When travelers arrive for the iconic Afternoon Tea at The Palm Court in the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane, they should expect the delightfully unexpected. Head Pastry Chef Biju Joshwa is a master of surprise, constantly seeking to enthrall both visitors and hotel guests with ever-changing dishes that are as impressive as the restaurant’s art deco design.
Joshwa and his nine-strong team change their Afternoon Tea offering eight times a year. You’ll always find delicious, freshly baked (twice a day) scones, but innovation and excitement rule the Palm Court’s entire menu. Plus, Joshwa and his team’s work at the property goes beyond Afternoon Tea to include custom orders for guests and more.
Having begun his career in his native India before moving to London, the 37-year-old has accumulated a wealth of knowledge colored by his international experience. Whether he’s devising a sweet or savory dish, Joshwa knows how to blend fresh ingredients and punchy spices to achieve exactly the right flavor.
Marriott TRAVELER sat down with Joshwa to learn how he consistently comes up with inspired ideas that go beyond the ordinary.
You’re in a city renowned for its afternoon teas. How do you help The Palm Court stand out from the crowd?
“We’re always doing something new. Take the concept we’re working on now: The theme is Lock & Co. Hatters, the oldest hatmakers in the world, so we’ve developed pastries that look like a top hat, chocolates with their logo on top, and we are trying to do a bowler hat, too. I’ve been looking for a mold for that for almost a month, and I think I’ve finally found one, from the USA — but we still have to make sure it works.
This is what sets us apart. When it comes to pastry and dessert, people eat with their eyes. It has to be delicious, but it also has to be beautiful, to be ‘wow’!”
How do you manage to continually exceed those standard expectations of appearance?
“I put a lot of effort into making something beautiful. You must always cook with your heart; if you do that, the customer will be happy.
Last year we had some guests from the NBA. We decided to make cakes which were shaped like basketballs; we made cake pops with marzipan around them and then I used my edible printer to produce a basketball pattern to go on top. [The guests] were thrilled.
One of my favorite experiences was producing a special “Harry Potter” cake for a 9-year-old girl who was in town to see the new play, ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,’ with her dad.
We copied the symbol of the play, a bird’s nest. We made a chocolate nest with truffles inside; then we added some chocolate wings and a model of a child, also made of chocolate! She was thrilled, and her dad was over the moon. It’s great to give people something they’ll never forget.”
What are your favorite ingredients to work with?
“I love rhubarb. I started using it in India, where it was quite difficult to get, but here it is so readily available. I love to make something like a rhubarb and strawberry crumble. Who doesn’t love that during the winter?
I also love working with spices, especially during the winter. Cardamom and saffron are my favorites: We have got saffron-poached pears on the menu right now, and a chocolate cardamom milkshake. I always try to use these spices.”
What does an average day look like for you? Where do your ideas come from?
“I start at around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m., and I normally work 12 hours a day, but I never look at the clock. If you love your job, you never wonder about the time.
A lot of my time is spent [preparing for] special visits, when clients come to have a look at the hotel. We have people representing Beyoncé coming soon, and we’re in the process of creating something special for that. She is touring many different countries, and we’re making cakes from different countries — so, for example, there will be éclairs representing Paris with her image on them and flavored with honey.
I ride home on the tube, and that’s when I’ll plan the menus. That half-hour is the best time. You can sit and think; that’s when I have the best ideas.”
It sounds like you really enjoy being a pastry chef.
“Pastry is so beautiful, and it’s more scientific than ordinary cooking, I think. You can get it right every time if your recipes are right — and we make sure we get it right. I test everything until it’s perfect.”
But there must be times when you need to whip something up in a rush …
“We had one guest who needed a gluten-free, lactose-free and egg-free birthday cake — and I only found out about it the day before! I designed a chocolate and passion fruit cake using non-lactose dark chocolate and vegan cream.
She was delighted. She told us that she normally only gets a fruit salad or a sorbet. She said she didn’t expect it, and she’d be back next year.”
Do you have any really exciting plans in the works?
“We’ve been working with Cacao Barry to create a chocolate for the property. In the park across the road [from the hotel], Green Park, there are a lot of daffodils in the spring — so the chocolate will have daffodil flavors. It won’t have daffodil in it, but it will have the same tasting notes.
We’ve called it ‘1923,’ which is the year that the hotel opened. It’s 69-percent dark chocolate, and we’ll use it [throughout] the hotel. We’ll create Afternoon Teas with it, we’ll make desserts with it, we’ll even have chocolate bars in the café. And you won’t be able to get it anywhere else!”
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