Head Pastry Chef at one of Australia’s most respected restaurants, Rhiann Mead knows how to master temptation.
Encased in glass and facing panoramic views of Sydney Harbour, it’s no surprise that Bennelong restaurant is one of the premier dining spaces in the country.
Hailing from the UK and trained at famous chocolatier William Curley, Rhiann Mead holds an exceptionally prestigious position as Bennelong’s Head Pastry Chef. Despite being surrounded by the best that a patisserie has to offer, somehow she manages to stay healthy and toned.
It’s safe to say that if we were around cutting edge, quality desert cuisine all day it would be difficult to hold our nerve. So, we’ve asked Mead, the master of temptation, just how she does it.
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How do you avoid temptation when constantly being around pastry all day?
It is really challenging to be surrounded by, and creating, desserts all day. I have a massive sweet tooth so I have really had to enforce discipline and moderation. I have always had the luxury of a constant supply of chocolate, so rather than eat away absent-mindedly, I’ve learnt to appreciate and savour a few pieces instead.
What does a typical day on a plate look like for you? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks?
I like to meal prep for the week to ensure I am eating nutritious food to fuel my body throughout the day. I make sure to have breakfast no matter what – usually a smoothie and tofu scramble or eggs. My favourite lunch at the moment is roast vegetable wraps with hummus. Dinner is based around a protein, vegetables and rice or a grain – although sometimes it’s impossible to resist our amazing staff dinners.
I’ll snack on dark chocolate, protein shakes, and some homemade protein muffins or bars.
Healthy food does not need to be bland or boring. I do not strictly count calories, and will never say no to carbs, but believe in being aware of what you are putting into your body and making conscious choices.
If you have over-indulged while working in the kitchen, what do you do to balance it out?
I over-indulge on a regular basis, but I’ve learnt I should never feel guilty or punish myself for having that extra brownie … although I will tell myself to take the stairs rather than the elevator!
How do you treat yourself? What is your vice? Do you enjoy eating/trying/test what you’re cooking?
I love eating out at other restaurants. I make up for my love of eating out by cooking healthily at home. I am really enjoying experimenting with healthy desserts and snacks at the moment.
Surprisingly, something sweet isn’t my vice – instant ramen is. After a day of tasting dessert components, I crave something spicy and savory.
What is your favourite way to keep fit? How do you stay in shape? How often do you exercise?
Working long days on my feet, my body would be exhausted. I wanted to improve my strength, energy, and stamina. I started with F45 training, which led to weight training at the gym. I live near the beach so I love doing the coastal walk and getting in the water for a swim or paddle board. I aim to hit the gym 4-5 times a week, however, I am also learning to listen to my body – If I am really tired, exercising once a week is ok too.
Some of us in the Bennelong kitchen team have been getting together once a week for a group exercise class – it is lots of fun and helps us bring us out of our comfort zone by trying things we’d be intimidated to try on our own such as Barry’s, boxing, and aerial yoga.
What can we learn from a pastry chef about moderation / willpower?
A huge part of being a pastry chef is to be disciplined, controlled, and organised. I feel that this translates easily enough into everyday life. I work long hours and do not have a lot of free time during my work week, so I have to be organised with meal prep and stick to my exercise plans. I know how much exercise and eating well affects my energy levels and mental state, but I also know sometimes eating that extra portion or sleeping in are just as beneficial – it is all about moderation.
What do you love most about your job?
I love being able to create. I know it’s cliche, but chefs wouldn’t choose this lifestyle if our hearts weren’t in it. I love working with other chefs and learning from each other in such a creative industry. It is so exciting to see the development of a dish or recipe, and how much an idea can change or grow during the process.
I also love how much I have learnt about food, where it comes from, and being exposed to new ingredients and cooking methods.
What is the biggest myth about being a pastry chef?
That pastry chefs can’t cook savoury food. I think most people are secretly surprised when I cook a decent savoury meal!
What is the most common question you get about your job and how do you answer it?
The most common question I get asked when people learn I am a pastry chef is what my favourite thing is to make. My answer constantly changes – some weeks I am really into bread, others it could be moulded chocolates or making puff pastry. That is why I love my job so much; it is never repetitive, and you can really push your imagination and creativity.