Pastry Chef En-Ming Hsu
This month I got a chance to chat with an old friend and award winning pastry chef En-Ming Hsu.
Give us a quick career summary...
I began in this business after I graduated form college with an Art degree. I always thought I would like to have a career in cooking, but I wasn't sure. I worked at a catering company in Connecticut for 2 years before attending the Culinary Institute of America. I interned for Dieter Schorner at his pastry shop in Washington, DC during that time. After graduating, I spent 2 years in New York City working at Lespinasse restaurant before moving to Chicago. I have been at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago Hotel since then.
Why did you choose to focus soley on pastry?
While I was studying at the CIA, the school began their Baking and Pastry program. I enjoyed baking, so I thought I would give the program a try. I knew then that that was where I belonged. I was the first graduate of the program.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Being a part of the US World Cup Pastry team and winning the Gold Medal.
Do you plan on entering any more cooking competitions?
No. But you never know. Competitions are exciting to participate in, but they require so much time and dedication. Having done that, there are other areas I would like to explore in this field.
How can chefs get involved in the pastry world cup and other competitions like Beaver Creek?
First, it's a good idea to see the various competitions and experience from the other side what the competitors go through. There are almost always opportunities for people to volunteer and help the competition organizers put the event together. That's a potential opportunity to get "backstage" and see upclose some of the things that go on. I suggest that if someone is interested in competing, they should first take on a local competition just to get the exposure. My first competition was a local one sponsored by Amaretto di Saronno. It was a tableside cooking competition and a dessert presentation competition. I singed off my right eyebrow, but won!
It's also helpful if the person works with a chef who competes. In that case, the person should assist the chef in anyway possible. That's probably the best experience. Sometimes, there are classes that are taught at pastry schools on how to prepare for competitions or techniques for competition. Those can be helpful. Getting together with and building relationships with other pastry chefs can lead to establishing a competition team. All competitions have different requirements, so keep that in mind.
Who inspires you?
I am often inspired by cooks who are just starting in this business. They can bring a fresh perspective and spark and help me see things differently.
Which is your favorite cooking magazine?
Saveur is very interesting because I like to learn about other cultures and their foods. I like their choice of topics, as well.
What is the best meal that you have ever had?
I was sitting in the airport waiting for my flight. I bought with me some of Lenny Klug's (my favorite Michigan fruit farmer) Honey Crisp apples. I know an apple hardly constitutes a meal, but I remember thinking that it was the best thing I have ever eaten in my life.
If you were stranded on a dessert island what food would you want with you and what piece of equipment?
A full box of Valrhona's Araguani Chocolate and a refrigerator to keep it from melting.
What book is on your bedside table?
One of Suze Orman's books (can't remember which one). I'm a big Suze fan.
How do you beat the stress of the business?
I turn off almost completely on my days off and on vacations. I'm much better now than I use to be, but overall, I'm pretty good about forgetting about work when I'm away from it. I have also taken up knitting again and a little sewing.
Tell us a secret
Tell us a secret - please.
Okay, I'm really good at keeping secrets. I full of them right now!
If you could have one pastry chef (dead or alive) working in your kitchen who would it be and why?
Dieter Schorner, because he is the pastry chef who would constantly remind me of how to work smart. Working with him would remind me every day of what it really means to be passionate about our work.
Written By: Jeremy Emmerson