Last April 11, the Pastry Alliance of the Philippines (PAP) earned a competition ticket to the 2015 World Pastry Cup after Rizalino Mañas, Bryan Dimayuga, and coach Chef Romain Renard impressed the judges with their pastry masterpieces. First-time qualifier Philippines, along with Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and China, will compete next year in Lyon, France for the top spot in what is regarded as “the greatest worldwide competition for pastry professionals.”
Over Sinfully's cocktail-infused cupcakes and dainty éclairs, we’ve talked with Romain, Executive Pastry Chef of Makati Shangri-la, to congratulate him on his team’s recent victory as well as to get to know his beginnings in the pastry world. Below is our Q&A with the French-born “accidental” pastry chef.
You’ve led the Philippine team and successfully secured a spot in the upcoming World Pastry Cup. Can you tell us more about this feat?
I’m the coach and the judge for the Philippine team. We competed against nine nations, from India to China to Sri Lanka to Australia. The top five countries were selected to compete in the 2015 Pastry World Cup in Lyon, France. It’s a good thing for the Philippines to participate in such a competition because it brings up the country’s culinary level and education.
What exactly happens in a World Pastry Cup? Because right now we are imagining it as the dessert counterpart of the Olympics, with chefs tossing desserts high up...
(Laughs) No, no, no. It’s an eight-hour long competition. Basically you have to do a sugar showpiece and a chocolate showpiece; plated desserts for twenty people, and two chocolate cakes. You have guidelines to follow and you have a theme.
How extensive is the preparation for such an event?
It’s a matter of being ready mentally and physically. Eight hours is long and there’s a lot of work to do so preparation is extensive.
Aside from the recent World Pastry Cup qualification, you have a slew of accomplishments under your belt. But first, let’s go back in time and recall how all these started. Can you tell us about your earliest food memory?
Definitely my grandmother’s food: roasted chicken. She also used to make that really old-fashioned chocolate mousse. It was the best thing to eat.
How early on did you know that you wanted to immerse yourself in the culinary world?
I started when I was fifteen. I basically went to a fair trade exposition when I was fourteen. In France, people who weren’t very good at school have to find a job. I chose culinary and twenty years later I’m still enjoying it.
Where did you first have your first professional experience?
I started to train in a small pastry shop in Paris. I wasn’t doing pastries though. I did sandwiches. That lasted for about six months. They transferred me to pastry after that.
Lemon Margarita Cocktail Cupcake
So you were really into pastry early on…
No. I actually wanted to become a chef. When I filled up the application form in the school they told me I wasn’t good enough and that I have to take up pastry first.
Tequila Sunrise (orange cake laced with tequila, topped with grenadine and orange frosting)
Well that rejection turned out good for you, didn’t it? It was a good “accident”.
Yeah, you could call it that. (laughs)
How did you end up here in the Philippines then?
I left home back in 1998, moved to England because I didn’t speak English at that time. I spent a couple of years there, went back home. Then I worked as Chef de Partie Patissier in the Michelin-starred Restaurant L’Esperance, a very famous restaurant back home. Then I went to the States and stayed for about seven years between New York (Sous Chef Patissier at Restaurant Daniel) and Washington. Then I moved to Italy for a couple of years. Then I moved to Dubai. Then I went back home to work as a consultant for a chocolate company (Ecole Du Grand Chocolat Valrhona in Lyon, France). But I find life abroad a little more exciting and challenging so I left again. When the opportunity to work in the Philippines came, I took it. I’ve been here for close to a year already.
Strawberry Daiquiri (strawberry cake laced with dark rum and topped with a strawberry and rum buttercream frosting)
When you first arrived here, what were your first impressions of Philippine desserts?
It’s very different from European desserts in terms of flavors and ingredients, that’s for sure. But compared to other Asian desserts, it’s very similar, like if you go to Vietnam or to Singapore, for instance. You find a lot of similar flavors but each country has its own touch of course.
Have you tried our local chocolates? What to you think of Philippine cocoa?
The flavor profile is very interesting. It’s a little bit acidic. Some of them are smoky also, and that makes it tricky to use. The aromatic profile is good. However, I think professionals like us should work with people in the farms and teach them how to properly process the beans. Chocolate is a very expensive product; you have to treat it well.
As someone who has worked extensively with chocolates, what is one of the common misconceptions in understanding it?
People seem to think that the higher percentage of cocoa, the better the chocolate is. But sometimes you can have a very nice 56% cocoa compared to a 70%. I think it really depends on how the beans have been harvested and where they come from.
You’ve created your own line of desserts here in Makati Shangri-la. What do people like so far?
The classics. Here in Circles, we have a rotation of 120 desserts so it's really hard to say. People seem to like our mango and chocolate products.
Mango and Strawberry Sphere
Milk Chocolate and Coffee Finger
We’ve seen trends in the dessert industry. Can you give us an insider’s insight on what do you think will be the next big thing in the pastry world?
What’s big right now in Paris? Eclairs are coming back. It used to be the macaron a few years ago. I believe here in Manila, it was also a big hit. So yeah, probably the éclairs.
Cocktail Cupcakes and Assorted Eclairs
Do you favor a particular cuisine when cooking and eating?
When eating, I like Japanese food. In terms of cooking, I like to touch everything. It can be Arabic, Indian, or European… anything.
What’s your cooking philosophy?
Keep it simple and flavorful. Work with the best ingredients that you can find.
Do you have tips for aspiring chefs? Maybe some words of wisdom to 14 year olds who are about to go and choose culinary training at the fair trade exposition?
Think twice before you get into this industry because if this is really what you want, it will take a lot of sacrifice to reach a certain level. A lot of people think that cooking is fun. Well, yes, it is fun but it’s a tough, tough job. Only your motivation will take you to the next level.
Kahlua Mudslide (chocolate cake laced with Kahlua and topped with Kahlua buttercream frosting)
Chef Romain Renard is at the helm of producing an extensive range of chocolates and patisseries for Sinfully Circles Event Café, Sinfully by Makati Shangri-La at Greenbelt 5, as well as the signature dessert line for the entire hotel operations.
You may sample his artisanal breads and pastries at Circles Event Café from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m or in Sinfully by Makati Shangri-La, a stand-alone dessert boutique at Greenbelt 5, open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays to Thursdays; and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Additional photos courtesy of Makati Shangri-la, Manila