It is one of those cases in which the vocation is so powerful that it finally prevails against all odds. Anthony Hart is not only one of the best pastry chefs in Australia today, but also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Photography from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. A ‘creative soul by nature’, as he also defines himself, he always had his pastry destiny clear, although it was not so easy for him, ‘unfortunately, at the age of 17, I fell ill with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and all my plans for tertiary study had to come to a halt. I was lucky enough to recover from the illness and decided that having been given a second chance at life, I was going to strive to pursue what I perceived as the best’ he recalls.
His parents, because of the illness, tried to steer him away from his destiny because of the physical and mental demands it made, but ‘the art of food and pastry kept calling. I had always been told that pastry was a dying art, but I now believe it’s the driving force of what cuisine is today’ Hart says. After completing his studies at Swiss hotel school, in his hometown, Johannesburg (South Africa), he landed a curious first job working with Lebanese ex-soldiers at a large bakery that was distributed nationally, ‘I always found it so peculiar that these pastry chefs who had been through the wars could create such intricate art. What attracted me most was their sheer discipline to complete each task with such perfection’, he says at so good.. 29.
After two years working as the head pastry chef for one of the top five boutique hotels in South Africa, he wanted more and felt the need to travel. Through a French chef friend he ended up at Vue de monde, a luxurious and acclaimed restaurant in Melbourne, ‘it was exactly what I needed at the time. Not only did it allow me to work with some of the best products in Australia, but I also had the privilege of meeting some of the best chefs in the country and the world. It also allowed me to hone my skills in pastry and taught me the fundamentals of management, persistence and creative innovation’ the chef explains. After a period in the United States, with stages at Alinea and L20, Anthony Hart returned to Australia where he later decided to set up his very own ‘Don’t Lose Your Temper’ – a boutique pastry wholesale and retail business. ‘As the products we were producing were being received very well, we decided to open a shop front to extend the brand and add to the identity of the business. It was a fantastic move as we were able to contribute to the amazing food culture in Melbourne and have full creative ownership over our products’.
Currently, the chef has just completed his Bachelor of Arts in Photography at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) while remaining committed to his pastry vocation, displaying a singular style that aims for technical perfection, that obsessively recreates chocolate, that defends the value of simplicity and that sets the focus -literally-, and all his sensitivity on details.
Do you feel more like a pastry chef or a photographer?
I feel I am both really, I love the outcomes of both professions. Creating a beautiful image and creating a beautiful dessert or pastry share so many aspects. I feel incredibly lucky to do both and have access to so many inspiring pastry chefs and photographers.
What do patisserie and photography have in common?
I feel their similarities come from their processes and their results. A good recipe or workflow determines the outcome. Composition, colour, texture, good planning and creative insight, and of course a good understanding of the practice are very important.
‘Creating a beautiful image and creating a beautiful dessert or pastry share so many aspects. I feel incredibly lucky to do both’
How do you define your pastry creations? Which is the concept?
I like to aim for perfection with the technique and flavour combinations I choose. I am a chocoholic, which is why I am always creating desserts with chocolate in mind. Simple is better in many ways, I believe it to be so in pastry very much.
What will pastry, in your opinion, be like in the future? What are the tendencies for the next years?
I feel pastry is moving in a more natural and more sustainable direction focusing more on techniques and allowing the natural ingredients to be at the forefront of the creation. I see this mostly with chocolate suppliers and their efforts to create a more sustainable industry, as well as pastry chefs becoming part of this movement, creating with sustainability in mind, and choosing the companies that are making a difference.
How important is aesthetics in today’s pastry?
I think aesthetics are a large part of pastry, we first eat with our eyes, I guess. I feel it is an attribute to pastry chefs, in general, to create art with food. The current level of pastry chefs and their creations is truly incredible, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the industry.
‘Australian pastry is always growing, and the use of native ingredients is fast becoming a trend, as well as Australian-made ingredients, from chocolate to butter that is world class’
What is missing and what should be eliminated in haute patisserie?
I am very happy to see a general sustainability movement within the food industry, and the elimination of some ingredients that do not suit this movement. As well as the change that many raw material and ingredient producers are making to preserve the future of the industry and the ingredients available. What I feel is missing from the industry is a lack of plant-based and sugar-free alternatives, which we are beginning to see a shift that may give us as pastry chefs far more variety regarding consumer requirements.
What is your opinion on the evolution of pastry making in Australia?
Pastry in Australia has developed hugely since I arrived here in 2008. Pastry ingredients have become far easier to come by and the skill has increased. People like Kirsten Tibballs have also contributed largely by bringing international pastry chefs to Australia as well as supplying relevant and up to-date equipment, books, magazines and ingredients regarding pastry trends. Australian pastry is always growing, and the use of native ingredients is fast becoming a trend, as well as Australian-made ingredients, from chocolate to butter that is world class.
‘I am very happy to see a general sustainability movement within the food industry, and the elimination of some ingredients that do not suit this movement’
Tell us a bit more about the creations you present in so good.. magazine. What is the idea?
I am obsessed with chocolate. I try to always incorporate chocolate into my pastry creations as it is such a large part of the industry and how vastly different each chocolate is. From boutique to global producers, chocolate is such a precious and incredible product. The desserts I have presented are to demonstrate the versatility of simple techniques and ingredients and how they can be used to create further creations and used in different preparations. The idea of using balloons comes from a few past and more recent experiences. While completing a stage at Alinea in Chicago in 2011, they served their edible table art in a large chocolate shell that was made using a balloon, and I thought this was a very interesting way to encapsulate the dessert. A more recent experience was the use of balloons in a furniture photo shoot which created tension within the image, large furniture balancing on balloons. I decided to add these experiences to my pastry practice. Creating wafer-thin chocolate shells from balloons, especially water balloons, poses difficulties which makes the technique a challenge. I also used the idea of desserts with classic flavour combinations as the basis for the creations presented here and photographed them in a way that puts a spotlight on their simplicity as well as giving the desserts character in respect to their boldness.