Sunday Sit-down with… Naomi Longfield of Studio 28 Patisserie
The artisan chocolatier and patisserie chef shares the secrets of working with Michelin-star pastry chefs, what her ideal Sunday looks like, how we can elevate our own baking game and how she makes her chocolaty creations look SO GOOD
By Jenny Brownlees
Artisan chocolatier and patisserie chef Naomi Longfield boasts over 10 years’ experience in the dessert industry, including training with world-renowned Michelin-star pastry chefs. She’s utilised her vast knowledge and skills to bring high-end patisserie to the North East. Each of Studio 28’s sumptuous creations is made by hand on site, from bespoke cakes to chic chocolate treats. But these are no ordinary desserts – think chocolate bars infused with ginger and orange or coconut and lime, to bonbons bursting with unique flavours. Top each product off with an artful, often hand-painted design and you’ll begin to get a sense of what Studio 28 offers.
Naomi is passionate about building a community around her business. The in-house café may be closed in the midst of this pandemic, but Studio 28 have adapted – offering through-the-door brownie and cake boxes and vegan chocolate treats to keep everyone’s spirits up. Best of all, the treats can be sent to friends we haven’t seen in too long and loved ones who are shielding.
The patisserie’s delicious Valentine’s collection has just launched online and, in the coming months, their Easter collection will be top of HLN’s wish list. We spoke to Naomi about her favourite desserts to create, her ideal Sunday and tips for taking our own bakes to the next level…
Tell us about the path you took to opening Studio 28?
I studied Maths and Education, with the view of becoming a Maths teacher. Unfortunately, I got very unwell and had to take a year out of university when I was 18. During that time, I started thinking about what I really wanted to do and soon realised I wanted to learn more about working with chocolate and pastry. I didn’t actually want to go back to uni when I got better, so I did a qualification at Gateshead College in order to get onto their Level Three Patisserie course. I then gained experience working at Café 21 in Newcastle and, later, with chocolatier Gareth James in Tynemouth for three years. I moved from there to Pink Lane Coffee, which meant my training spanned a number of areas: coffee, chocolate, pastry and front of house.
You then worked in London?
Yes, I worked in London for four years, as a pastry chef at Hakkasan Group in Fitzrovia, under the tutelage of Michelin Star chefs Graham Hornigold and Daniel Pearse. It was a wonderful experience learning at the highest level, using the best ingredients and trying world-class techniques. I’d always wanted to open my own shop and it became my dream to bring that level of high-quality patisserie to the North East. I opened Studio 28 Patisserie here two years ago. Being from the region, I knew that opening a café or independent business here really builds community, which was so important to me. You do have to come a little out of the way to visit our shop in Hoult’s Yard, but I have wonderful regular customers who do that and really support us. I think that’s something so unique to the North East.
How have you found training and working in such a male-dominated sector?
There are definitely fewer female pastry chefs than male in the industry. Similar to all other areas of work, if you have a family you have some time out. I think a lot of women in the industry either have to go full career or don’t get into the field at all – it feels all or nothing, which is a real shame. I haven’t ever felt I was paid differently or treated differently as a woman, but I would say I work differently. For example, in the busy and pressure-filled kitchens in London, it was so important to me to ensure my team were treated well and that we were a real family. In any type of cheffing, I think the stereotype is that you have to be notoriously cutthroat, ruthless and shouty, but in my mind it doesn’t get anyone anywhere. I have had a few comments in my career that haven’t been intended nastily, but have essentially said: “you’re definitely too caring to be a pastry chef”, or “I think you’re in the wrong job”. But I disagree, I’ve always found that teamwork in a peaceful environment gets the job done.
Did you feel you had many women in the industry to look up to?
Someone I really admire is Helen Doyle from Café 21 on Newcastle’s Quayside. I had the privilege to work at 21 one day a week and, again, their quality of product is amazing. Plus, Helen puts a real focus on looking after her team. She works with the view that she’s going to grow and nurture her employees and that they all look after one another. She’s always been so supportive to me. She also has a family and is able to juggle it really well, so she’s definitely someone I really look up to.
Tell us more about Studio 28’s treats, as they have such an artful element to them…
I love art! I do a lot of art at home and it brings me a lot of joy – and it also brings joy to my work to make things look beautiful. I really enjoy doing it and like that my products are a bit different from the norm. Of course, it would be easier and quicker as a business owner to make a product without that finesse, but I think that’s what makes Studio 28 special. My ethos is that yes, my products are more expensive, as they take time to design and perfect. But my personal preference is that I’d rather spend a little bit more on a high-quality product that doesn’t make you feel sickly or overindulged afterwards, and doesn’t use a ton of sugar or preservatives. I think that is a slight mindset change for people, but it is changing.
Do you have a favourite item to make?
On the chocolate side of things, I love making our individual chocolate bonbons. They are like art and I get to design them, which I love. The filling is a gorgeous fresh fruit puree or fresh cream, and they come out so shiny and beautiful! On the cake front, I love working with lemon – it’s so tangy and fresh and a real people pleaser. We do a lemon meringue, either in a slice or in a celebration cake in the shop, which everyone seems to love.
What would we be surprised to know you did a lot of behind the scenes?
I think people are always shocked to know we can bake all our orders quite fast, even if we’re extremely busy, but it’s then the packaging, presentation, ribboning and labelling which is often what takes the time! I have a lovely colleague, Amrita, who I employ to work solely in the kitchen. I do spend a lot of time on designing – the menu, the bonbons and the recipe development. And, of course, as a business owner there’s the accounts and admin, all those things that aren’t baking!
Do you have any tips for making our bakes look extra special?
I like something that looks quite clean, sleek and simple. I think the danger is going OTT with too many decorations – adding sprinkles, marshmallows, icing and glitter. Instead, try choosing a colour palette of two complementary colours and get one decoration – say sugar flowers, which you can buy in most stores – in those shades. Less can often be more!
Do you relax by watching any baking or cooking shows, or do you crave escapism?
I don’t watch any cooking shows actually! I love The Big Bang Theory, which is something a bit different! I run and cycle a lot. I love being outdoors, even if it’s cold. I like to go out towards Weetslade behind Gosforth Racecourse – it feels a little off the beaten track without being miles away.
Walk us through your ideal Sunday…
I keep the shop closed on a Sunday, as I think it’s important for myself and my colleague to have a day off where we can both fully relax. I go to church on a Sunday morning, then go for a run. I grew up in India, so an Indian takeaway is my ideal treat for a Sunday, as we’re not really a Sunday roast family.j
Where are you looking forward to heading post-lockdown?
I really like Gosforth Traders. I think they’re doing something really different. And Pink Lane Coffee – I always love to support them!
You have so many incredible techniques in your repertoire already, but is there anything new you’re looking to try in 2021?
We generally see what worked last year and bring some things back, but we’d like to experiment a little more with the chocolate flavours. Everyone loves the salted caramel and hazelnut, but I’d like to push the boundaries with tea-infused chocolate, or something like sesame and caramel. The Bombay Sapphire bon bon’s looked so great that people who might not have thought they’d enjoy a gin-flavoured treat tried them and loved them. I like to get people stepping out of their comfort zone and discovering new things.
Can you give us a glimpse of what’s next for Studio 28?
Pre-COVID, we started doing afternoon tea. We just got all that prepped so that will be nice to get back to. Rather than thinking about what we are desperate to get back to, however, my mindset has been: how do we make this time really productive? For example, we’ve utilised our online shop much more, and now we’re offering through-the-door treats and we’ve made sure products transport well. We’re also looking to reduce waste and plastic in our packaging. So even though we’re really looking forward to getting the shop back open, I feel like we’ve used this time to really improve and grow.
You can visit Naomi once the shop reopens at Studio 28 Patisserie, 2 Cobblestone Court, Byker, Newcastle NE6 2HL
Photo credits: Asha Kurien