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – Osteria Francescana in Modena.
The judging panel headed by Damien Pignolet look for a chef who best captures something of his late wife Josephine’s spirit and assuredness in cooking.
Last year, Lauren was also named one of two Gault et Millau American Express Potentialists of the Year. Understandably the young patissier combined the two prizes and also worked at Le Cinq and Le Pré Catelan in Paris. And it was Guy Savoy himself her showed her how to roll a croissant – the Guy Savoy way.
She thought see was under dressed upon entering Le Cinq’s home, the Four Seasons George V Hotel Paris where “there were red roses to the ceiling”. Le Cinq had a hierarchy “where everyone knew their place and only spoke French”. Here the young Aussie cooked for Executive Chef, Christian Le Squer who after tasting asked his senior chefs to join him who then asked for her recipes.
Massimo Bottura’s kitchen was a “very caring, friendly, family environment” where “staff shared two meals per day together”. Lauren mused, “There wasn’t any yelling which shows it’s not necessary to be like that to get to that level”. Massimo even took one of the young chefs to his driving lessons. She cooked her honeycomb and cultured cream and with his guidance tried to find ways to ‘make it Italian’ using balsamic vinegar.
In the Osteria Francescana kitchen he was Massimo, only some chose to call him Chef. Lauren Eldridge was there when the daring Modenese restaurant secured the No. 1 spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
The ‘once in a lifetime’ trip also allowed Lauren to sample some of Europe’s finest restaurants, vineyards and tour through Paris, Nice, Lyon, Champagne, Bordeaux, Monaco, Scandinavia, London, Spain and Portugal.
Lauren Eldridge’s own tastes tend toward the savoury – she leans more to good cheese than delicate desserts. This is evident in her truly captivating desserts. The young chef uses sugar more like salt as a flavour enhancer rather than an ingredient.
Her signature dessert? Honeycomb & Cultured Cream made the Gourmet Traveller Hot 100 list 2015. Her secret? Holding the honeycomb a little longer to 160 degrees (rather than 155) to get the slightest hint of toffee bitterness. The slight sourness of the cultured cream is tempered by the higher cream content.
Desserts for Lauren must be unfussy with just 2 or 3 elements on the plate. She champions the less is more approach. What looks simple is actually weeks or months in the planning. She feels that dessert is totally unnecessary but that is part of the appeal.
Her desserts are a combination of care (which brings a particular attention to detail) and “I like to use science … I think that is why I was drawn to pastry as well. … I want my desserts to be better than anything they’ve had before, but not confusing … using the science to make things simple”.
The sorrel sorbet with blueberries, white chocolate yoghurt exemplifies her philosophy. The yoghurt sorbet base is combined with the vibrant green sorrel leaves for a particular freshness.
You’ll never see the skilful use of tweezers in her dishes. She isn’t concerned with perfect quenelles or symmetry. There is nothing superfluous or nothing added just for dramatic emphasis. Rather these plates are confident combinations of comforting flavours and textures like the perfect salted liquorice cake with molasses ice cream.
The frozen blood orange curd with sherbet and candied orange celebrates all of the blood orange. The organic blood oranges come from Chef Marty Boetz’s Hawkesbury farm and the whole fruit is used. The creamy curd is just sweet enough to stand up to the ‘wizz fizz’ sherbet. The candied blood orange segments shouldn’t be confused as garnish – they add another dimension of the fruit.
Lauren Eldridge has that innate understanding of great chefs that dining out should be a chance to share and celebrate. It is evident in every bite of her astonishing desserts. She embraces her craft and creates dishes that prove why the skill and art of fine dining is still important in 2016.