Lessons in life and craft from a world-class pastry chef and chocolatier (GMA News Online)

Chef Notter concentrates on his chocolate creations

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last March 14, 2014)

It’s not every day that a globally renowned chef steps onto Philippine shores, so I grabbed the opportunity to attend the demonstration of pastry making world champion, Chef Ewald Notter. The chef is known as an innovator and a master of modern-day confectionery arts; he also has a slew of awards under his belt, which includes being the first pastry professional who was inducted in the Pastry Art and Design Hall of Fame. Aside from joining competitions, teaching, and coaching, the chef has also authored several books related to his craft.

As the icing on the cake, Chef Notter recently concluded a series of hands-on classes and demonstrations on chocolate, which was organized by The Pastry Alliance of the Philippines. The organization aims to bring in acclaimed chefs to the Philippines so Filipinos get more exposure to such talent and eventually catch up progress-wise with the other countries in the region.

According to Chef Peachy Juban, the group’s founding officer, “This is our pet project. We wanted to start the series with Chef Notter because he is not only an artist, not just a competitor, but a teacher—first and last.”

In the short span of time that I watched the much-admired chef work in the kitchen, I realized a few things.

It’s not as easy as it looks

Although some people study to become chefs, it takes quite a while to master the craft of cooking—or in this case, chocolate making. The visiting chef made all those grand showpieces and elegant cocoa creations so easy to make, but it probably took him years to perfect the technique.

I saw him put together small elements like white chocolate birds and pink-colored flowers in one showpiece by meticulously sticking each component with melted chocolate, then repeating the procedure in case a certain piece didn’t stick well.

He built several chocolate showpieces that were about a foot or two tall, and that’s quite an achievement considering the local climate is not conducive to chocolate making. His other chocolate displays for that day included one with an elaborate white hat, and others with big, blooming floral attractions.

It takes a lot of discipline

While it is critical to learn the culinary basics and techniques, discipline is an essential value for any chef—and for anyone, for that matter. Having discipline shows your dedication to the craft and helps get you on top of your game.

Chef Notter is multi-awarded and recognized all across the pastry world, but even if he has that status and can afford to have a whole team assist him in the kitchen, he cleaned up after himself at the demonstration anyway.

I witnessed him temper the chocolate on the table by spreading the melted chocolate on the cool kitchen counter and moving it around with a spatula using quick yet smooth strokes. Every time he did it, he wiped the remains and kept his workstation spic-and-span. I know, every chef has to practice that, but it’s still nice to see a top chef actually do it.

Sharing knowledge is key

Aside from Chef Notter’s expertise, it is his ability to teach others that sets him apart from his peers. While doing the chocolate demonstration, the chef accommodated questions from the class and answered each query without losing focus on finishing his showpiece.

Part of being a successful chef is sharing your skills through teaching and allowing others to improve, and in turn, elevating the craft. Chef Notter is an effective teacher because he does exactly that.

After watching the demonstration, my dream of becoming a chef was reawakened (it must be the frustrated cook in me). But since it is not realistic anymore for me to change careers at this stage in my life, I will just settle for watching food shows and chefs at work and learn more about the culinary world and the values that go with it.

I heard The Pastry Alliance of the Philippines will invite more chefs this year, and there will most likely be a “bread guy” coming to town soon. Maybe I’ll be inspired to try my hand at baking then.