When Frederic Deshayes was a pastry instructor at At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy, he baked one cake a day for classroom demonstrations.
These days, he moves at a much faster pace - baking 10 cakes in an hour to keep up with orders at his two- month-old French bakery and cafe, Do.Main Bakery in Tanjong Katong Road.
The 45-year-old Frenchman says: "Running a bakery involves more physical than intellectual work.
"Nowadays, I knead more than 50kg of dough daily in four batches. When I was teaching, I had to deal with questions on baking methods and ingredients from students, which challenged me to think beyond what I knew."
He was head of the pastry and baking faculty at At-Sunrice, where he kick-started diploma programmes in pastry-making. Prior to teaching there, he also taught pastry- making at Le Cordon Bleu in France for 11.5 years.
After nine years of teaching in Singapore, he decided to seek a new challenge as the school programmes he developed had not changed.
He says: "I wanted to move to another country, but since my family has settled down here, I decided to explore another side of pastry-making."
Not surprisingly, four of his five-member team at Do.Main Bakery are former students from At-Sunrice.
He says: "Previously, I had to demonstrate baking skills and knowledge in the classroom, now I expect my staff to deliver what I have taught them."
However, fielding questions on breads and pastry remain part of his job. "Now, I explain to my customers what I have told my students, though questions from customers are less complicated."
Do.Main Bakery shines the spotlight on classic French pastries and breads, such as apple tarts, eclairs, cream puffs and baguettes, what he learnt as an apprentice 30 years ago in Lenotre pastry school in France.
The cafe also serves savoury dishes such as a croque monsieur (bread layered with bechamel, Emmental cheese and kurobuta ham) and oven-baked escargots.
After pastry school, Deshayes embarked on a globetrotting career.
He has worked as a pastry chef in the five-star Plaza Athenee Hotel in Paris with celebrity chef Christophe Michalak, Patisserie Gregory Collet in Japan, Paris Croissant by Lenotre in South Korea and had stints in Belgium and Britain.
He is married to a French freelance fashion designer, and has a 14-year-old daughter.
He says: "Before coming to Singapore, I had not remained in one country for more than five years. I like taking on new opportunities that come my way."
Why does your bakery focus on classic French pastries?
These classics are disappearing from bakeries, even in France, as pastry chefs follow the trend of creating showpieces and molecular cuisine, without knowing the basics such as shaping a tart.
How do you keep baguettes crisp in Singapore's humid weather?
It lies in a longer fermentation time for the dough. I let the dough develop for 36 hours, and the starch breaks down into sugars, so the baked product remains crispy for a
longer period of time.
What are your favourite French pastries?
Apple tart, as it is light and fruity, and is portable.
I also like cream puffs, which I learnt how to make in Japan.
The combination of butter, custard and whipped creams is light and flavourful. It is tricky to make as the cream will collapse if any of the components is too cold or warm.
You attended culinary school before signing up for a pastry course. Why did you make this switch?
I preferred to work in the cold than warm side of the kitchen, as I used to itch from sweating when working near the stove. Besides, cooking is about gut feel.
When I started out, I liked to follow recipes and protocol strictly when making pastries. I preferred to follow guidelines than cook based on feelings. How did your family inspire your career as a pastry chef?
None of my family members was from the food and beverage industry. My mother was a cashier in a hardware shop and my father was a building painter.
My mother did not have time to cook, but she liked having a beautiful and well-equipped kitchen.
I had the advantage of trying recipes learnt in school at home.
What is your favourite ingredient to work with?
Plain flour as it is the most versatile type of flour.
If you know how to balance it with other ingredients such as gluten and starch, you can bake almost everything, from cookies to baguettes to cakes.
What is the best dessert that you've had?
Although I am not a chocolate lover, I will say it is the Plaisir cake, which is made of vanilla mousse and chocolate chantilly cream sandwiched between two layers of almond
sponge cake, with a caramelised top. I like the combination of strong chocolate, light vanilla and caramelised flavours.
What is your favourite kitchen tool?
It is a rolling pin that my grandfather gave me 30 years ago before I entered Lenotre. It has accompanied me on my "world tour" to every country.
What do you think is the hardest pastry to bake?
There's no one hardest pastry to make. The most challenging part is repeating the consistency of taste and quality of the pastries every day.
French pastry chef Pierre Herme once said focus on the details and not on creating perfection.
What is your all-time favourite Singapore food?
I like Peranakan food, especially ayam buah beluak (black nut chicken stew) at Chilli Padi Restaurant in Joo Chiat. I am intrigued by the history behind the cooking process and its fermented taste.
I also like Malay kueh made with coconut or glutinous rice, such as bur bur cha cha and steamed kueh lapis.
I will try it in shops or keep a lookout for them in buffets. I don't try French pastries as they are usually disappointing.
What food do you like to eat when you visit France?
I return to my hometown, Versailles, once every two years. I will have a seafood platter, which consists of poached crabs, shrimps, shellfish and sea escargots and raw oysters. It is best eaten with rye bread. I also have mussels cooked in white wine with French fries.
What is something memorable that a chef has told you?
When I was a 16-year-old apprentice in Lenotre, a chef said to me "Kid, you are here to learn, not to clean", and took the sponge from my hands to clean the kitchen, and pushed me to practise dough- making. I was surprised and very grateful
This article was first published on Feb 22, 2015.
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