Meet the man changing the shape of dessert in Bahrain forever
Pastry chefs tend to be the unsung heroes of the kitchen. How did you first become interested in baking? All of the kids used to read comic books, the only difference was that I had a copy of Gourmet magazine inside mine. As a child, I just loved the idea of chef’s whites, but one photo that really got me interested in cooking altogether was that of Yves Thuriès, the famous French pastry chef, standing by a dessert buffet.
Was it hard to become a pastry chef in your native Australia? I started cooking seriously when my parents retired and moved from Tasmania to the Gold Coast. It was at the age of 14 that I decided to become a pastry chef. People in Australia kept telling me that if they want a pastry chef, then they import one from Europe. There was a general consensus that Australians couldn’t be pastry chefs, and it was this notion that drove me to prove them wrong. That said, we didn’t have the facilities for training back then, so I had to go to Europe to train.
Celebrity chef Gary Rhodes has written the foreword to Arabian Dreams. I understand you used to work for him? Tell me more... When I moved to Europe, my first job was at the Castle Hotel in Taunton, southwest England, which was run by Gary Rhodes. His big thing at the time was trying to prove that English food could also be Michelin Star standard. So he was on a drive to try to perfect the basics, which is what I am trying to do with Arabian Dreams. Just because the tradition of Arabic sweets has a massive history and has been done by housewives here for millennia, it can still be Michelin Star standard. I want to demonstrate ways in which this can be done by the home cook, with good recipes and clear instructions. Now, I can fry an egg as well as the next bloke. But make a cake? How do you convince people to get interested in spending time on the dessert? A lot of people say that they just don’t have time to do pastry, they just don’t have time to do desserts. If you have time to put a lamb in the oven and wait for it to roast, I’d say forget the lamb and make the dessert. I would prefer to make people surprised by my stunning creations when it comes to desserts, because everybody can cook a steak, everybody can roast a chicken – it is so simple these days. I think the one thing that defines a great chef is how well they can do a dessert. I think people are sometimes scared because they don’t have the right ingredients, they don’t have the right utensils and sometimes it doesn’t work out, but what I am hoping to do with Arabian Dreams is show people how to make great desserts simply.
What’s the biggest pitfall when it comes to desserts? People tend to make little changes that they don’t think are big, but which crucially alter the recipe. Pastry is really a science, more so than anything else. If your steak is a little bit tough, you can add a sauce. You can add cream to dry pasta. Pastry takes a little bit more accuracy. In small recipes like these, if you’re weighing the mix in one bowl then transferring it to another bowl, if you don’t scrape the first bowl out, you can lose half an egg yolk. If half an egg yolk wasn’t necessary, it wouldn’t be in the recipe.
Arabian Dreams is your fifteenth book. What makes it different to your other cookbooks? What I want to do through this book, and through the next three books, is to guide people through the Middle East, from the traditions into the more fantastic. I don’t want to make everyone a Michelin starred chef, but I do want to show people that they can create simple to complex food in order to help elevate standards here.
This is the first in a series of four books. What will the others be about? The second book is going to be called Salad Daze. I want to take traditional salads and transform them in ways that people have never thought of. Whether that be turning a Waldorf salad into a dessert, or turning a dessert into a salad. I want things to be floating in mid air, or being encased in something else. The next book will be Cakes, Tortes and Gateaux of the World, which will be revisiting the subject of my first ever book, which was a worldwide bestseller. What I want to do is look at the same cakes that I covered then and look at how I would serve them now. It’s the 21st anniversary since the first book was published, and I want to look at the way that things have changed over the course of my career. The final book will be Swavoury, a pastry chef’s reinterpretation of savouries. Aaron Maree is a consultant pastry chef for companies across the Middle East. Arabian Dream is available now at all Jashanmal bookstores in the country, and at Kumar’s Kitchen Store, priced BD17. He can be contacted on email@example.com