Feb. 18, 2022

Part I Pushing the Pastry Envelope with Aussie Chef Gunawan


In part 1 we meet Australian Chef, Instructor, and Pastry Artist Gunawan.  As a boy growing up in Indonesia around flavorful foods and spices, he wasn’t allowed to be in the kitchen – in fact, he didn’t even know how to turn on a stove until he went off to cooking school in Malaysia. Tune in and learn about his culinary journey from the front of the house connecting with customers, to the fast-paced kitchen where he quickly mastered the culinary arts and discovered an outlet for his artistic side through patisserie.  He expanded his knowledge even further at the University of Toulouse Le Mirail, then moved on to Le Cordon Bleu in France to pursue his passion in the pastry arts.  Then you’ll hear the story of his first competition and how it helped launch his amazing culinary career.
 

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Transcript

Michael Dugan:

am really excited because we are bringing you a chef, a pastry chef and a chef from Australia. I want to welcome him. So today, I want to welcome kind of one good one. Thanks for coming on the show today.

Gunawan:

Michael, thanks for having me in your show.

Michael Dugan:

Just so excited. I wanted to start out with sharing a little bit about your childhood. What was it like growing up and where were you?

Gunawan:

Oh, I was in Indonesia when I was growing up. I mean, Indonesia is a country with rich spices, full of foods journey. You know, I grew up with a lot of different types of food a lot of eating.

Michael Dugan:

Definitely an early age. How would you say you were connected to food? Can you paint a little bit of a picture for us what it was like, you know, was it your your mom that did the cooking your aunt, your family your dad?

Gunawan:

Well, I will say the surrounding my mom cook a lot of foods. I think our home my mom will cook from 5am 10am and then 5pm So we always have food on the table. Every breakfast every lunch and everything. And with breakfast we have different types of breakfast and I would say in Australia so in the morning we will have some fried rice, fried noodles, you know a little bit heavy for a breakfast.

Michael Dugan:

Fried rice and fried noodles for breakfast. That's that's pretty heavy.

Gunawan:

But it's a common beef in Indonesia. So we don't eat you know, like toast with poached egg or something. So it's something different.

Michael Dugan:

As a kid were you connected. Were you excited about cooking or is it something that happened later on?

Gunawan:

Well, it's funny as a kid, especially a boy in Asian household we're not allowed to be in the kitchen. It's like your boy probably because they worried or concerned about hazard. You know, you're still young. So every time I tried to cook something on my own, they're like, my mom was like, No, I'll cook it for you. So I never have a chance to be in the kitchen.

Michael Dugan:

Oh, I see. Okay, but what about the tasting of foods? Like as a kid were there any special foods that you enjoyed any special dishes?

Gunawan:

Well, I'm the sweet tooth myself. So if my relative or my sister traveling, it always bought me chocolate. Oh especially just for me because we are six siblings. I come from six sibling family and im the youngest my sister and brother if they're traveling they always support each other. And that's what my favorite memories about having sweets.

Michael Dugan:

I see. Okay, as you were growing up, when did you decide you kind of wanted to learn about cooking and maybe think about becoming a chef.

Gunawan:

Well, it's sort of kind of journey, where it's actually related to the arts. I always had a passion about arts since I was in kindergarten, I love drawing. And then I thought I want to pursue my career in arts. So I told my dad that I want to go for multimedia design in uni but then he is is now making money. He wanted me to be a doctor. He wanted me to be a lawyer. But then I was like, no going for hospitality because my friend told me you can just get a job in anywhere. You can be a front of house or back of house. He can be part of our security, housekeeping. It can be anything without knowing anything about hospitality. I just choose to do it. So when I was in the kitchen at first it was very funny because I don't even know how to turn on the stove. You know. I went to Malaysia to study it's a French culinary obviously I'm away from family. I need to stay on my own. So I rented apartment with a house and I want to cook instant noodle. So mainly I need to cook I need to turn on the stove and water so I need to knock his door. Hey, do you know how to turn on the stove? And he was like I thought you study hospitality. You should know how to turn on the stove as they work. This is my first time being away.

Michael Dugan:

Oh my god. So I have to tell you about this brought back this amazing memory. I was in college I live in Washington State in Seattle, Washington. And in eastern Washington and went to school at Washington State University and I had a roommate that was a really big bodybuilder. I came downstairs one time and he heard this ouch, ouch, ouch. ouch. And I looked at him and I watched him he was making a grilled cheese sandwich. Just a grilled cheese sandwich in a pan. But the pan was hot. He was turning his fingers not with a spatula or anything because he didn't know how to cook so I had to teach him how to cook like he uses bachelor use, you know some kind of utensil to protect your hands but he was using his fingers to turn you know the grilled cheese and the cheese was like burning his fingers. This brought back that memory that I had to share but at so interesting really know how to cook at the time.

Gunawan:

People always ask me do you like to cook since you were younger? That's why you choose to be a chef. By the way when I was studying to be a chef, I almost puke when I see the chef cut the chicken because I used to be the vegetarian before and then I was just practicing for a year and they were when they get into college and slightly seen the chef cut the chicken I was like I've almost puke and I told my curve mate. Like can you cut all the protein? I will do anything for you. I'll wash the dishes for you or cut all the vegie it's up but you helped me with a protein and I was really really bad in the kitchen. But during that time I actually liked Front of House as being a waiter. I love interacting with the customers. I love to upselling many. Hey, why don't you buy these whether this is really great combination with your orange fry or something. They love your idea. When they enjoy the meal they actually said they get to you and that's kind of like an achievement to me or a very good satisfaction. So I really love to see their smile when they're happy to dine in. I wanted to be Restaurant Manager. I don't want to spend my whole life in the kitchen because I don't like their kitchen. And it's funny I'm stuck in the kitchen. So how the story goes is because I'm picking if I'm score straight A for my f&b but zero or very bad score in teaching. I can't I can't pass by college. What I'm thinking is that every night there is senior classes that require teaching Comi so they need to have a junior as they Comi in so they become the sous chef or become the head chef they need to train.

Michael Dugan:

Quick. Tell us what what is a Comi?

Gunawan:

Comi basically the first spring in the kitchen because the copier, we have this hierarchy in the military. There is Comi, DemiChef, Chef de Partie, Junior Sous Chef, Sous Chef and then Senior Sous Chef, The Head Chef, and Executive Chef, I would say you know like so there is a hierarchy that we need to respect responsibility as well. In a restaurant, mostly just a Comi, Sous Chef, The Head Chef.

Michael Dugan:

That makes sense because you know large kitchen like a hotel style kitchen. You're gonna have that whole hierarchy, that whole structure.

Gunawan:

So then I volunteer myself every night to be the kitchen. I still love being in front of house. So I just do it purely because I wanted to pass my college. Okay, not because I want to be in the kitchen, but the more I know about kitchen, It builds the confidence so the senior keep telling me you are naturally good at basic stuff. And they really happy with my work. So I would say everyone want to book me as Comi. All the senior been fighting to get me so I've been doing that for a semester. So I actually never leave college in the morning to afternoon. I'm studying for my semester, and then at night, I'll be volunteering to help the Senior. So that's going to be Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I'll be in the kitchen. But Tuesday and Thursday volunteer to be the restaurant service as the bartender so I get to see I get to see how they do table setting or ala carte setting. Or I like it. So there is two different types of setting in the restaurant. I'm just being the first year or first semester students, right? We're not being bought about how to do tabletop. setting. So when I get into second semester before lecture, I already know how to do this. So the lecture was wondering like Oh, I haven't taught you this how come you know this? Well in semester one I never go home? Every day. I'm just being in college and learn from the senior. Then come towards industrial placement, which is you do work placement in the industry right? They placed me into the restaurant which is in a resort for a breakfast buffet. I think my personality is like I love challenges. And to me the buffet was it has been a challenge because I can't offer them anything to upsell, you know. And I can't do you know, tableside service or flambe. And I feel really proud about doing that. I love that experience.

Michael Dugan:

That's true artists coming up.

Gunawan:

I think that's what helps me to build my career today is that I learn about seeing the guest expression and emotion is always behind the kitchen right? Remember see how much customer enjoy the food they give you the feul to do better to give them more experience that wow them. I think I'm privileged or I got more advantage because I used to work in front that I see firsthand a customer's expression. Do they enjoy the experience? They enjoy the food that helps me how to give them experience being a chef. So let's continue when I was working in the restaraunt right. During buffet I was like I don't learn anything to me. I felt like I don't learn anything. So I volunteer myself to get into kitchen again. Because I don't want to waste my time. And then finally I get pastry kitchen. That's when I found out that I can actually put up art on a plate. In a moment plate is like the white blank canvas and then you just draw it for example like Raspberry Coolie, you put bright color or and then you put your dessert you can put any anything because to me. Why pastry is because in pastry it's more forgiving. I would say you have more time to prepare. So most of your dessert stuff you prepare beforehand where cooking. It's like last minute,

Michael Dugan:

You're always railing it to use the kitchen term. "Put it on the rail" which means get it out right now.

Gunawan:

Yeah, and hot food need to be served hot. Where with dessert you have more chances to make it pretty or you have delicate hand to put it slowly with hot food. It doesn't mean that you can't put art on that hot foot but probably because my sweet tooth as well that leads me to pastry.

Michael Dugan:

So that hat's how it began. And this was Hospitality Management?

Gunawan:

Yes, correct. I was studying food engineering in Universit de Toulouse-le-Mirail so it's a French culinary school, specialize in full engineering where I studied food science, food sociology, cooking & F&B. In Malaysia, I have to finish my degree in Toulouse, which is south of France. Okay, that's how I get the experience to be in France and then Malaysia, France and then after I came back from my degree, I decided I want to be focused more in pastry. So I chose the Le Cordon Bleu.

Michael Dugan:

And that's where things really happen.

Gunawan:

Yes, when I studied my uni, it's more general. You study everything basic general it's not specialize.

Michael Dugan:

And what kind of area to just specialize in? t

Gunawan:

In patisserie which is make the desert.

Michael Dugan:

Was there anyone there that influenced you? Like, woke you up and said this is where I want to go?

Gunawan:

Honestly, it's like I said, the first time I wanted to do art, but I wasn't allowed to. And then I chose hospitality just because I just need to find a job. And then I realized, hey, can he put my art on the plate but in a different medium. I want to do digital arts, but then now I can actually put the food as an arts for people to enjoy. And you know, I think that's different types of arts but still doing what I want to do. I can draw stuff from my imagination to the plates and play with flavors. I think play with it flavors, sort of like arts as well.

Michael Dugan:

We need to make sure that we share your Instagram with our audience and I'll have that available for them. And we'll talk about that later. But you have some amazing desserts and designs in your Instagram. I am just I look at it and go it's really incredible what you've created. What you can create in cooking school. Is that where you competed in competition I saw something about the Asia Pastry Cup?

Gunawan:

2013 I moved to Australia to study so that first competition I went to is Dilmah High Tea Challenge competition. Okay, and that's when the first time I discovered making something outside the box so when I first came to Australia, everyone complains about macaroons being to sweet. The shells are sweet the filling are sweet people are generally putting chocolate feeling raspberry or raspberry jam or a salted caramel or something. Anything sweet on sweet and then on the way in the past to college. I was thinking about Chinese cooking. There is sweet sour pork, sweet spicy beef, lemon chicken and thinking there is a sweet element in the savory why can I reverse that to dessert. Why can't I take the sweetness and put savory in it ? The shell is sweet. So now the feeling I need to take away that sweetness and then put something else putting sour putting spicy putting, you know spices that make them different. I came up with permanent on my crew when I first made it none of my classmates wanted to try. Only my lecture is my mentor still today. He tried and he said keep doing what you're doing you'll go far and you know that gives me a few or a motivation to do more my friends have refused to try not even touching because they think Tomyum yuck. It's like yuck, it's like I have white chocolate in it. I have spices why can't you drink cinnamon latte or you drink chai latte where it has lots of spices? But you can't have Tomyum spices its spices there is no chicken. There's no prawn in it but it's just a spices, pure spices that give the Tomyum flavor right

Michael Dugan:

Can you describe what Tomyum is like?

Gunawan:

To me that's like full of flavor like sour, sweet, spicy everything to one. So why I'm thinking about that because it's something that I love to drink or to eat. And that helped me to create some flavor or new flavor because something that I already know or something that I eat often I have the knowledge because I believe pilot is knowledge. That's why I respect those people who are going around like your wife Michael has been trying a lot of different restaurants. If they say oh I'm not chef. I can't give you any advice because they have more knowledge than me. They travel everywhere and try different foods. I wanted to have their feedback because they have great experience great skills and palette. To me that is knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Michael Dugan:

Knowledge is definitely power. And you know it's funny, we have traveled a lot and I I was in Italy a few years ago and I had ever tried to Gelotto and she brought me into Florence at a Gelotto stand and it was just the experience of tasting Gelato in Italy for the first time was absolutely incredible. So she she knew about all these things. You know, I been a cooking school and I cooked for a while worked in restaurants never experienced gelato and it was this explosion of flavors. So yeah, I have to agree with you about that.

Gunawan:

And yes, my friend refused to try Tomyum Macaroons and stuff. And then I proved myself by joining competition. Okay, I put the Tomyum Macaroons in the competition. I was still students and I didn't know what the competition for I just signed, signed myself up. I didn't know that all my competitors from hotel they are Head Chef and Head Pastry Chef.

Michael Dugan:

it's fantastic.

Gunawan:

Give me a break. I'm just a student. I was very young as well. And the last is to present my my food so I was really nervous because like if we Head Chef and I tried to break the ice, I tried to talk to them and say oh, we from where you are in the state. I'm working in Stanford. What's your position? And then there was I am the Head Chef but it wasn't really the friendly vibe. Probably because they tried to focus at the competition. Maybe they just be nervous or something. But I just felt like they're not welcome. So I just walk away. Hopefully, try to distract myself by trying to talk to people so they have forgot that I'm in competition because I'm the last person to present when they come to present. I was only have very simple table setting. Everyone else has Alice in Wonderland Team. Yes, they have all these boxes. They have all the trees that were made into sort of fast and I stole a flower from my school. Put it on and it is a white plain table. I was like all the friends from everyone's I lost a mark and because I did not know table setting you got the mark as well. So I lose mark on that as well but never mind to me. Competition. It's about experience. I will await myself before I even doing anything because I have the courage to do it. It's helping me to build confidence. To me competition is never about loosing. You'll never lose anything because you only gain you get inspired by people. You learn something from other people and you gain experience you gain your confidence. So I enjoy about competitions that I don't say about winning or losing I gain experience. I gain confidence. I you know I get inspired by other people's product.

Michael Dugan:

That's really great advice to provide for people who are listening because you do gain knowledge and experience when you compete. And you don't always have to be really aggressive about competing. It's a learning experience. It's a journey.

Gunawan:

To me who you need to compare is yourself from yesterday. The only person they compare is the past you always want to be better. Every day you learn to be better. So you're not comparing yourself to other people. You compare yourself with yourself from yesterday.

Michael Dugan:

Definitely that's an amazing story and and so that was 2012?

Gunawan:

2012 and 2013

Michael Dugan:

And then what happened after that because obviously when that happened, something changed with you.

Gunawan:

The judges were impressed with

Gunawan Profile Photo

Gunawan

Gunawan is award winning chef, he crowned as Lakanto Most Outstanding Pastry Chef 2020 and also Savour Patissier of the year 2016 PC award best tart winner. He is always passionate about arts. He found out he can express his art onto plate in culinary world. Thus he pursue his career being a chef. After more than 10 years he has been in Industry, he want to give back to community by sharing his knowledge and skills by doing cooking classes in Australia and Internationally. One of his goal is to get inspired by people who he inspired.