Meet Charlotte Marrifield - the queen of desserts
00:00 26 September 2015
You might not be familiar with Charlotte Marrifield but she’s probably made you sigh with deeply satisfied pleasure on more than one occasion.
She’s the talented chef behind all manner of luxury supermarket puds – yes, even those chocolate and sea-salt caramel bombes that make you go positively weak at the knees – and has worked alongside numerous celebrity chefs in the last 18 years to craft patisserie creations fit for their high-falutin’ menus.
Working in Michelin starred restaurants and five star hotels before being head-hunted by top names such as Gü, Lily O’Brien’s and Waitrose, her quirky and innovative approach to puds has led to her being described as the ‘Damien Hirst of the dessert world’.
She has always worked behind the scenes, creating products for other people to sell. But that has now changed as she’s signed an exclusive deal with Booths supermarkets to sell two of her decadent desserts under her own Undeniably Charlotte brand across 31 stores in the north.
‘I’ve always made desserts for other people and kept away from the limelight, but now this will be my name and my photo on the box. It really gives me butterflies,’ said Charlotte, who also set up Sugar Therapy café in Harrogate, and has just launched a manufacturing bakery in Thirsk.
We all know it takes a long time and lots of hard work to become an overnight success, so is it safe to assume her baking career began as a child with fledgling bun-making in the family kitchen with lots of encouragement from her mum?
‘No, most definitely not,’ she said with a laugh. ‘In fact, I remember my mum and I cooking mince pies once and I squished the pastry really hard, too hard. My mum said ‘that’s not how you do it – honestly, you’ll never make it as a chef’.
‘We laugh about that now, particularly as my mum sometimes works for me, and I’m always telling her off when she does things wrong. I think I went into cheffing just to prove I could do it.’
Her first foray into cooking was not a Ladybird book of butterfly buns but a Keith Floyd tome – and she would often badger her parents to hold dinner parties so she could cook for people.
‘It wasn’t necessarily the easiest cookbook to start with but I loved it. There was something about Floyd’s food that was so real and honest,’ she said. ‘My first ever dessert was a nectarine and blueberry pavlova with a brown sugar meringue – my mum still has a picture of me holding it proudly, aged 10.’
It was during a six-month kitchen placement while studying at catering college that Charlotte got her first big break.
‘The pastry chef stormed out in a theatrical way and they turned to me for help – with my six months’ training and one cookbook,’ she said. ‘Desserts are a strict discipline and you either love them or hate them. After putting together a selection for the sweet trolley that day I was hooked. I knew I was good at it.’
Following stints in the kitchens of Gary Rhodes, Gordon Ramsay and Albert Roux, Charlotte began creating desserts for big companies and supermarket own brands, working alongside top chefs like Heston Blumenthal and James Martin.
Among her most memorable creations are the world’s most expensive doughnut, a collaboration between Krispy Kreme and Selfridges that cost an astonishing £2,000, and a wedding cake shaped like a skull covered in Swarovski crystals (hence the Damien Hirst moniker).
Charlotte set up her shop in Harrogate five-and-a-half years ago, creating a boutique patisserie to give people first-hand (and first-taste) experience of her designer cakes, afternoon teas and specialist cookery school.
With a heavy heart, she’s now decided to close the shop. It was not an easy call but, in the end, the opportunity to sell her own-brand desserts in Booths across Lancashire, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester was too good to miss.
‘This is a supermarket that’s all about quality and provenance,’ she said. ‘I’m so excited about it; it opens up a whole new world to me.’
Her initial Undeniably Charlotte offerings are a pair of cheesecakes, raspberry and Madagascan vanilla and passion fruit, which are moulded into a striking dome. They are hand-decorated and handmade to a continental-style recipe so they’re soft set and very like ice-cream in texture. And if that wasn’t delicious enough, each has a surprise pocket at its centre with either tart raspberry compote or silky passion fruit curd inside.
‘We’ve got three deliveries a week of 1,400 units and it’s a short shelf-life product, so we’ll need to make them in the morning and get them dispatched by the afternoon,’ said Charlotte, whose husband Kevin has worked in logistics for Morrisons and Tangerine Confectionery in York and is joining her in the business. ‘It will definitely require some precision timing.’
A self-confessed control freak, she thinks the hardest part of her new venture will be delegating: ‘I find it hard to keep my hands off. You have to be exacting with patisserie and follow the method to the letter. Although it can be frustrating, when you get it right it feels great. As I’m quite OCD, I’m perfect for this kind of job.’
She already works every day – treating herself to a whole afternoon off every Sunday – so how will she cope with the extra demands of her new role?
‘I couldn’t have worked so intensively for the last five years without loving what I do,’ said Charlotte. ‘It’s pure passion that keeps me going and I’ll never get tired of creating beautiful things for people to eat.’