Adriano Zumbo is being hailed the next best thing in Sydney’s dessert scene. His own pâtisserie is one year old, and he’s done stints at neighbouring Victoire bakery, but there has been a recent explosion of media attention on this young guy and now I know why.
His creations are magnificent.
I read somewhere that he trained at l’Ecole Lenôtre, and I also know he was a finalist in the Australian World Chocolate Masters event. But he’s still just a baby (late 20s).
But it seems Zumbo is the buzz word right now and, for a city with a distinct lack of creative, elegant pâtisseries, Zumbo certainly fills a void.
So, during the Balmain Rozelle Food Week (21-27 April), I signed up for his class entitled J'adore les Gâteaux.
This was not a slickly organised cooking class. In fact it was more like your first day as an apprentice pastry chef. He gave us aprons, cloths, recipes and then pointed at his industrial kitchen and said “get cooking!”
It was very intimidating at first, and for uncertain cooks it was almost enough to bring on a nervous breakdown, but it was also amazingly fun.
We were given free reign over the kitchen, delving into the pantry to find inverted sugar and dark Callebaut chocolate, rummaging through the cool room for 1kg of raspberry purée or perusing the walls to select a 1 metre tall blitzer to bind together industrial sized batches of 50+ cakes.
Adriano and his assistants, Dean and Walid, wandered through the class answering questions from the recipes, which were written for professionals rather than an amateur cooking group. They were cocky and good humoured, making the experience playful but no less daunting in its ambitiousness.
You really did feel like you were part of a (busy) pastry kitchen, complete with boyish banter and incessant teasing, but by the end we had produced two masterpieces: Chocolate Modena and Tuk Tuk Nothing.
The Tuk Tuk Nothing (above) is a cute dessert of coconut dacquoise sandwiching a round of pandan, coconut and ginger mousse studded with passionfruit pulp, chunks of pineapple and lychees. The edges are coated in white chocolate and rolled in toasted coconut, while the sides are dusted in green-glitter snow sugar. It certainly had a playful, tropical feel.
My favourite dessert was the Chocolate Modena (above). Flourless dark chocolate meringue biscuits were layered between raspberry ganache and balsamic ganache before being topped with shards of cocoa nib toffee. The grand finale were ropes of chocolate which Adriano made by piping thin lines of liquid chocolate onto a frozen stone then wrapping them into circles before the chocolate completely hardened.
Admittedly, Zumbo assembled the chocolate dessert since it required some skill and, although there were three cake/pastry makers in the class who might have managed it, very few of us amateurs could have pulled it off.
Working in groups, sometimes with strangers, is always a little tough. I had to control myself not to get too bossy, which everyone who knows me knows is practically impossible.
Also along for the ride was our very own Coco Chanel and fellow food blogger, Nat, from Breath of the Wok. She took loads and loads of photos and asked so many questions. I have to say it was great to have another food nerd in tow.
It was Nat who put me onto Zumbo in the first place. She was swooning for days over his passionfruit tart and even bought me white truffle and hazelnut macarons, just like the ones my Parisian foodie, Jean-Baptiste, brags about from Pierre Hermé’s winter offerings.
Not Quite Nigella and Oohh, look… both attended an earlier J'adore les Gâteaux class making totally different tarts and cakes. Their blogs are filled with links and photos too.
Now I know cakes aren’t good for you, but it was still shocking to see just how much butter goes into everything. Butter, butter, butter. There is a lot of butter. Trust me. A lot.
I was also surprised to realise how easy making beautiful cakes can be if you have the right equipment. I have always been in awe of bloggers like Joycelyn, Béa and Keiko because their creations seemed simply impossible to replicate at home. Yes, I know that’s silly since these lovely ladies do make their desserts at home, but I’m talking about us mere mortals, not pastry goddesses.
Now I know that if I had the right equipment, like palette knives, metal moulds etc, and knew some of the little techniques, such as water knives, then I think perhaps I could do it too. Repeat think and perhaps.
After just one night with those pastry chefs, I picked up a thousand techniques which will assist me in all my dessert cooking going forward. Just imagine what I could do after a week course! Or an apprenticeship!
It makes me realise I could do other things with my life.
But the downside to being a pâtissier is the hours. These guys have tough lives. Just like chefs they have horrible hours, starting around 3pm and leaving after 1am. Then do it all over again the next day.
Sure it’s tough on the body, that goes without saying, but imagine what it does to your life, your relationships, your ability to pay bills, have tradesmen come to your house to do work, visit the doctor etc. It’s gruelling.
Jonas is lucky, he’s got me as his backup “daywalker” representative to the world, but what if you’re single? How do you get all that stuff done? How do you even get out and about to meet someone?
And that 3.5hr lesson was tough on us. So after we were thrown in the deep end, Zumbo plied everyone with glasses of rose bubbly, packed two of each of the cakes into little boxes and fancy carry bags and then sent us on our merry way.
Nat, Coco Chanel and I headed down to Rosso Pomodoro and, in the parking lot of an industrial wharf, ate beautiful pizzas off the hood of Coco Chanel's BMW. As Nat said, it was "very mafia".
What a night. Pure bliss!