A piece of cake for Langham's Mr Sweet Tooth
Cakes and pastries are a treat not only for the taste buds but also for the eyes. Teddy Arcon, executive pastry chef at Langham Place Hotel Hong Kong, in Mongkok, says presentation is a key element in making pastries.
“Today’s cakes are a combination of taste and artwork, and it is an advantage for a pastry chef to have artistic knowledge,” Arcon says. “The presentation of today’s cakes is unbelievable. The designs that chefs put on top of a piece of cheesecake are so creative and sophisticated. I think that pastry chefs should learn about art to stay competitive.”
Arcon, who hails from the Philippines, is responsible for creating mouth-watering cakes and pastries for the hotel’s restaurants. Having to come up with so many ideas can be mind-boggling, but Arcon says he gets his ideas from eating. “I am Mr Sweet Tooth. Cakes, chocolate and ice-cream are all my favourites. I get inspiration for new recipes from trying different pastries. As a chef, you must taste things yourself before introducing them to customers. Trends in cakes change quickly and you must never stop trying new things. Look around for the latest trends to stay up to date,” he says.
Growing with a family bakery business, Arcon started making cakes from a young age. “My auntie taught me how to make sugar flowers when I was 11. I also took up bakery courses when I was in secondary school in the Philippines. In Hong Kong, the Vocational Training Centre offers courses related to baking, but the best way to learn is on the job,” he says.
Pastry chefs work from 7am to 5.30pm, but Arcon says most chefs work longer than that. “Newcomers usually start with making simple things such as cream and sauces. As they become more experienced, they can start helping cook different ingredients and making cakes. If they want to learn more, they have to stay behind [after working hours],” he says.
A hotel pastry chef’s starting salary is around HK$8,000 and there is little trouble attracting young talent, Arcon says. “The market is booming, with so many cake shops opening. I think the industry is flourishing, with plenty of jobs, but there is also a problem of chefs switching jobs too soon. To youngsters who want a future in the industry, I would suggest being patient and not wanting to climb too quickly,” he says.