Whenever I tell someone what i do for a living, they respond with a big smile. Their eyes light up and I can tell they’re thinking about the last great dessert they ate. Yes, when I tell people that I’m a pastry chef and I get to make all kinds of delicious goodies all day, everyday, it makes them happy.
This is also, I suspect, because they’re assuming this: As a pastry chef, she must get to eat all the chocolate in the world (the answer is yes, but I really try not to). Also, they’re thinking, working in the kitchen must be like what we see on MasterChef. Let me burst that bubble for you: It isn’t. I’ll explain later. First, let me tell you a bit about myself.
Even as a young girl, I was always fascinated with baking. My first proper kitchen memory is of when I was seven. I clearly remember the day my aunt taught me how to make brownies. I was amazed that simple ingredients like eggs, butter, sugar and flour could create something so delicious and magical. As I grew older, I continued experimenting with dessert. I would take whatever I could lay my hands on and try to make something out of it. I remember being obsessed with crushing biscuits and adding condensed milk and cocoa powder to it. I called it cocoa delight.
My love for chocolate took me to Switzerland where I studied hospitality and business. It was while working at a five-star hotel in Vevey that I realised that the pastry kitchen was my true calling and I moved to Paris to study pastry-making at Le Cordon Bleu.
Living and working in Paris changed everything for me. I walked into some of the world’s best pastry shops and was always in awe. I was amazed by the way pastry was treated in France. Walking into those shops was almost like going to a museum to look at art. That’s exactly how pastry chefs treated their work—like craftsmen.
I still remember the first time I bit into a macaron. I stood in line outside a shop for 20 whole minutes and couldn’t believe that people were actually lining up for pastry. I reached the counter and looked at the beautiful array of colours. I chose a passion fruit macaron and walked out of the store like an excited child. I took my first bite and was amazed at the flavours, the textures and how it all came together. The outside shell looked hard but one bite into it and it just melted in my mouth. The combination of the tart passion fruit and the sweet milk chocolate was just perfect. That day, I realised the potential of what could be achieved with dessert.
The fun, however, is in the process.
I’m most inspired when I’m travelling and far away from a routine. I love discovering new cities and finding ways to incorporate experiences from my travels to my menu. A trip to New York last year led to a menu where NYC meets Paris (imagine a cheesecake flavoured macaron). Spending cherry blossom season in Tokyo this year had me inspired to do a Japanese flavour special (green tea macarons and sakura cakes). And that’s the great thing about being a pastry chef—inspiration is everywhere; you just have to keep your eyes open to find it.
There are days when you experiment and try out new recipes but most of the time you work on executing the same thing over and over again. During my internship at a chocolate store in Paris (yes, it was the perfect job and yes, I did gain 6 kilos while working there), I spent all my time making tiny buttons that we stuck on bonbons. I made so many that I started dreaming of these tiny red chocolate buttons—I could make them like a machine. It wasn’t creatively satisfying at all but it taught me one of the most vital skills you need to have in the pastry kitchen: Patience.
Baking is a precise science—something most cooks don’t enjoy at all. My friends who work in hot/savoury kitchens always complain that they find making deserts too restrictive. You need to have specific measurements and can’t wing things the way you can while making a hot meal. But once you have your basics covered, testing out flavours and textures is a limitless process.