When you think of Italian cuisine, the first thing that springs to mind is, of course, pasta and pizza. You’d be forgiven for assuming then, that when it comes to patisserie, the Italians leave it to their French neighbours with their innate Parisian pastry flair to create the artistic morsels found in high-end bakeries and quintessentially English afternoon teas. However, Francesco Mannino, executive pastry chef at the five-star Pan Pacific London hotel near Liverpool Street, has made it his mission to prove that patisserie can benefit from a healthy dose of la dolce vita – and who are we to argue?
Hailing from Rome, Mannino initially aspired to become a photographer, before training as a lawyer and then finding his calling as a pastry chef. From opening a small bakery in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, with his wife to working at luxury hotels across the world – among them The Connaught and Mandarin Oriental, as well as The Langham in Shenzhen and Four Seasons Beijing – he’s trained in Japan, the UK and France and gone on to win multiple industry awards.
His new role at Pan Pacific sees Mannino oversee patisserie for the hotel’s three restaurants – Shiok, The Orchid Lounge and Straits Kitchen – where he infuses Asian flavours with classic pastry-making techniques. Tasting notes for the hotel’s Kopi Tiam afternoon tea, for example, are a world away from tradition, but that’s what makes it so unique. Forget chocolate, caramel, lemon and orange; instead sample oolong and chamomile, or lychee and soy sauce, giving that all-important umami flavour crucial to Eastern cuisine.
Now five months into his role as executive pastry chef, we catch up with Mannino to discuss his career highlights so far and what he aims to bring to the Pan Pacific kitchen.
I’ve always been passionate about food and I also love photography. Becoming a pastry chef was something I always wanted to do and has enabled me to combine cooking techniques with artistic flair, which is important to me. It has also given me the opportunity to travel the world, which has been really exciting and taught me a lot.
I have memories of my grandmother cooking and passing on her recipes and tips and tricks to me and I think that’s where my love of cooking and baking came from.
I initially trained to be a lawyer but pursued my passion in patisserie at Claridge’s as a Demi Pastry Chef De Partie in 2003. In 2005, I won the Nadel Trophy for the best dessert of the year. I received professional training in a variety of prestigious schools across Japan, the UK and France, including Bon Bon Chocolat, Ecole Valrhona in Tokyo, Ecole Bellouet Conseil in Paris and achieved NVQ Level 3 Patisserie at Westminster Kingsway College in London.
I’ve worked in pastry kitchens across the globe in hotels such as The Connaught, the Mandarin Oriental, The Lanesborough, Four Seasons Beijing and The Langham Shenzhen over the last 20 years but I’ve also worked at Claridge’s and Patisserie Pierre Herme. I’ve also written my own cookbook, Modern Italian Desserts, which I’m very proud of.
I love that you can be creative, artistic and innovative while trialling a variety of unique flavour combinations. I also like that you have to be precise, careful and considered.
It’s hard to pick a favourite as I think you can take learnings and draw inspiration from lots of different cuisines and flavours. I also have an Italian background and heritage which has influenced me but I really loved Seoul where I opened my own bakery with my wife – that has definitely been a career highlight.
I love the minimalist, slick style of Asian patisserie, so I like to draw inspiration from this to create my own modern takes and fuse with other international influences. I think the best ingredients can really depend on the season and I like fresh and fruity desserts in summer and richer, warmer desserts in winter.
I also love using herbs and teas in my baking, as it brings such a unique, refreshing flavour. If you’re baking with tea, it’s important to use highly aromatic types, such as oolong and chamomile, to get a really vibrant flavour. I also like to use soy sauce in caramel as it gives it depth and an umami, moreish taste.
I am excited about my new desserts at Straits Kitchen, such as the lychee ganache with raspberry foam and lychee sorbet, as it’s light and delicious after a meal. An all-time and absolute favourite dessert of mine generally is millefeuille. The contrast in textures is incredible but also requires technique, as it’s very challenging to achieve.
I like comfort food when I go out to eat, especially with my family. I like Popham’s pasta restaurant, they make some very creative pasta dishes. On the fine dining side, I would like to try Alex Dilling at Café Royal because his dishes look very similar to techniques used in desserts.
We both do long hours and the pressure can sometimes be similar. However, in pastry [it’s] more about techniques and precision, whereas the kitchen is more passionate and requires improvising sometimes. We, on the other hand, definitely need to follow the script.
Read more: The best festive afternoon teas in London