Sarah Houghting is Executive Pastry Chef at The Rubens at the Palace and appeared on the new series of Bake Off: The Professionals on Channel 4. We caught up with her to see how she found the experience...

What was your first impression when you walked into the infamous Bake Off manor house?

My first impression upon walking into the kitchen was 'WOW'. I’m actually here! I've dreamed of this moment for years! Seeing all the details of the kitchen up close I felt like a kid at Christmas! Everything was so shiny! 

What did it mean to you to be representing The Rubens?

It was an honour to represent the hotel, I love working with our Red Carnation family and The Rubens is my home from home! Also, it was great to put ourselves on the map for a place to visit because we have an amazing Royal Afternoon Tea and the public needs to know about us!

What did you learn from your experience?

Pressure! Wow being on a real-time limit is scary. I learnt how to talk and work at the same time because if I didn’t we would have had nothing to put forward for the judges to sample! I also learnt that there are some incredible chefs out there who have a great passion for the industry, from all walks of life! 

What pearls of wisdom did the judges share with you?

Don’t use a substitute, use the real thing! You cannot hope to make something taste amazing by doing so! Above all, think about what you are using and why. If you're using an apple, choose your apple wisely! Don’t just use anything - be intentional with your flavours and how you go about acquiring them.

What was your proudest achievement in the tent?

For me, it was being able to compete with some of the best the industry has to offer! I have come to really value and appreciate my mentors in this industry.

Tell us about your other career highlights…

I've had a few but these are sadly not pastry related, as before I was a pastry chef I was the main kitchen chef. I had the opportunity to demo at our Taste of London food show, which was amazing and really started my journey in the bright lights. I featured on a show called Bizarre Food and Delicious Destinations, where I showcased the famous British roast dinner. During lockdown, I won second place in a breakfast competition, which was fun! 

What does your team have planned for your Royal Afternoon Tea and pastry offering, now that The Rubens has reopened?

After Bake Off, I have felt really inspired, not only to showcase recipes but to do things differently.

I love British culture and I have been researching into the Royal Family. As we are opposite Buckingham Palace, I looked at the whole family for inspiration. 

With that in mind, we have some wonderful new afternoon tea additions, from cinnamon chocolate mousse with cherry notes to my take on bread and butter (a sourdough infused cream, rose centre and lemon sponge). I wanted to highlight the best of British through our flavours and the Rubens eclair showcases this by using the best produce.

A tip I have taken from Bake Off is to choose my ingredients wisely. I want this to be reflected in what we serve at The Rubens, giving our guests a special experience. Hopefully, they will want to return and invite new friends to enjoy our tea with.