Become a Pastry Apprentice at Victoria’s Fairmont Empress Hotel

Check into Victoria's famed Fairmont Empress Hotel for a little R and R, and sign up for their Pastry Apprentice Experience to learn how to make your own sweet treats

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

Victoria’s Empress offers a pastry apprentice experience for budding pastry chefs

Get an insider’s look at Empress chef D’Oyen Christie’s pastry kitchen and learn how to make one of his spectacular treats

The Fairmont Empress is one of the most iconic hotels in Canada. Situated above the promenade on Victoria’s breathtaking Inner Harbour, it’s flanked by the BC Legislative Buildings to the south and the quaint downtown to the north.

The magnificent vine-covered, Chateau-style hotel has a rich history that dates back to its opening in 1908, and was designated a National Historic Site in 1980.

My history with the Empress dates back to the 1980s, when I was a little girl. My family stopped in for the hotel’s legendary afternoon tea service – which has been offered since they opened over a hundred years ago – on a trip to Vancouver Island from our home in northern Alberta. 

Behind the Scenes in the Pastry Kitchen

(Image credit: Flickr / firepile)

According to their website, more than 800 guests from around the globe come to the Empress’ Tea Lobby every day during the summer months for this most civilized meal served on dainty fine bone china.

Executive pastry chef D’Oyen Christie and his team are responsible for orchestrating the daily ritual of afternoon tea, and prepare scones, pastries and little sandwiches from scratch every day, while upholding the hotel’s “farm to fork” philosophy of using as many local and sustainable ingredients as possible.

Christie oozes an infectious joie de vivre that you can experience first-hand in one of his lively pastry apprentice workshops.

Fairmont Empress Pastry Apprentice Program

Offered for both children and adults, the 90-minute workshops take place in the Empress’ busy pastry kitchen, with Christie’s team working alongside the apprentices on the day’s desserts.

Participants learn to make one of Christie’s signature pastry dishes and are outfitted with their very own chef’s hat and personalized apron. They also receive a framed certificate of achievement at the end of the class and get to take home their sweet creations.

I did the pastry apprentice class last month and we learned to make the “Empress-phere”, a chocolate globe filled with chocolate mousse, streusel and raspberries.

Chef Christie’s commitment to the Fairmont’s Green Partnership program was apparent as he doled out molten chocolate in recycled yogurt containers. We painted silicon molds with the liquid chocolate and once they dried we carefully popped them out and set to making the filling for our soon-to-be chocolate globes.

Making One of the World’s Most Expensive Desserts

We used pricey Valrhona chocolate to make the mousse, and according to Christie the dessert was once named one of the top 10 most expensive desserts in the world. The Empress’ version is Christie’s signature dessert – the Empress-phere.  

Next, we made a streusel filling with a cheerful mix of lemon zest, oatmeal, flour and sugar, which we poured onto a baking sheet and placed into a massive oven with revolving shelves. Then, into our half-globes we piped mousse, and layered streusel and raspberries. Rich chocolate, tart lemon, and juicy raspberry are a fabulous combination.

The final product had a surprise ending, which I won’t spoil for you – you’ll have to see what happens when you make your way to the Empress’ pastry kitchen to don your chef’s hat and learn from this spirited pastry master.

Upcoming Pastry Apprentice classes will be held on December 18, February 26, and April 15 for adults, and December 27, January 15, and March 18 for children.

The cost for this 90-minute class is $120 for adults and $100 for children, and includes a chef’s hat, personalized apron, framed certificate, and pastry creations to take home.

For groups of 10 or more, private classes can be arranged. Visit the Fairmont Empress website for more information.

Catherine Roscoe Barr, BSc Neuroscience, is a Vancouver-based writer, editor, and fitness professional. Before settling on the west coast she lived in Sydney, Toronto, Oregon, Montana, and practically everywhere in Alberta. She can be found jogging with her adorable dog, dining with her fabulous husband or voraciously reading anywhere comfy.