Harley Young speaks to the award-winning pastry chef about her impressive career

First female winner of MasterChef: The Professionals and ex-Michelin star restaurant cook, Claire Lara, has a plethora of achievements under her belt. 

Having cooked for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, worked with the incredible Albert Roux at his Parisian restaurant, and led many high profile kitchens across the North, Claire’s now back in Liverpool fulfilling her passion for all things patisserie as head pastry chef at one of Merseyside’s popular multi-venue restaurants, LEAF

Claire’s not only responsible for making all the cakes for the four LEAF sites - Bold Street, West Kirby, Smithdown and the recently opened Little LEAF at One Fine Day - but she’s also in charge of creating bespoke cakes for special customer orders, as well as puddings, desserts and truffles for the venues. 

I caught up with Claire to find out more about her impressive career and upcoming Pudding Clubs, an event she’s been passionate about hosting for 15 years.

It’s nice to work with such passionate people. I’ve got a lot of creative freedom here. They put their trust in me and I love that.

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Claire at Little LEAF at One Fine Day Image: LEAF

How did you become a pastry chef? 

I won MasterChef in 2010, but prior to that I worked in Paris for six years. I worked on every section of the kitchen. It was a Michelin star restaurant that created really, really high-end food. There, I developed a passion for pastry and as I got a bit older I decided I wanted to specialise in that. 

What’s it like working in the city?

I’m proud to work in Liverpool. It’s a great, dynamic city and I love making cakes for the people of Liverpool and beyond.

What have been the biggest challenges of your career so far?

The biggest challenge is always juggling family life and work. I think that’s the case for a lot of people in this industry. Unfortunately, catering is unsociable hours, so I like to try and be as present as I can for my two boys. 

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Some of the desserts made by Claire Image: LEAF

What’s been your biggest achievement?

Other than my two sons, winning MasterChef, cooking for the queen, and being asked to be part of the Coronation dish with Mary Berry - that was a really nice achievement. 

Also, just being able to do something I love as a job and getting paid for it. That’s what we all want from life.

You worked at LEAF before your pastry career skyrocketed. What made you decide to come back?

I helped Natalie and Graham open their first LEAF 15 years ago. Three or four years ago, my husband decided to get a job on a private yacht and I was at a bit of a loose end so thought I’d help out, then I remembered what good people they are to work for. It’s a busy, busy restaurant. A position became available to make the cakes and I just thought “Why not?”

It’s nice to work with such passionate people. I’ve got a lot of creative freedom here. They put their trust in me and I love that. 

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Claire and Dame Mary Berry Image: Claire Lara

How did you come up with the idea for Pudding Clubs at LEAF?

It’s something I’ve done for many years. We started 16 years ago as an idea to promote all these world class teas we have and pair them with another passion of mine which is desserts. It worked really well and we’ve just built on it ever since. We’ve got 185 people attending the next one.

What’s your favourite pastry or cake to make?

I love creme brûlée because it’s just a classic. It’s simple, but can easily be messed up. It’s just beautiful and I love the texture. 

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Pudding club desserts Image: LEAF

What’s one mistake that people make when they try to make the perfect pastry?

That’s a good question. Usually they get the temperature of the ingredients wrong - sometimes, if they’re using a fan oven, they’ll turn the fan on or off and not know what to do with it. 

Then other people just lack confidence. You need to believe in yourself. If you make a mistake, it’ll still be edible and, if it isn’t, you can just make it again.

Any tips for budding pastry chefs out there?

Keep experimenting. Try everything. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

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There will be two special Valentine's Day pudding clubs at LEAF Smithdown Road and LEAF West Kirby. Image: LEAF

If you’d like to experience one of Claire’s Pudding Club’s for yourself, you’re in luck. There’s two Valentine’s Day specials coming up for those sweet-toothed love birds amongst you. 

On Wednesday 14 February at both LEAF West Kirby and LEAF Smithdown Road, guests can enjoy five courses of puddings paired with carefully selected teas. For more information and to book your slot, click here.

Follow Harley Young on X @Harley__Young

Read next: Spread the love: Best indie Valentine's gifts in the North West

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