Flash-grilled: Michael Kwan

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled with Michael Kwan head pastry chef at the Hotel Café Royal in London's Piccadilly Coup de Monde de la Patisserie

Related tags: Chef, Pastry chef, Hotel, Fine dining

The head pastry chef at the Hotel Café Royal in London's Piccadilly, who recently impressed at the Coup de Monde de la Patisserie in France, discusses his career to date.

What was your first industry job?
When I was 15, I finished my school and I started working as a commis chef in my uncle’s restaurant. His restaurant was a small 20-cover fine dining restaurant in Hong Kong and that’s why I discovered my passion for cooking.

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
When I was young, I also loved being very hands on. I really enjoyed the attention to detail. If I wasn’t a chef, I think I’d be able to apply these skills as a car engineer.

What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
Heston Blumenthal because he encourages creativity in the kitchen and going above and beyond traditional cooking techniques and traditions. I used to work in The Fat Duck which my first restaurant pastry department. His dishes inspired me a lot because people always remember the whole dining experience. It’s a complete sensory experience rather than just being about taste. He uses sounds, smells and memories linked to his dishes to give the customer an experience like no other.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
When people do not use the cling film properly and then you can’t find the end of the cling film roll and it is all tangled!

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
A customer once requested a chocolate Baked Alaska, but it needed to be gluten free, vegan and no sugar. The task was almost impossible because it’s a dessert that is made of sugar and ice cream… I managed to make one in the end, but it was hard work!

Sum up your cooking style in a single sentence…
Never over-complicated - a classical dish with seasonal flavour.

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
Weighing scale, pastry chefs love to scale everything. We are very precise.

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
When the front of house team took the wrong colour for the wedding macaron pyramid so we made it green instead of white. When we delivered it to the bride, she cried in front of me. But don’t worry, we fixed it in time.

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
Cantonese roasted duck with rice. This is a common food in my hometown, Hong Kong. People roast the ducks and then hang them in window displays when is fresh come out from oven – they are so delicious. 

À la carte or tasting menu?
Tasting menu, as that way you can really get to know and enjoy the chef’s particular style. It also pushes you outside of your comfort zone and means you try dishes you wouldn’t choose on paper.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had in a restaurant?
The Fat Duck. I was eating in there for five and half hours, but the time flew by. Everything was impeccable.

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Rum baba because this is one of my favourite classical desserts. It is soft and delicate on the outside with intense flavour in the centre.

MasterChef or Great British Menu?
Great British Menu.

What’s your earliest food memory?
Cooking fish balls with curry sauce for my younger sister. I cooked it by myself after learning from my grandmother – she enjoyed it a lot. This is one of the signature dishes from Hong Kong.  

Twitter or Instagram?
Instagram.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
It’s a career for those who are truly passionate about cooking. And say goodbye to your social life, you’ll make new friends in our industry.

Kwan was part of the UK pastry team at this year's Coup de Monde de la Patisserie in Lyon, France. The team finished fourth in the competition – the highest the UK pastry team has ever placed.

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Related topics: Chef, People, Profiles

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