Sweet Ambition

Are pastry chefs Australia’s new rock stars? Patisse executive pastry chef and television celebrity, Vincent Gadan talks to Australian Baking Business about enjoying broadcast success while staying true to the craft.

If you can help it, don’t mention roast pork to Patisse head pastry chef, Vincent Gadan.

A tray of raw pork and vegetables was revealed to the French-born pastry chef and his MasterChef opponent, contestant Hayden Quinn during an episode of Network Ten’shit televisionseries in May. Despite decades of dedication to the art of pastry, tutelage under a skilled pastry master and experience at some of Australia’s best restaurants, the talented pastry chef found himself in an uncomfortable food situation.

Staring at a tray of ingredients without a trace of sugar in sight, Mr Gadan didn’t know what to do.

“I was lost. I had heard, after the show, I was against one of the ‘hot’ people on the show, one of the favourite contestants. It wasn’t easy at all,” Mr Gadan explained to Australian Baking Business.

Despite being overwhelmed by a strong urge to turn around and walk away, the 41-year-old was held in place by the gaze of 20 people on set and more than 12 filming cameras. There was only one option: Mr Gadan accepted the challenge, putting his name as a respected pastry chef on the line.

Relying on advise given to him as a child by his mother, Mr Gadan went on to narrowly win the challenge by ensuring his roast wasn’t under cooked, unlike his opponents.

“Don’t ask me how I did, but I did it,” he said. “It was a big challenge in my career. I took a chance.”

Roasting a troublesome piece of protein has turned into a highly profitable gamble for Mr Gadan and Patisse, with interest in the Waterloo-based business spiking following the show.

Patisse was started by owner and director, Michelle Guberina with the aim of bringing Parisian baking styles and traditions to Sydney. Ms Guberina spent time in Paris and rented an apartment to immerse herself in the Parisian lifestyle. Seduced by the food, she decided to come back to Australia with the goal of continuing the traditions of classic baking while using only the best of local produce available. Mr Gadan fit the role of Patisse executive pastry chef perfectly.

The pastry chef first started working with pastry when he was 16 in his home region of Chalon-Sur-Saone in Burgundy, France. He worked as a head pastry chef in many Michelin Star restaurants where he received one of his biggest accolades in 1992, winning first place in the Ardennes-Eiffel Culinary Prize.

He owes much of his success to the tutelage of monsieur Perat.

“Monsiouer Perat was a fantastic man,” Mr Gadan explains. “A very tough man, very tough. It’s a very tough industry to start with, but back in France it’s even tougher. I mean, I was 15 years old and starting at 4am and finishing at 5pm, six days a week. I learnt the tough way, but then again, I thank (Monsiouer Perat) every single day.”

In 1993 Mr Gadan become head pastry chef of the Ritz Carlton Double Bay, followed by positions at Bayswater Brasserie, Level 41, Bistro Moncur and Restaurant IV. After a two-year stint in London at the Goring Hotel in the West End, he returned to Australia to run Guillaume at Bennelong at the Sydney Opera House for three years.

“I love Australia, I love the flavour of Australia. But then again, I’m from France, so I try to a fusion of both cultures. For example, I’ve got a beautiful, passionfruit cheesecake. Cheesecake is not something you find in France, but then again I love the actual texture of it. So I put a bit of French biscuit on it and some glaze, so it’s French/Australian,” Mr Gadan said.

The gregarious pastry chef left Guillaume at Bennelong to join Patisse more than a year ago in the hopes of increasing his profile.

“I wanted to be out there, to have my name (known). I want to show people what I could do, I want to share my knowledge,” Mr Gadan revealed.

“I am very ambitious. So I always say to Michelle, I am pleased (for now), but I will be happy soon, because I always want more and more and more. I want to climb. I really want to show my passion to people. There’s many things I want to achieve. So it’s only the beginning.”

Loving anything with sugar in it, Mr Gadan stays clear of powder-based product and enjoys making tarts, working with vanilla beans and using high-quality Belgium and French chocolate. He made three tarts for MasterChef as part of a masterclass, including an al dente pear tart.

“It’s lovely. You don’t need to do too much to a recipe. If you have good ingredients, that’s it. Let the ingredients talk for you. (Add) sugar and a bit of love as well,” he said.

Sydneysiders have become increasingly interested in French culture and want to become more involved in cooking, Mr Gadan said.

“We’re lucky to be in a good area where people actually know good food. You don’t trick people anymore. If you use good product, people can actually see it and taste it.”

It takes hard work and focus to be an executive pastry chef, Mr Gadan revealed. It all comes down to perfection.

“You can’t really do something ‘so-so’. People expect a lot. Dessert is at the end of the meal, so everything has to be spotless. If you’re creative, if you’ve got a bit of a passion, you’re having a ball,” he said.

“One of the important things to be aware of in pastry is it’s a science. So one little mistake and everything goes to waste. So you can’t be too scared to actually not succeed with the recipe. Don’t be scared to fail, because eventually that will bring you to success.

“You need to have a good recipe and to have good recipes you need to work with the best people around. That’s the way it works.”

Already a regular face on Channel 9’s Mornings With Kerri-Anne, the recent guest appearances on MasterChef and SBS’s Food Safari have propelled him further upwards. In September he joins Ms Guberina in the launch of Patisse’s first week-long international food tour to Chateau Bosgouet in Normandy, France.

Despite the heightened media attention, being an executive pastry chef is still all about plating food up for people to enjoy.

“Happiness is what you give every single day. My biggest reward is actually seeing people smile,” he said.

Just don’t expect to see roast pork served at Patisse any time soon.

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