A red carpet leads me to the hotel entrance. The concierge opens the door with a friendly smile. Elegantly arranged lilies adorn the foyer and invite to enter the lobby, also said to be „Munich’s most beautiful living room“. I’m at Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Maximilianstraße, the Fashion boulevard of the city.
My host today: a pleasant young man. He welcomes me warm-heartedly in his smart white chef’s jacket. It’s Ian Baker, Chef-Patissier & Chocolatier of the house receiving me for Afternoon Tea. His name says it all, because he masters the art of baking like hardly another. Only recently he was awarded „Patissier of the Year 2015“ by Schlemmer Atlas for his fashion inspired creations. But Ian is not only an expert for „sweet dreams“, at the same time he is a native English Gentleman. Who else could be a better interview partner for „Tea Time“?
To find out more about the charms of this British tradition I am gallantly lead to our setting: an impeccably laid table decorated with love for details. I think Ian is even more delighted about the upcoming tea time than me: „ I haven’t had tea today and I urgently need a cup. It’s essential for the English“. He smiles and serves an „Earl Grey“ out of a tilting teapot. I watch Ian adding milk and rock candy to his tea. I do the same and win an approving nod: „That’s very British. The sweet and milky taste reminds me of home“, he says, and for a moment I can notice a hint of nostalgia in his glimpse.
Where exactly are you from? And do you miss your home?
I was born in Tunbridge Wells, in the South of England. My dad used to be a carpenter and my mum helped out in a school canteen. When I was a child I’d do my homework in our kitchen while mum was cooking. I do miss my mums traditional british meals such as „Sunday Roast“.
Did your mum inspire you when you made your career choice?
Perhaps. She served homemade food only. It was always out of the question to buy a ready-made cake.
At the age of 16 I started a Cook Apprenticeship. After only a few months I recognized that the harsh tone of a professional kitchen does not match my concept of a good work atmosphere. I decided to focus on the calmer art of baking. Pastry Chefs are perfectionists. So am I. That needs a high amount of concentration. Accordingly our work place is more serene.
How come you live in Germany? And what is it like to be „An English Man in Munich“?
It was Love that brought me here. My wife is native of Nürnberg and after her career experience in London she wished to come back to Germany where we live now together with our two children.
As an English Man I don’t feel different in Munich. I am international and manage to assimilate to the culture wherever I am. Of course I own typical British attributes which I hopefully will be able to retain. For instance, I always try my very best to be an English Gentleman, polite and courteous at all times.
„Afternoon Tea” is considered as a very British custom. Is this tradition transferable to the German culture?
In Germany there is an already established alternative: The „Coffee-and-Cake-Time“. Tea Time is rather considered a trend. But our international guests at Kempinski Munich highly value our institutionalized „Afternoon Tea“ as much as the daily fresh pastry selection.
How would you define a classic Tea Time?
At home on your own it’s totally fine to have a casual cup of tea served with little snacks. If you prefer a more traditional and stylish way I’d recommend a pretty ceramics in good quality. Here at Kempinski Munich we serve Afternoon Tea in pure elegance with white china, silver cutlery and cotton napkins. The pastry is served in a classic étagère. On the bottom plate a variation of sandwiches is arranged to start off with. On the second tier freshly made scones wait to be indulged in with homemade strawberry marmalade, clotted and lemon cream. At the very top is the sweet culmination: an assortment of desserts such as tartlettes, mini cakes, and creams.
How do you choose and prepare Tea?
The selection and preparation of tea is an art of its own. That we leave up to our two specialized Tea Masters. They advise our guests according to their individual taste and choose the right one out of a range of exquisite teas. We serve milk, different sorts of sugar and lemon slices to enhance the flavor.
Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
I visit specialized fairs and mastership events where I find new inspiration. Of course I also look over my colleagues shoulder, modify and refine existing recipes. I always try out something new with extraordinary ingredients. For instance, just lately the mildly sour Yuzu citrous fruit that flavors our Chocolate-Praliné-Tartelette with that extra little something.
You won the title „Patissier of the Year 2015“ with pastry in the shape of shoes and handbags. How come?
The fascination for Fashion is especially palpable here in Maximilianstraße. This very feminine side of our location had influence on my work which resulted in creating pastry in the style of fashion pieces. That helped me receiving that special award which I’m very proud of.
Is there anything like a Dress Code for Tea Time?
If your host explicitly claims a dress code you should follow that wish. Especially if the invite is given a certain motto. In London for example „The Berkeley Hotel“ hosts the event „Pret-a-Port-Tea“ – a party that should be joined in fashionable and sophisticated attire.
Generally I would suggests Ladies to wear something elegant yet relaxed, an informal tea dress may be. Gentlemen are allowed to attend „smart casual“ combining trousers with a jacket and a shirt but no tie.
You have achieved a lot in your career. What are your dreams and goals for the future?
Stagnation is not „my cup of tea“. I steadily try to progress and carry on finding new strategies. For example, we lately decided to offer our pastry to take away. We wrap the favored desserts in pretty bright colored boxes labeled „Baker in a Box“, so everybody can enjoy „Ian Baker“ at home.
My biggest dream is to own my own catering company to be able to treat as many people as possible with pastries and fine chocolates.
Before I leave, Ian Baker gives me two of the mentioned boxes filled with sweet dreams.
Arriving at home I unwrap the tartelettes that resemble objects of art. They are so pretty and perfect I hardly dare to eat them. My 5-year old daughter, who is a fan of Ian Baker since she attended his christmas bakery workshop, doesn’t hesitate a second. She indulges in her strawberry tartelette with an admirable naturalness and also takes pleasure in the little details: „Look mummy, Ian has hidden three giant blueberries inside and the leaf gold shines beautifully.“ I think this is totally in the interests of Ian. Because he confined to me nothing is worse than his sweets are not eaten with pleasure. I’m sure that never happens.
My Tip : Style your individual Tea Time Look and take an hour time for a relaxed Afternoon Tea with Ian Bakers sweet creations. An informal tea dress in pastels and/or with florals is perfect for a luxurious and stylish afternoon. You can find my personal favorite looks here: „Tea Time with two Bakers“.