Last January, Malaysia won the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie for the first time. We talked with Otto Tay, MingAi Loi, and Wei Loon Tan, the team members, about how their victory will have an impact on pastry being more common in the Asian country, what aspects have to be combined to win this championship, and how they have prepared for this edition of the Cup, among other issues of interest to all those countries that want to play a good role in the future in the most prestigious pastry competition in the world.
How do you get involved in the pastry trade? Have you all learned your skills at the Academy of Pastry Arts?
Otto Tay.- Since I was 7 years old, I knew I had a love for baking and pastry. When I was old enough, I decided to study in a Pastry Institute and graduated at the age of 21. Then I started my job in the Hotel Food and Beverage sector. After I worked for few years in the Hotel industry, I chose to enter the Academy of Pastry Arts and became a pastry chef instructor in order to teach and share my knowledge to the younger generations. Even though I am no longer working in this Academy, it is the place where I met and learned from a lot of talented guest chefs from all around the world.
MingAi Loi.- I started my career at the age of 20 and learned from local pastry shop for three years. At age 24, I decided to study at the Academy of Pastry Arts in order to gain more knowledge and skills. That is where I started to participate in pastry competitions to sharpen my skills. After I graduated, I made a move to the industry and worked at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center to get more exposure. Then when I was 26, I worked for a restaurant in Beijing, China in order to obtain overseas working experience. After a year, I came back to Malaysia to work for the Academy of Pastry Arts to be a Pastry Chef instructor and continue to polish my skills while teaching.
Wei Loon Tan.- I used to work in the hotel industry in my early 20s and I learned from different chefs to strengthen my basic skills in pastry. When I moved to the Academy of Pastry Arts, I got to meet and work with a lot of experienced pastry chefs every year. All these pastry chefs are either MOF or world champions. All these encounters and sharing throughout the years helped me to build a better understanding of pastry and how to be one of the best pastry chefs.
Do you think that being instructors of the Academy of Pastry Arts has made your training for the CMP grand finale easier?
Otto Tay.- I am currently working as Corporate Pastry Chef for Dobla Asia Pacific. It has never been easy for me since my work is based in Vietnam. Starting the month of August 2018, I had to travel back to Malaysia every weekend just to train with my teammates and intense training was necessary. Dobla was very supportive throughout my training period by handling my transportation and my working schedule in a more efficient way. Not to mention, the Academy of Pastry Arts was helpful as well by providing a classroom for our training purposes.
MingAi Loi.- I would say yes. This is because being an instructor, passing your knowledge to your students is the objective. So, it pushes me to expand my knowledge on food and technical skills. Gaining more knowledge will always be useful and will be of good use in the future when needed under circumstances. Also, the facilities provided in the Academy of Pastry Arts certainly made it easier for us to train since all the tools and equipment are within reach and we were able to mobilize them easily.
Wei Loon Tan.- Yes, definitely. I have been working in the Academy of Pastry Arts since the school first opened. The Academy of Pastry Arts always provides different methods to improve ourselves, in terms of skills and time. Most of us were nobody when we joined the Academy of Pastry Arts but as years passed, it has made us who we are today by always organizing trainings for us, supportive in competing locally and internationally, and providing resources (ingredients, equipment, tools, etc) that needed for either events or competitions.
“The Academy of Pastry Arts always provides different methods to improve ourselves, in terms of skills and time”
Do you have many previous experiences in competitions before the last Asian Pastry Cup?
Otto Tay.- Yes. I had participated in various local competitions in Malaysia that I lost count of. Also, I participated in three editions of the Asian Pastry Cup: in 2012, 2014 and 2018. The reason for all these competitions that I joined is for me to become stronger and have the chance to compete in the CMP. This year is the 3rd year I competed in the CMP.
MingAi Loi.- I participated in different kinds of pastry competitions since 2013, but the CMP is my first time. It was a good experience for me, I am honored that I got the chance to compete in CMP 2019 with the team.
Wei Loon Tan.- Yes. 2012 in Mondial des Arts Sucres (as Candidate). In 2013 and 2015 in the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtissière (as Candidate). In 2014 and 2018 in the Asia Pastry Cup (as Candidate). In 2016 in the Asia Pastry Cup (as Team Manager). In 2017 in the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtissière (as Team Manager)
How many times have you dedicated training for the Coupe du Monde? Has it been easy for you to organize your trainings?
Otto Tay.- We had more than 15 trial runs as a team and each training takes up to ten hours. It was never easy since I had no choice but to travel back and forth between Vietnam and Malaysia every week. For instance, I reached Malaysia from Vietnam on Friday; preparation for Saturday’s 10-hour trial run; travel back to Vietnam on the Sunday. It was truly exhausting not only for me, but for my assistants as well because when I was not in Malaysia, they were the one who were responsible for my training’s preparation and I had to make training arrangements through calls.
MingAi Loi.- It was approximately 15 times. It was quite tough for the three of us to get together, especially when one of my teammates is based in Vietnam. So, it was difficult to organize the same schedule to train at the same time. But fortunately for my superior/employer – Chef Niklesh was the one who arranged our teaching timetable so that it doesn’t clash with our training schedule. He also provided a kitchen and ingredients for us to do our training.
Wei Loon Tan.- The training started half a year before the competition, and we trained together for 10-hour each session almost 15 times. It had never been easy to assemble everyone as one of our teammates is currently staying in Vietnam for work. Even though we could arrange the trial run’s preparation in the Academy of Pastry Arts, due to everyone’s inconsistency of schedule, it took awhile to adjust.
“The training started half a year before the competition, and we trained together for 10-hour each session almost 15 times. It had never been easy to assemble everyone as one of our teammates is currently staying in Vietnam for work”
And what about the sponsors? Do you think they are important to move forward with all you need in a competition like this?
Otto Tay.- Sponsors, of course! They were very supportive and hold high expectations of us. They definitely played an important role for the Team. Thank you all very much!
MingAi Loi.- Yes, they are very important. The sponsors were the one who supported us in both materials and financial for us to strive further in this competition. Without their endless support in providing all the resources that we needed, we wouldn’t have made it this far and achieved our dream today.
Wei Loon Tan.- Definitely, without sponsors it would be much more difficult, because this round of the competition we had almost 700 kg of tools and equipment. The sponsors play a major role as they were the one who supported us in logistics for all of our items and the accommodation. We are really grateful to those who helped us since the beginning of the preparation until the end of the competition.
What part or aspect would you highlight from all your training in order to perform in such a competitive way as you have done at the last CMP?
Otto Tay.- Teamwork and communication are vital as a Team. The reason why is because we all have different ideas, different working styles, different characters or even managing methods, BUT we were very clear with what we wanted to achieve – the Championship.
MingAi Loi.- In order to work well as a team, we need to have trust in our teammates, because we all have different personalities. Without trust, there won’t be teamwork as well.
Wei Loon Tan.- In this competition, we put in a lot of effort, as well as commitment and time just so that we can be on the top of the podium. But most importantly, there should be Team Chemistry. CMP is a competition that consists of a Team President, three chef candidates, and a manager. If one candidate is excellent but the other two candidates are not, it is pointless. Also, the role of manager is very important to make sure everything goes accordingly from the beginning of the competition preparation to the end of the competition.
“Teamwork and communication are vital as a Team. The reason why is because we all have different ideas, different working styles, different characters, or even managing methods, but we were very clear with what we wanted to achieve: the Championship”
What concepts and formats have defined the products and showpieces you have showcased during the competition?
MingAi Loi.- There is a band with three monkeys playing music on the stage in the jungle, surrounded with leaves and flowers.
Wei Loon Tan.- This edition a theme was given out – Nature, Floral and Fauna. In my opinion, we needed to have something different from the other countries, so that we would be able to stand out. We always try to innovate new techniques and design for the showpieces and improve our food products. With those techniques and designs, it shows the originality from our country. At least it has never been seen before, both juries and audiences were surprised by it.
Do you think the vegan plated dessert change of this last edition was interesting?
Otto Tay.- It is interesting, at the same time it is quite a challenge. I had to practice being a Vegan for a period to truly understand what Vegan is, what they need, what their expectations are, etc.
MingAi Loi.- Yes, because the Vegan diet is becoming a trend in the market nowadays. It made me aware and helped me further understand vegan food.
Wei Loon Tan.- Yes because with the rule of creating a vegan dessert, it pushed all the pastry chefs to try something that they do not practise/make most of the time. And this created more opportunities to experience a different perspective and idea for all the chefs around the world.
“The rule of creating a vegan dessert pushed all the pastry chefs to try something that they do not practise/make most of the time. And this created more opportunities to experience a different perspective and idea for all the chefs around the world”
What flavors combinations have you made mainly? Is there any special product or Malaysian food which can be highlighted in your proposals?
Otto Tay.- For my plated dessert, having exotic flavours are the main attention because Malaysia is able to offer a lot of tropical fruits. So, this time I decided to use the fruits: Coconut, Mango, Pomelo and Kalamansi. But out of all the fruits I chose, the most significant is Pomelo. Its origin is from one of our cities – Ipoh, located in northwestern Malaysia. It has a unique taste that is close to a Grapefruit and is as juicy as an Orange.
MingAi Loi.- The flavours are mainly focusing around Lychee and Raspberry in my frozen fruit dessert. The use of our local products was only introduced in the plated dessert.
Wei Loon Tan.- For my chocolate entremet, I did not use any products from Malaysia. But for the flavour combination, I chose the exotic taste to refresh the palate of the judges. Since it’s a chocolate entremet, the chocolate flavour must be highlighted. With the new rule on honey usage, I tried to balance the chocolate flavour with a hint of honey and exotic to make sure it doesn’t feel too heavy while tasting it, at the same time preserving the strong chocolate taste.
In the past we always have seen amazing artistic performances coming from Asian countries, but they have not received the best points when in comes to the taste side. Have you changed anything from your taste proposals in order to achieve a better score from the jury? Do you think the juries now are better trained to note all the creations they have to taste during the competition?
Otto Tay.- In fact, Malaysia have acquired few great achievements in taste in previous years. In 2014 and 2018, we were awarded with Best Plated Dessert in Asian Pastry Cup; Best Entremet in 2016. Also, in 2017, we got Best Entremet in Top Patisserie in Asia. As each CMP edition is getting more competitive, what we always try to focus on is innovating in taste and beautifying the outlook of the dessert. All the juries are experienced Chefs in their own representative country and were selected to judge in this case for a reason, so we believe in their judging standards.
MingAi Loi.- We were never only improving just in our showpiece, but as well as the taste of our dessert. To be honest, we were never satisfied with the outcome of our dessert after every trial run. We always thought that the flavours and the taste can be better and improved the next round we performed it. We kept modifying the taste starting from June 2018 until even the competing month of CMP, just to present the perfect and best one to the juries. I would like to thank and appreciate all the chefs that contributed in developing the taste and gave their feedback to us. Of course they are, they are professional chefs representing their own country in this prestige competition.
Wei Loon Tan.- In the past years, Malaysia received rewards for Best Taste in some of the competitions. A lot of people think Asian countries don’t pay much attention on the taste, probably because in the overall performance standard it is not consistent due to the limited resources that we faced. Of course it doesn’t apply to every Asian country. But this time we spent a lot of effort to make sure the degustation is perfect for each category. In the year of 2017, I represented Malaysia as Team President. One of the reasons was because I wanted to figure out the marking system and discover the taste of desserts prepared by other countries. After I familiarized myself with how it works and understood the juries’ expectations, I came out with an entremet with a unique design and created the taste, which is my strength.
“As each CMP edition is getting more competitive, what we always try to focus on is innovating in taste and beautifying the outlook of the dessert”
What do you think you as a team have to consider the most if you want to have a successful performance in a competition like the CMP?
Otto Tay.- Great teamwork is needed and believing in the ability of your teammates.
MingAi Loi.- Having the right attitude. Always be humble in receiving and learning new knowledge and skills from either books or other chefs. Not only respecting fellow chefs, but also respecting your ingredients. In my point of view, you won’t be successful with a disrespectful attitude, even if you are talented.
Wei Loon Tan.- Commitment and teamwork. In order to win this competition, all three candidates must put in their very best to perform. This requires the Team to sacrifice a lot of their time to be at the top of their game. And CMP is a Team competition. No matter how outstanding you are as an individual, if you can’t work as a Team with others, you can’t win in this competition. Therefore, the three candidates need to share the same goal and motivation throughout the competition period.
Malaysian pastry teams have already made great performances in the past, especially in the Asian Pastry Cup. What does this new milestone, winning the CMP, mean to you?
MingAi Loi.- Since this is the first CMP championship for us and Malaysia, it is an extraordinary feeling after creating this history with my team. I feel honoured that we are also able to make our country proud. We are proud to say more people will know about Malaysia now; at least aware of us. As for myself, it meant a lot as it changed my life and my career. Not only that I gained recognition for my ability, but there are also new friendships involved along the way, accumulated a lot of skills and techniques, and responsibilities in upholding our Champion title.
Wei Loon Tan.- Yes. It proves that even though we are from a small country with limited marketing value, if we continue to believe in our dreams and work towards it, we will achieve our goal. And this also set an example to all the chefs from the younger generation to be confident in themselves and work hard for their target.
“Since this is the first CMP championship for us and Malaysia, we are proud to say more people will know about Malaysia now; at least aware of us”
Are Malaysian consumers more interested in patisserie? Do you feel your victory is also going to make patisserie more mainstream in Malaysia?
Otto Tay.- Actually, Malaysian consumers are more interested in lighter patisserie due to our climax difference. Therefore, the pastry chef plays an important role in creating pastries that are able to be accepted by our local consumers’ taste buds. And yes, patisserie is starting to grow gradually in Malaysia these past few years, but it still needs more time to be exposed and to educate the public. Of course with the help of our victory this time, the public has a better understanding and gains confidence in what we do in our field.
MingAi Loi.- Due to the culture differences of Malaysia in comparison to Western countries, there still aren’t many Malaysians who can accept pastries. But with our victory, we hope it will be able to influence Malaysia’s pastry market. Letting Malaysians know that there’s a World Best Pastry Team in Malaysia is trying very hard to make dreams happen.
Wei Loon Tan.- Yes, we already felt the changes after winning in CMP because it does create more awareness so that Malaysians understand what French pastry is.
“Due to the culture differences of Malaysia in comparison to Western countries, there still aren’t many Malaysians who can accept pastries. But with our victory, we hope it will be able to influence Malaysia’s pastry market”
What advice would you give to a chef who wants to participate at the CMP? What steps do you have to follow to make this happen in the best way possible?
Otto Tay.- ALWAYS have a Dream, and make your Dream come true.
MingAi Loi.- Don’t be afraid to fail. Those failure will make you come back stronger and become your success in the future.
Wei Loon Tan.- Always believe in yourself and persevere. Sometimes during the journey towards your goal and aim for success, you will suffer from failure. But always have trust in yourself and work really hard for it. It might take longer time in achieving your goal, but the time will show. One day, the result will demonstrate to never give up.