2019 marked a sweet milestone for Malaysia, as three Malaysian pastry chefs have been crowned champions of the 30thCoupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie(World Pastry Cup).
It’s the very first time in the history that a Malaysian team has won the renowned biennial international event held in Lyon (France). The team comprised of Patrick Siau (head chef at the School of Hospitality, Sunway University) and contestants Tan Wei Loon, Otto Tay and Loi Ming Ai beat the teams from Japan (2nd place) and Italy (3rd place) in the finals of the competition on 28 January 2019.
All the “veteran” pastry champions recognized the first-class quality and the innovative creativity showcased by the three young chefs during the competition, while the ones who were working in Asia already knew who their biggest competitors were. The biggest players of the pastry industry set headquarters in Asia years ago, but can we expect Asian Chefs to set rules and moods of tomorrow’s pastry scene?
We decided to interview Chef Otto, Chef Wei Loon and Chef Ming Ai in order to learn more and to discover how Asia has become the new forge of pastry champions.
Shortlisted among the best pastry talents from a selection process involving more than 50 national rounds and four continental events, the three chefs impressed by producing unusual chocolate desserts with Valrhona grands crus, surprising frozen fruit desserts from the Capfruit range and Eastern-inspired plated desserts as well as artistic creations made of sugar, chocolate and sculpted ice. The theme for the competition was ‘Nature, Flora and Fauna’ and it introduced a new challenge: the realization of a 100% vegan dessert. Other challenges included having to create a chocolate dessert with a biscuit made of honey, as well as (at least) one transparent item made with blown sugar.
- How can you become a world pastry champion?
OTTO: The ingredients of the recipe are team spirit, creativity, passion, innovation, inspiration and good funding. Mix them properly and be resilient, never give up on your Dream! The first time I participated at the Coupe du Monde (2013) our sugar showpiece fell down, we ended up with the 14th place. Two years later, we got the 4th place, then we decided to clear up our mind and prepare for 2019, when our dream came through.
MING AI: The World Pastry Cup has been my life-dream. Even though I never thought that this dream would have come true, I have always worked hard to achieve it. Team-spirit has been the most important ingredient to push us to the podium. It’s not easy to have passionate team members that share the same mindset and fight for the same goals. Second, the determination. The four of us never gave up easily. We were never satisfied about our desserts or displays. We always believed that we could have done better, that’s why we tried different ways and innovative ideas on stage, we wanted to represent Malaysia at its best. Third, the techniques. For each category, we created at least 1-2 new techniques that have never been used before. We aimed to impress the juries and we scored many points because of our innovative approach.
WEI LOON: Let me underline again the importance of teamwork. I want to thank the team of assistants and chefs who supported us in the backstage. They helped us to try and progress.
- When did you start dreaming about becoming a Pastry Chef?
OTTO: When I was 7, I dreamt of becoming a baker. I started working in a small bakery shop as kitchen helper. When I was 19, while visiting Food and Hotel Malaysia show, I was stunned by an artistic showpiece made by sugar, chocolate and bread. At that moment I knew that I wanted to become a Pastry Chef and make a difference on stage.
MING AI: I started my career when I was 20, at a cake shop in Kuala Lumpur.
WEI LOON: I have got a degree in Hospitality Management, not pastry. When I was 20, while doing an internship in a hotel, I had the chance to do a training in the pastry kitchen. It was love at first sight.
- What was your educational path?
OTTO: When I was 19, I started a pastry course in Malaysia. After 2 years, I had the chance to work at Hotel Maya in Kuala Lumpur, and I met Chef Jess Chiam, my first mentor. Among the other chefs that supported me, Adriano Teng, Executive Chef at Hotel Maya and Niklesh Sharma, Director of the Academy Pastry Arts Malaysia. He is the one who invited MOF and World Champion Chefs to run masterclasses in Malaysia. I learnt a lot from all the guest chefs and I want to thank Jean Francois Arnaud, Consultant at the school. He taught us not only pastry art, but also discipline and determination.
MING AI: When I was 23 years old, I decided to improve my skills. So, I registered at a local French-based pastry school. I learnt the theory and the techniques of pastry art, and here I met for the first time a MOF (Meilleurs Ouvrier de France) pâtissier, Jean Francois-Arnaud. He shared his knowledge, he advised me about a unique way to look at pastries. He taught me which is the mindset, the attitude and the right behaviour of a successful pastry chef. Other chefs, colleagues, teammates, competitors and friends that I want to thank are Patrick Siao, Tan Wei loon, Otto Tay, Chee Siang, Lawrence Cheong Jun Bo, Chong Ko Wai, Yap Kean Chuan, Lim Chin Kheng. I assisted them, I have been trained and been supported by them to compete in different international competitions. We are always generous in sharing knowledge and information. We gathered and discussed whenever we faced issues. Last but not least, let me thank the Director of my school, Niklesh Sharma: whenever I was facing an issue, he was the first to give me full support, no matter how.
WEI LOON: My knowledge mostly comes from my working experience. My luck started when I met chef Joseph, who treated me as a younger brother and shared with me the basics of pastry art. Then, I met my current director, Niklesh Sharma, who taught me not only how to be a good chef but, first of all, a good person. He supported our team to have a comfortable training period. If it’s not because of him, I don’t think we would have reached this achievement. Last but not least, let me mention chef Jean Francois Arnaud (MOF), he has been the example for me since the 1st time I trained with him. He shows me how to be a person who is passionate towards pastry and he was also the best example of being a responsible pastry chef. Without them, I believe I wouldn’t be who I am today.
- Have you ever travelled and worked in other countries?
OTTO: Yes, I travel for work matters, to take part in international competitions, to run classes. I often go to Singapore, Thailand, Kuwait, Germany, China, Switzerland, France, Italy, Taiwan, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, Hong Kong. It is very important to meet international chefs, create long-term friendships, share knowledge. I love discovering new and unique ingredients too.
MING AI: Not so much, but I participated many times at the Asia Pastry Forum, an annual event held in Kuala Lumpur. Nationally and Internationally acclaimed Chefs are invited in Malaysia, all the ones who participate learn new techniques and share the issues faced through their own experiences. It’s a great opportunity for us to have an international full-immersion.
WEI LOON: I never really worked in other countries as a full-time chef. But since I started teaching, I have had the chance to travel around the world. The international exposure is very important, I got inspirations from other cultures and I adjusted my technique and my recipes to suit our local needs.
- How much is Frozen Art important in competitions of its kind?
OTTO: Taste comes first. Frozen desserts have to be made with pure ingredients and they shall be healthy too. Moreover, the outlook of our dessert needs to impress, we eat with the eyes first!
MING AI: Frozen Art Innovation is an effective way to inject energy in the concept-creation. It allows a chef to innovate in taste and presentation, and to generate an impactful idea that matches to the theme of a competition.
WEI LOON: Frozen Art is very important at Le Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie, from the plated desserts trial to the ice cream cake, it can make you score many points. From my side, every creation must be unique and well-balanced. It’s not easy: when you innovate, you do something extreme and risk to lose the balance of flavour and texture. Our team took a lot of time to find this balance and create our winning desserts.
- Would you be keen to attend continuing education modular courses worldwide?
OTTO: Of course. Creativity is always a big asset, but never forget that your creations have to be reasonable, practical, tasteful. If a cake is beautiful but the taste is not good, it fails. If a cake is sophisticated but you cannot produce it easily, it’s just a social media cake.
MING AI: Knowledge and creativity are complimentary abilities. Creativity is the ability to innovate and discover new ideas. When it’s combined with a strong foundation of knowledge, it results in an outstanding product that can be appreciated by many.
WEI LOON: I agree, I keep learning and adjusting myself accordingly to the latest pastry trends.
- You are all teachers now. Which is the lesson your students cannot miss?
OTTO: Have a positive attitude. Maybe you were born with talent, but if your attitude is not good, it won’t help you to succeed.
MING AI: Respect. I always try to think as a junior chef. The most important lesson is how to respect senior chefs and the ingredients in the kitchen. If you have a good technique and a bad attitude, you won’t be able to enjoy success for long in your career.
WEI LOON: Be humble, resilient and passionate. These are the three keys to win.
- How do you see “Frozen Art” in the future years?
OTTO: Frozen Art is constantly evolving. In the recent years, consumers are developing a growing awareness about the importance to eat heathy. Healthy ingredients will be in the spotlight.
MING AI: Frozen art is as important as chocolate and sugar art, the values are the same. It shouldn’t be forgotten. There are many chefs that are still passionate about frozen arts, even though maybe the resources are becoming less. I will still carry out my duty to groom the young generations with my experience and my passion for Frozen Arts.
WEI LOON: Everyone has started to eat healthier, so our desserts will have to become lighter and more flavourful. It’s better to play with textures instead of creaminess.
And now…Get one of the winning recipes made by the Malaysian Pastry Champions and start to realize your “frozen art” dream!