In the past decade we have seen many Asian countries rise to the top of the pastry world. In 2019 Malaysia pastry team reached the highest recognition winning La Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie in Lyon (France) for the first time after competing in prior years always reaching the top 10 teams. It was clear that the world turned their eyes to Malaysia.
For the issue #27 of so good, I had the opportunity to interview pastry chef Chong Ko Wai, his experience, passion and determination helped shaped the idea of C3 Lab, along with chef Lawrence Bobo world-class talented pastry chefs. Their work is elegant and innovative. As Chong Ko Wai says, ‘authenticity and clean looking pastry is our pastry’s style’. The chef, better known on Instagram by the nickname Bread Pitt, also invites us to reflect on fundamental questions in the trade such as creativity. Does the pastry chef really create? Or rather, as he states, do we improvise from the knowledge we have received?
When did you realize you wanted to be a pastry chef?
At first, it never crossed my mind and I have never expected to find myself in pastry industry. Without having much future career choice, I came across a baking school coincidentally. After doing some practical class, I found my interest and passion grew stronger. One of the reason back then was because pastry and baking involve more practical learning rather than theoretical learning, and I feel more alive doing it.
Could you describe and explain your culinary upbringing?
I am the only one in my family who have a career in culinary industry especially in modern pastry. After graduated from the baking school, my first priority at that moment is to secure a job in order to practice what I learnt. I started my first job as a Taiwanese bakery commis. During that time, I did not have much option, the social media was not like these days where everything is just one click away. The option was very limited, so back then I used to go to bookstore during my off days. There were two Japanese pastry books that had a huge impact for my career and since that day I realized that pastry is what I want to pursue. I am blessed to have met so many friends and chefs along my journey who shared not only their knowledge but also their experience. And I am also lucky that I used to be a pastry instructor at Academy of Pastry Art Malaysia for roughly 8 years.
‘Authenticity and clean looking pastry is our pastry’s style’
What are the main obstacles you have to overcome to become the chef you are now?
Instead of obstacle, I will say it’s a challenge. One of the biggest challenges so far is to juggle between a chef and an entrepreneur at the same time. As a chef, I usually prioritize my creation to ensure the masterpiece are at its finest to present to public. The more difficult the craft, the more satisfying it is for me. Whereas as an entrepreneur, I need to make sure the business will be sustainable and profitable. In other words, both as a chef and an entrepreneur’s perspective can be contradicting.
How did you get the nickname ‘Architect of Cakes’?
I am not sure how I ended up with this nickname, but in my opinion all pastry chefs are an architect of their own pastry as every chef constructs their cake both in taste and appearance while calculating the most suitable component to be used, the right amount of ratio to achieve exceptional taste and not to mention its visual experience.
‘All pastry chefs are an architect of their own pastry as every chef constructs their cake both in taste and appearance’
How do you get along with Chef Lawrence Cheong?
My partner Lawrence Cheong and I met each other since our first job as an opening team for a local hotel, so we have known each other for a long time. We both share our idea and thoughts all the time to improve and inspire each other work in order to achieve the best result. We both always handle different project and seasonal product separately and this includes making the product from idea to end product before presenting them to our team as we think the whole team’s feedback is equally valuable for our creation.
Why the name C3-Lab?
C3 Lab consists of me, Lawrence, and another investor’s where all of our name starts with an “C”, where we first started as an R&D company. Sweet Innovation is because we focused on innovating on pastry that has been passed down through generation rather than creating something new in accordance with contemporary trend and need. As I was once told, we never actually create, however what we are doing now is just merely improvising from pastry’s fundamental knowledge that has been passed down, because if we say ‘create’, it means making the pastry from scratch without any influence of pastry’s fundamental.
‘My team always focus on product quality and by setting our own pastry trend instead of following the market trend’
How do you set yourself apart from the competition?
I would say authenticity and clean looking pastry is my pastry’s style. As for C3 Lab, me, Lawrence and my team always focus on product quality and by setting our own pastry trend instead of following the market trend, with this, we hope to be able to provide a vibrant contrast to the market.