Celebrity chef Claire Lara’s celebrating 15 years of the restaurant club where it’s pudding for every course
3 weeks ago
As one of the country’s top pastry chefs and MasterChef: The Professionals’ first female winner, Claire Lara is used to the sweet smell of success.
But that hasn’t stopped her celebrating, and enjoying, her latest culinary milestone – the anniversary of Leaf restaurants’ Pudding Club which she started. The delicious event, at which diners are treated to five courses of amazing desserts and complementary teas, is 15 years old this year.
And Claire says:
“It’s something I’m really proud of.
“I have gone off and done other things, but the Pudding Club is still going strong, and now I’m back and looking forward to carrying it into the future.”
Claire, 43, who’s head of development for Leaf, a family-run group of restaurants which now has four venues in Liverpool and Wirral, adds: “At this month’s Pudding Club I was a surprised to have 185 people across two venues, I thought it would be quiet after Christmas.
“But it shows how everyone likes something a little bit sweet, and it’s a lovely evening.”
Claire started The Pudding Club after joining the popular restaurant group:
“I remember the tea being really world class with amazing flavours and, as a pastry chef, wondering if I could do something with them.
“Could we cook with these teas? Could we make desserts with them? And that’s how it started. I am passionate about pastry and I’m passionate about tea, so it seemed like a good idea to combine the two.”
Guests are served five miniature desserts at the regular Leaf event, each paired with one of its teas (‘we have more than 100’).
“When I’m coming up with ideas I think of the season, like rhubarb is in season now, so I’ll think of what goes with it. Orange does, and we have lovely blood orange tea; so I’ll taste the tea, and ideas come from that. I’ll maybe make profiteroles filled with rhubarb and custard and use orange tea in that.
“I have been cooking now for 27 years. One of the good things about being a chef is that you can keep being creative and because The Pudding Club has been going for so long, it pushes me out of my comfort zone to think outside the box.
“We also have a great tea guy too and I can ask him for a specific blend, and we can work on different flavours.”
“The Pudding Club appeals to people of all ages who fancy a night out, and it’s pretty good value for money with five courses for just under £20.
“It’s nice, it gets you into the Leaf venues so you can see what we’re all about, and if you fancy going out but you don’t fancy drinking, it’s a perfect experience. And who doesn’t like dessert?”
“On the current menu we’ve got a cherry bakewell tart which is quite old fashioned, but it’s retro and food is a bit like fashion, it comes back round again.”
Claire’s culinary career took off at the age of 18 when, she took the bold step of moving to Paris, where she worked with Albert Roux at his restaurant, Bertie’s, and for a further four years at La Table du Baltimore.
Returning to the UK she went on to lead many high-profile kitchens across Merseyside and North Wales – in Liverpool she worked in London Carriage Works and Panoramic 34 – and has focused her passion on helping and developing young chefs, consultancy work, live demos, writing for national publications, and being the creative driving force behind a number of exciting projects and businesses.
Highlights of course included winning MasterChef: TheProfessionals in 2010, and cooking for the late Queen and Prince Phillip when they visited the city for the opening of the Museum of Liverpool.
She was one of five chefs asked to design a dish for the King’s Coronation as part of a competition, The Coronation Dish, on BBC’s The One Show with Dame Mary Berry: “I didn’t win, but it was a huge honour just to be asked,” says Claire.
Claire has achieved the beautiful balance of work and life, combining a very successful career with being a hands-on mum.
Originally from Moreton but now living in South Liverpool, she met husband Marc when she was in France; and it was while she was competing in MasterChef that found out that she was pregnant with their first son (the symptoms of which she originally put down to show nerves!).
George and Oscar are now 13 and 10, and her youngest is showing all the signs of following mum and dad into the world of cooking: “While George might end up as a food critic,” .
“It’s our own fault. We have made him into someone who knows if something is freshly cooked, or if it’s a quality steak. He understands good food.”
While she hasn’t yet achieved her earlier voiced ambition of having her own restaurant, Claire says she is more than happy with what she is doing.
As well as Leaf, she is planning to do more talks this year, detailing her journey and convincing everyone that they CAN cook.
And she and Marc run their own private dining company, Bespoke Dining, through which they’ve spent the last 13 years taking their skills to people’s own homes to create stunning themed meals and fine dining experiences.
Is it hard cooking in someone else’s kitchen? “I learned the hard way that people might not have everything I need so I cook most of it at home now and finish it off there!
“We have worked through word of mouth until now, but Marc and I are currently in the process of widening the net and creating a website letting people know what we do.”
A book may be in the pipeline in the next two years, so it’s still going to be a busy time for Claire. Right now though, with The Pudding Club back in full swing and Valentine’s and Mother’s Day events around the corner, it’s all ‘sweet’ things go, so she’ll not be taking her whites off any time soon.
“The Pudding Club is a lovely event, with a chance to enjoy some amazing desserts, meet new people, and have a great time.”