Photos: Jose “Piru” Rivera
The Chilean chef Hans Ovando, established in Barcelona (Spain), can boast a long and rich career in the world of gastronomy, first as a cook, then as a pastry chef, and in recent years as a teacher, doing courses all over the world and proclaiming himself MMAPE just over a year ago. In 2023, Hans Ovando presents himself renewed, committed, and very aware of the new path he has decided to follow. The pastry that he now practices and that he proposes to the sector as a whole proposes a return to the origin, “it is to start over, but with all the information that we have today”, he points out. A new starting point that is based on the use of ingredients and raw materials with greater nutritional value, and that have also been obtained with respect for the human, animal, and natural environment. “When I see the way they treat type 3 egg hens, I don’t want to eat pastries,” he concludes.
Why this change in your vision of pastry?
It’s hard to answer without revealing my feelings, but I think you have to start with the truth. Many know that I am a pastry chef influenced by my grandmothers, both lovers of cooking, pastry, and bakery. Both have already left this world, and both due to cancer at an advanced age. One of them from pancreatic cancer, derived from diabetes carried over for years and the continuous use of insulin to counteract the disease. My sister also suffers from diabetes and obesity to some degree. All of this made me rethink my future in pastry a few years ago, to the point of leaving the trade and returning to the world of cooking, redirecting my profession to baking or even dedicating myself to digital marketing.
Things got to such a point that I had to go lie on a psychologist’s couch to ask her about my existential doubts. Ana, the therapist, suggested that instead of leaving the profession, I could redirect my pastry to something more natural, more balanced and more nutritional, without the need to look for extremes, but rather a pastry based on balance and on the product. This has made me reconnect with the world of pastry in the creation of a product that is nutritionally rich, organic, ecological, and respectful of people and the environment.
What exactly does it mean to go back to the origin?
Unlike the world of cuisine, we have blinded ourselves to the possibility of using other sugars, we only use refined white sugar or brown sugar, always putting the cost of the product before the nutritional value or flavor. At the flour level, in general, white flour is used almost exclusively, leaving aside others such as rye, spelt, or organic, let’s go to the cheapest. We work with frozen purees and not seasonal fruits. And we have even created a dependency on cream and butter, leaving out much more nutritional fats and oils. You have to do a reset, the world is changing, cusine has taken a turn, bakery has too and we, what are we waiting for? Going back to the origin means going back to the starting point and starting over but with all the information we have today.
“Going back to the origin means going back to the starting point and starting over but with all the information we have today”
Why do you think pastry should be more nutritional, if for most people it is a product simply to be enjoyed?
Since I like pastries, at least give me something that is nutritional and has a healthy contribution, respectful of animals and the environment. When I see the way they treat type 3 egg hens, I don’t want to eat pastry. If I see a nutritional analysis of a white wheat flour and an organic whole wheat flour, the same thing happens to me; and if I see the disadvantages of white sugar versus agave syrup or maple syrup, it’s more of the same. We can also enjoy pastry by paying attention to its nutritional values and in a more conscious way regarding how it is made.
What is special about an organic 0 egg, organic butter, or organic spelt flour?
It is simply a matter of self-love and respect for our body, our conscience, and the environment. Years ago I had a conversation with Toni Rodríguez, the great vegan pastry chef, and I told him that I didn’t know if I could stop eating eggs and meat. I understand his discomfort about animal abuse, and the only way not to give up the consumption of products of animal origin is to choose those that are in balance, respect, and harmony with the environment.
“The only way not to give up the consumption of products of animal origin is to choose those that are in balance, respect, and harmony with the environment”
How can you make a pastry with its own identity and locally sourced when the main ingredients it uses, such as chocolate, tropical fruit, or vanilla are grown thousands of kilometers away?
It is obvious that we cannot bet on everything in regards to being locally sourced, but we can be more responsible. I can choose quality local products such as eggs, butter, and flour, which are the base of our pastries, even fruit. Working on the dependence on vanilla is quite a challenge, which doesn’t mean not using it, but letting new elements into the pastry can be more enriching. Today Spain has a privileged position on the map, we are producers of mango and passion fruit, we even have coconuts, avocados, bananas, and even cocoa in the Canary Islands. Sometimes it’s just a matter of removing the blindfold. There is none so blind as those who will not see.
Bio and eco products are usually more expensive than those produced intensively. How will this extra cost affect pastry’s margins?
This is another challenge. Today the costs are higher and the margins are lower. It is inconsequential that something created naturally is more expensive. But this is a long-term job, especially when it comes to expanding diversification. Everything works by the law of balance, supply and demand. Many restaurants on the 50th Best list work with a first standard in which the quality of the product prevails over price. We in pastry have only been prioritizing what is cheap. In my opinion, we are wrong. I do not intend to change the world nor do I want all pastry to acquire another consciousness, but in my case I have made my decision and time will put everything in its place. This change of course is not for everyone, it is for those who want to do it.