When a master baker can boast of having spent several years working under the expert guidance of Michel Roux Senior at the Waterside Inn, Bray, he is someone to take seriously. Paul Barlow-Heal, who set up his own baking business, Cotswold Baking, in Swerford last year, makes such a boast with pride. He says he owes Michel Roux a great deal. It was certainly in his time at the Waterside Inn that became passionate about baking.

He left the Waterside to travel the world, returning to Oxfordshire, having tasted baked cakes and desserts from all over the globe. Paul and his wife SJ then ran the Falkland Arms, in Great Tew, for eight years, a landmark pub in the Cotswolds. Then came the time to open his own business.

Speaking of his time as Michel Roux’s apprentice, he says he couldn’t have asked for a better person to school him in all things to do with patisserie.

“Michel Roux did not throw pots and pans around the kitchen, and he never flew into a rage or staged a tantrum if things went wrong either. But if you hadn’t come up to scratch he would certainly let you know about it, which is why I now always strive for a perfection that would pass his scrutiny.

“Michel Roux’s passion for the very best ingredients was infectious. Some mornings he would enter the kitchen and announce that he wanted to taste everything, right down to the ice creams and sauces, and taste it he did. That was a nerve-racking moment for the whole kitchen brigade, because they all knew that he would indeed taste everything.”

Because Paul’s work during the day at the Waterside Inn was so time consuming, he used to work far into the night when the kitchen was empty to perfect a new recipe, or polish his spun-sugar skills, which called for uninterrupted time, practice and patience. He knew that by burning the midnight oil he was pushing himself, but says it was worth it.

Paul explained that unlike savoury dishes such as stews and casseroles, which can be adjusted as you go by stirring in a little more of this and that, patisserie work calls for exact measurements, timings and hand skills that only come with practice. Weights can’t be guessed nor can the oven temperatures. You must never break the rules, especially when creating something like a classic Victoria sponge, which simply won’t work if the ingredients are not weighed correctly.

He said: “Even now, years since I worked with Michel Roux, I still write out an ingredients list before I begin a task, particularly if I am doubling up a classic recipe. Get one ingredient wrong and I’m in trouble.”

Paul, who moved to Oxfordshire in 2000, uses those skills that he worked so hard to acquire to cook bespoke birthday and celebration cakes, as well as the colourful assortment of cakes and pastries that he sells at Deddington Farmers’ Market.

He established his kitchen and the Swerford-based Cotswold Bakery last year and has already gained a faithful following of customers who seek quality goods prepared by an expert and from local ingredients. He now delivers to households and hotels within a 20-mile radius of his kitchen, or accepts orders that can be picked up at the market.

One of the joys of ordering Paul’s cakes or tarts is that they are all made to order in sizes to suit individual needs. What’s more, if you happen to fancy a cake that is not on his menu at the moment, he will happily create it for you. He loves nothing more than talking over a recipe with a prospective customer, or hearing positive remarks from someone who bought a cake from him previously and would like to try something else.

The scrumptious favourites he bakes regularly include chocolate fudge cake and lemon and thyme cake — the second particularly popular as it is scented with fresh thyme and lemon zest. His Tunisian orange and cranberry cake is also appreciated by customers on a gluten-free diet, as it is made from ground almonds and flavoured with spiced orange syrup. His classic carrot cake and Victoria sponge are among his best-selling items too.

You can meet Paul at Deddington Farmers’ Market on the fourth Saturday of every month, which means he will be there from 9am to 9.30 on July 28. He is also becoming involved with the Southam Farmers’ Market, north of Banbury, that takes place on the fourth Friday of every month. Contact Paul by going to www.cotswoldbaking.co.uk Don’t forget that to meet artisan traders such as Paul you can visit the Chipping Norton Farmers’ Market on July 21, or go to Witney on July 27, Woodstock on August 4, or Abingdon on July 20 and the newly-established West Oxford Farmers’ Market on the first Friday of every month.