Ever since news broke that an all-Malaysian team won the World Pastry Cup 2019, there has deservedly been a lot of attention heaped on Malaysian pastry chefs. Equally, there is realisation that perhaps there is no room for them to grow in a local market that as of now, is slow to appreciate the elaborate French-style pastry these pastry chefs are capable of producing.
So despite the accolades and recognition they have earned, the unflinching truth is that with their creativity stifled in the local industry, most Malaysian pastry chefs end up moving away for bigger, better opportunities.
“The sad part is that if I train someone to be a pastry chef, normally I encourage them to go overseas rather than stay in Malaysia. Because at the moment, we don’t really have a market, so there are limited options for growing and learning,” says Tan Wei Loon, one of the World Pastry Cup 2019 winners.
One of the countries that has a significant amount of Malaysian pastry chefs is Singapore, which has benefited tremendously from our talent pool.
“People will definitely try to ask for Malaysian chefs to work in their countries, knowing Malaysia is world pastry champion and the quality is very, very high. That’s why in Singapore now, the best pastry chefs are Malaysian,” says Niklesh Sharma, founder of Academy of Pastry Arts Malaysia matter-of-factly.
Patrick Siau, head chef at the School of Hospitality, Sunway University (and the team coach for World Pastry Cup 2019) says the fact that these pastry chefs are heading to Singapore shows that this is where the opportunities are, in terms of creativity, career progression and salaries.
“I believe if Malaysia can provide the same opportunities as what Singapore can offer, more people will stay. In Singapore, salaries are higher and even a three-star hotel can afford to buy imported ingredients like cream and fresh raspberries so chefs have more ingredients to play around with. Whereas here, the cost is too high for hotels to invest in these things,” says Siau.
For those who choose to stay here, like Niklesh, Siau, Tan and Loi Ming Ai (another member of the winning World Pastry Cup 2019 team), the goal is to spread more awareness to pastry chefs in Malaysia and inculcate a deep-rooted understanding of pastry culture.
Their hope is that by doing this, they will encourage more pastry chefs to influence the hotels or restaurants they work at or even open their own pastry shops specialising in French pastry.
If enough people do it, it will create a trickle effect that will eventually filter down to the Malaysian public, generating a burgeoning appreciation for these desserts that will eventually lead to widespread acceptance.
All this will of course take time – by many estimates, it could be years before this comes to fruition.
Niklesh says the academy hopes to do its part to spread awareness by opening its own pastry shop sometime this year.
“We will have our own pastry shop here very soon, and we will also do production, so if cafes or restaurants believe in this, they can buy beautiful products from us,” he says.
Siau, Tan and Loi meanwhile are capitalising on their World Pastry Cup success and leveraging on that to disseminate more information about pastry culture to local pastry schools in Malaysia, something that Tan especially is very passionate about.
“Now that we have won, we plan to do more demos in schools. Other countries like Japan and Hong Kong are doing a lot of these demos, which are free, because not all pastry chefs have the money to pay for expensive classes to improve their knowledge.
“But if we can do this, I think we can help spread this culture to young pastry chefs in Malaysia. Once it’s in their minds, they will automatically spread it to consumers through the pastries in their restaurants and cafes.
“And after a period, consumers will be more aware and will be willing to pay more for these desserts. I think it will take about five years,” says Tan with conviction.