Cooking with... Julie Rooke of La Petite Petanque, Southend

PUBLISHED: 10:32 28 April 2015 | UPDATED: 10:32 28 April 2015




Old romantic Julie Rooke tells Essex Life why even with years of baking behind her she can still burn herself and drop the best of sponges, plus how she woos her husband with comfort food

Where do you work?

I work at our on-site bakery at Walton Hall Farm and I am one of the owners/directors of La Petite Petanque in Southend, as well as the baker of all the cakes served there.

What encouraged you to start baking in the beginning?

Before she was married, my mum was a pastry cook for a local restaurant and always cooked wonderful pies etc. She died when I was 14, so sadly she didn’t have the chance to teach me her skills. I always wanted to give my family yummy, home-baked cakes, so I taught myself from cook books.

Have you always been into baking and the idea of running your café?

No, La Petite Petanque is my first foray into the food business. My background is in interior decorating and I had my own business setting the interiors of show houses for developers.

Are you a fan of the Great British Bake Off?

I absolutely love the Great British Bake Off! It has encouraged a lot of people to get out their mixing bowl and scales and make a cake.

Can you tell us about a baking disaster?

Just this week I burnt my hand on the oven when taking out a coffee and walnut cake. I dropped it on the floor and had to start again!

What’s the most memorable dish you’ve ever served?

One Valentine’s night I cooked a heart-shaped shepherds pie for my husband, followed by rhubarb crumble. He couldn’t move as he had eaten so much.

Is there a herb or spice you can’t get enough of?

I couldn’t do without cinnamon. There are lots of memories that come to mind when that aroma floods my kitchen.

When you plan a new menu how do you start the process and decide which dishes will make the final draft?

The chefs and I all bring some ideas for starters, mains and desserts to the table using produce that is in season. Then we narrow it down from there.

If you could only live in one country and enjoy their baked delights for the rest of your life, where would it be?

Definitely England. With so many regions providing so many different cakes and puddings, I could spend the rest of my life sampling and not get through them all!

What’s the strangest feedback you’ve received about your food or restaurant?

A lady who had eaten almost all of her jacket potato, then complained that it had been ‘grossly huge’ and would not pay.

Do things ever get too hot in the kitchen for you to handle?

I seem to handle pressure well and seem to get the job done the best way I can. The oven’s blasting out heat all day in the summer, so it’s no fun, but I just take a breather outside when I can and have a good cup of green tea.

Which is your favourite yummy food to bake?

I’m a pastry addict! If I bake it, I’ll eat it. But a good Bakewell tart is my favourite as I love the almond flavour, and if it has a layer of marzipan, even better.

When you opened were there any toe-curling moments?

We’d only had the cafe for a short time when we were nominated for the Essex Life Food & Drink Awards. The day the judge turned up we were very busy and most of the cakes had gone. I was stuck in a traffic jam on my way with fresh cakes and we were worried she would leave before I got there!

Might there be a La Petite Petanque cook book in the future?

It’s funny, I’ve often thought about doing one for charity, so you never know. It would have to have all the classic cakes and tarts in it that our customers keep coming back for.

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