Louie Ye is known as “Godfather of Chinese Pastry”. He’s also the General Dessert Designer of the popular Chinese television series To be A Better Man (2016), directed by Zhang Xiaobo and starring the famous Sun Honglei and Lay Zhang. What’s curious is that the story of Yuan Lu (the TV series’ main character) has got many similarities with Chef Louie’s own story. A warm, kind-hearted man with superb cooking skills, creating specialised dessert for his beloved ones, and eventually becoming a three-star Michelin chef in the USA. Curious to know more? Let’s have a look!
As early as 15 years ago, when pastry arts had not been prevailing in mainland China, Chef Louie Ye was ranked No.6 in the world a La Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie. He ascended to the peak of Frozen Desserts in 20 years of hard work and continuous education. Ranging from Bakery Chef at the 3* Michelin restaurant Jean-Georges’ and Pastry Chef at Park Hyatt Shanghai, he continues to grow launching unique first-tier gelato pastry brand concepts. He is the idol of Shanghai’s pastry and bakery circles.
1.Chef Louie, tell us your story.
My passion for Frozen Desserts started in 1988 during an internship at Westin Hotel, Shanghai. I was just 18 years old, a fresh graduate from the Hospitality College. I knew nothing about pastry and I was impressed by the ice cream that those chefs were creating. I was sure it would become a trend. So, I dedicated all my energies to become a professional Pastry and Frozen Art Chef.
In 1993, I joined the Shangri-La Hotel Shanghai, then the Victoria Hotel, and after 10 years, I decided to travel in order to deepen my knowledge in pastry arts. I used to work more than 12 hours a day and I learnt a lot from International Chefs. In 2005, I was at the Jean Georges 3* Michelin restaurant in New York (US), in 2006 at the Ecóle Valrhona in Lyon (France), in 2007 at the Italian Chocolate School in Perugia (Italy). Back in Shanghai, I got the role of Pastry Chef at Three on the Bund – Jean Georges, then I moved to Intercontinental (Puxi) and Park Hyatt. In these years, I judged Food Hotel China’s cooking competitions, and in 2013 – as Referee and Team Leader – I contributed in making China get the 6th place at the World Pastry Cup in Lyon (France). Nobody expected that great result, and it gave me the motivation to continue my educational training. In that same year, I studied and worked with Alain Ducasse, and I judged International Chocolate competitions. In 2015, I decided to become an entrepreneur and I founded my gelato-pastry shop La Fantasia. Today, I’m also proud to be the owner of Antica, an exclusive branded Italian Concept in the Top 10 of the locals’ choices.
2. How do Chinese People view Pastry and Frozen Art today? We know that it is quite a new trend.
There’s a lot more to do but this trend is growing fast now. Just think that in 1988 – just 20 years ago – almost nobody knew gelato or ice cream in China. I also didn’t study frozen art before. I always loved eating, in my childhood, and I was crazy for cakes. Pastry offers much more magic than culinary arts, so when I got in touch with first class pastry chefs, I immediately wanted to pursue that career. And I was impressed with the taste of artisan gelato. I assume that many fellow Chinese people have been struck while tasting it for the very first time too. When they go to Italy, they love it. The gelato business will boom in China, it’s just a matter of time. Meanwhile, I’m happy to be a pioneer.
3. Which is the secret of your success? Antica is doing very well in Shanghai.
A mix of knowledge, determination and hard work. Good businesses will come. I had no doubts when I launched Fantasia in Shanghai, this French bakery brand had a big potential. I opened Antica in September 2018: Antica Gelateria del Corso is an Italian branded concept, they wanted me because of my experience running Fantasia and again, I had no doubts. Antica’s branding strategy is sophisticated. Our little yellow cup represents the “Hundred Years Yellow” Gelato from Parma, Italy. Antica wants to celebrate this global art capital, the local architecture, the paintings, the music and all the eternal cultural treasures of mankind there. As the Mona Lisa and the statue of David in the shop recall Italian masterpieces, every Gelato is “edible” art.
On the second floor, we re-arranged the famous scene “The Creation of Adam”, from the Genesis. Adam is about to be awakened by God, and lights up infinite gelato inspiration.
Our display cabinet proposes 20 flavours (colourful Italian berries, sweet honey-yogurt, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry…), and we have got crunchy cones, freshly baked in store. Our menu also offers signature gelato desserts, each of them representing typical Italian colours: Venetian red, Parma yellow, Italian Sky Blue…Before leaving, the clients receive a postcard from Italy as a souvenir. The stamp on the back is a local Italian stamp.
And let me add that I’m using a Carpigiani Ready 20/30 gelato machine here, it’s located in a transparent laboratory. When people see that you work using top technology, you also attract excellent results.
4. Which Flavours do people prefer in China?
In China you actually see a lot of ice cream and not so much gelato. But the interest is growing, when people understand the nutritional values incorporated in gelato, the market will boom.
My clients are well educated, I always remind them that gelato is healthier than ice cream. They like Vanilla, Chocolate, Oolong Tea, Yogurt, Black Sesame and Matcha gelato. Among the sorbets, Lemon, Mango and Raspberry. I often accompany it with Balsamic Vinegar. My sea-salt caramel is also very appreciated.
5. An advice for young gelato and pastry chefs that want to operate in China?
To make the world aware, we have to cultivate the next generation of Chinese pastry chefs. I have been asked to teach, and I am currently doing it. From basic pastry knowledge to advanced creations that combine Chinese ingredients and raw materials. We have to develop flavours that meet Chinese characteristics. I’m also judging various competitions. Since I was the first Chinese judge at the renowned “World Chocolate Master” in 2013, I love to stimulate others to go the extra mile. Here’s some tips:
- Get a good and strong knowledge of products and ingredients, master your skills and understand the raw materials you’ll use. They are fundamental to develop your business.
- Remember that we have got four seasons in China, and alternate the products in the shop: don’t forget hot chocolate, coffee, cakes, Italian pralines…
- Becoming a good pastry chef is a long process of “price-comparisons”: you will succeed if you persist in doing it.
- Low-fat, sugar-free (sugar substitutes) are trendy in China. Plant-based drinks and desserts can become a trend. Today, oat milk and various nut milks are already very popular in China.
The expectations for the next generation of Chinese gelato pastry chefs and entrepreneurs are quite high!