A Colombian-American chef converses with a Japanese chef in French, turns around to speak to a Spanish-Catalan chef in Spanish and then faces me to speak in English. The Spanish chef and another Japanese chef struggle to communicate in English and chuckle because they’ve forgotten they can both speak French better. Laissez-nous parlons en français, oui?
The common denominator? Pastry.
I’ve always been aware that food connects people—across borders, cultures and languages. But when it converges in one kitchen, my brain, as Abe-san, the kitchen assistant would say, goes boom.
My two weeks with Chef Andres Lara at Callebaut’s Chocolate Academy was a treat for all my senses—unexpectedly for my ears, but a greater appreciation of food’s transcendent ability came with it.
When I arrived, I was a bit curious about what I would be doing since I would not be in a typical restaurant setting. There was plenty. Test runs of entremets for Chef Andres’ upcoming classes in China and Brazil and preparations for guest Chef Ramon Morató from Spain, who co-created a special menu with Chef Andres for Cacao Barry’s Cacao Collective’s first event, and who would also teach a 2-day class on ganaches and pralines (see following post for products from the class).
The first week was a helpful introduction to overall Japanese etiquette and practice in a kitchen which will pay off when I head to Narisawa. Mostly importantly, I got to know Abe Junya, the kitchen assistant who had only started a week before I arrived. Abe-san’s unabashed personality was the highlight of my two weeks. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know Japanese or that his English was limited; his persona shot through any language barriers. Hearing him tell Chef Andres’ adorable, wiggly French bulldog puppy, Mochi, to give a “sexy pose” for a photo gave me one of the best laughs. Sexy pose, Mochi. Sexy.
Technicality-wise, the Academy was a good place for me, especially with the likes of Chef Andres and Ramon teaching. Both chefs approach pastry in a scientific way, which I’m repeatedly finding is the smarter way. Figuring out percentages, chemical reactions and physical changes may seem like a drag at first, but it’s fascinating to see what happens after you do. The end result is always better, in addition to being more stable, shelf-stable or cost efficient.
For example, ganaches. A simple and classic ganache is comprised of cream, sugar, chocolate and butter. And while this ganache would serve many purposes for mousses, chocolates and plated desserts, take a closer look and its proportion of ingredients may not be ideal, especially for shelf life. Take the AW (water activity) of the ganache, and you’ll find that it’s much too high to last past a couple of weeks before it starts molding. This is when you start to think about what to adjust in accordance of the fats and sugars present in the recipe. For example, different sugars can retain water or resist crystallization, and using less fats because the forms they come in contain water (i.e. cream and butter). Once the recipe is adjusted, the resulting ganache is still a high-quality product, but now it’s much stronger and meant to last.
My time at the Academy certainly wasn’t long enough, but Chef Andres is once again jetting off to cities all over the world to share his expertise and knowledge. I was only lucky enough to work with him for two whole weeks. Until next time!
I start at Narisawa tomorrow, and my hours will be from 8am to 11pm. Looks like I will be going into a work hibernation and won’t be coming out for four weeks.
Photo: Night has fallen but Abe Junya is still hard at work. Through the glass is the view of Tokyo from the 21st floor of the Chocolate Academy.