April 26, 2009
Soy sauce in chocolate
Chef Oriol Balaguer has a knack for making you take the salty with the sweet
By Fiona Low
G rowing up in Calafell, Spain, pastry and dessert chef Oriol Balaguer lived every child's dream. With a father who was a pastry chef, he had his fill of sweet treats all day long.
'I had what most would call the perfect childhood,' he says. 'I was born wrapped in the smell of chocolate. I became impregnated with it.'
It is little wonder then that the 37-year-old is one of the most celebrated dessert chefs in the industry today.
After spending seven years as head pastry chef at the renowned El Bulli restaurant in Catalonia, the Spaniard started his first confectionary studio in Barcelona in 2002. There, he develops two unique pastry and confectionery collections every year.
Famed for his unusual confectionery creations, Balaguer has been wowing dessert lovers with strangely shaped chocolates, including some moulded to resemble golf balls. He is also known for his use of unconventional ingredients such as soy sauce and wasabi in his chocolates.
His creations were presented at mezza9, Grand Hyatt Singapore, from last Tuesday to yesterday as part of the World Gourmet Summit.
The entrepreneurial chef currently has four establishments under his belt, including two chocolate boutiques in Spain and one in Tokyo, in addition to the studio in Barcelona. On his decision to break into the Asian market, he says: 'Japan is at the forefront of haute cuisine and my creations are well-received by the Japanese.'
The father of two was named Best Pastry Chef in Spain last year by the Royal Spanish Academy of Gastronomy, an organisation that regulates the players in the Spanish food industry.
'Desserts are an indispensable part of any meal, and to be able to create that final sensation and memory is the best part of my profession,' he says.'
What is your philosophy when it comes to food?
To create an unexpected sensory experience through my desserts.
What is the most unusual dessert you have ever created?
I have two very unusual creations: orange sorbet and olive oil, with jellied sweet wine; and tomato soup with basil and parma ice cream.
They are both desserts which combine sweet and salty flavours, and can either be an appetiser or a dessert.
What is your biggest challenge when handling so many establishments?
Being a pastry chef is my dream, my passion and my hobby. As such, I see more opportunities than challenges in my work. But I suppose the most difficult thing would be balancing family time with my work commitments.
Do you ever get tired of working with chocolates and desserts?
No, sweets are my work and my passion.
What is your favourite ingredient to work with?
Chocolate, of course. It is the most enjoyable and versatile product to work with.
What is your favourite dessert?
Bread with Spanish chocolate and olive oil. My mother used to make it for me every day after school.
What is your ultimate comfort food?
Spanish food, especially jamon, which is Spanish cured ham, with Catalan tomato bread.
Where do you get inspiration from?
Inspiration can be found everywhere - from a memory, a song, an image - as in the case of my creation, Sydney (below), which was inspired by the Sydney Opera House. It has crunchy yoghurt cookie with Tahitian vanilla mousse and white chocolate cream.
What is your signature creation?
My seven-texture chocolate. The Culinary Institute of America says that in one spoonful, you get 'frozen chocolate, chocolate in its liquid state, a light, airy mousse, a slip-though-your-teeth gelee, a ganache, a cookie with some crackle and the snap-at-a-bite sheets of tempered chocolate that encases the other elements'.
WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?
Jamon with Catalan tomato bread, chocolate and champagne. It was the first meal that I had with my wife Marta, and I would like that to be my last as well, and with her.