How does an obsession with creating the perfect dessert contribute to culinary tourism development? Danny Ho, executive pastry chef at Hotel ICON, was recently granted the prestigious title of 2016 PATA Face of the Future award and explains how his passion for the culinary arts evolved into a celebration of his heritage and opportunities for other rising talents.
Can you share a bit about your background in culinary arts, and how it led you to your current role?
I have always loved pastry, going back to when I was 3 years old and I would help my mother bake butter cake every weekend. I started to dream about being a professional pastry chef. Carrying out this dream and vision, I went to culinary school in Malaysia and further developed my career in Hong Kong when I was 23 years old. I still try to improve my skills and explore the world of culinary arts through various courses and studies in Europe and elsewhere.
What first ignited this passion for the art of pastry?
I’ve loved drawing and handicrafts since I was a child. I would always steal fresh fruits from the fridge and carve them into different decorations, and would garnish my plate with vegetables (although my parents would stop me).
What are some examples of how you incorporate local flavors and ingredients into your cuisine?
Although I was trained by a French pastry chef, I always thought that no matter how outstanding my French pastries are, they are still not my own culture. That’s why I started to fuse French technique with Asian flavors, using fruits like durian as my main ingredients.
What’s an example of a durian dessert?
Durian cheese tart was my first generation of a fusion dessert that represents the blend of French pastry skills and Asian food culture. It was a successful creation and, as time passes, more and more people come to Hotel ICON specifically for this durian tart.
Where do you find your inspiration for new and creative dishes?
Hotel ICON is the place where I find my inspirations and bring them to life. Because it’s a teaching hotel, with the slogan “unlike any other,” the culture here is unique and special. This area of Hong Kong is highly competitive in terms of luxury international hotels, so I always remember that while anyone can follow existing ideas, no one can copy my original prototype.
For example, durian is a very rare ingredient to be found in a hotel because people either love it or hate it, there’s no in between. Yet because of the hotel’s business concept, I took the risk to include this item and it turned out to be a huge success. If you never try, you never know.
How do you compare working in a cutting-edge teaching hotel like Hotel ICON versus previous positions?
There is a big difference between Hotel ICON and other hotels as it encourages more ideas and promotions. Not only related to operation but also in terms of training. As the executive pastry chef, I need to balance both operation and training, which is not an easy job but is definitely rewarding.
Do you think culinary arts in Asia Pacific are gaining more recognition?
Yes, the culinary arts in Asia Pacific is moving up in status, and more Asian chefs are starting to be recognized for their talent.
How can the culinary industry help human capital development in Asia Pacific nations?
I train a lot of young pastry chefs every year, not only in pastry making and in preparing for competitions, but also in trying to transform the pastry arts into part of their education. Many of my students are now becoming successful in their careers. I also started a room package that includes a pastry class a few months ago and the feedback has been overwhelming; the package doesn’t merely bring in revenue, but also boosts food and beverage sales and helps promote culinary education as a whole.
What else can hotels and restaurants do to entice young people into this industry?
Take risks and try new ideas. Use new ingredients that represent your culture and that you’re confident in. If you never try, you never know. You might find success in one out of 50 ideas, but still it’s a good idea.
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