October 2019 Featured Chef: Chong Ko Wai

My name is Chong Ko Wai, I'm 34 years old this year and I've been in the pastry industry for about 15 years now. Back during high school I wouldn't consider myself the 'brightest student' and I wasn't the type of person who necessarily wanted to excel academically. Without surprise, my high school career resulted in terrible grades. Not having much of a choice, my parents decided to send me to baking school. 

My parents sent me to baking school because they wanted me to have a skill set that would allow me to take care of myself financially. They knew I wasn't going to do anything academically and wanted to make sure I was skilled in some specific field. I had kick started my career with no knowledge about the kitchen at all, it was a whole new experience for me. Stepping into baking school was a lot to take in because I had never done anything like that or worked with any of these ingredients in this form before.

Cream, sugar, eggs, chocolate and many other ingredients you'd find in a pastry kitchen, they had given a whole new meaning to my life as they used to be consumed as end products, but I was now the one creating those. The interest grew day by day as I continued to discover along my journey. 

Needless to say, it was a bit of a rocky road, things didn't always go as smooth as I'd have liked but the bitter sweet experiences are what helped shape my career today. My introduction to pastry taught me the determination and focus my life needed.

You would be surprised that if you are determined and focused enough that you can achieve what you once thought was the impossible. Through all of this, I found success and I am now providing pastry training classes and consulting under the C3-lab based in Malaysia. 

Q1: You seem to display a wide variety of skills on your Instagram feed (@breadpitt) highlighting everything from bonbons, to pastry, sugar sculptures, and more. What would you consider to be your biggest strength when it comes to your art and what influenced the name @breadpitt

A: Back before there was Instagram, blogging would be a main stream option for me to showcase my work, I used to work in a bakery when I started blogging and it was a pretty spontaneous idea when I thought of Breadpitt, it's a bit chicky, and funny enough to catch peoples attentions just by adding an 'E' to actor Brad Pitt's name.

The main purpose of me creating a blog was to enable me to reach more people who share similar interests. Blogging also served as a pastry diary which let me review and revise my own progress in the field. I always try to relate or get inspired from daily subjects. I love to integrate this sort of stuff into my work.

For example, I recently made a vintage radio and side table out of chocolate for Buche Noel. This was achieved by respecting the perimeter of taste and texture and how they work together. This also allowed me to create a piece and focus on pairing elements instead of creating a piece only for aesthetic purposes. 

People are often caught off guard and surprised when they see pastry resemble things which appear in our daily lives. A lot of people take for granted the process and work it takes to create these pieces. The reactions I saw were priceless and made creating these sort of works that much more exciting. 

Yes, that bread is made out of chocolate, all items pictured, even the flowers, are edible

Q2: What is C3 Lab and what do you do there (@c3lab_my)? Could you talk about your latest event with them?

A: C3 Lab is a pastry consultancy firm which provides pastry solutions for shops and factories, private events, and professional classes. We also provide exclusive tailor made pastry events for corporate needs. 

We recently collaborated with an online platform in Malaysia called Eat Cake Today in a press media event which was focused on engaging the public through a series of new showpiece amenities (pictured above).

Previously, this type of work and these sorts of showpieces were a certain kind of pastry that's only seen in prestige competition, and seldom exposed to the average consumer. I'm hoping through C3 Lab we can engage more consumers toward what's trending in the industry and world of pastry. Much like we did during this recent event. 

 

Q3: Malaysia won the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie 2019. You've competed in the event in the past and seem to be friends with a few of the chefs on the team this year, did you have any part in helping them prepare for the event? How has competition and events like this shaped your skill set? 

A: Malaysia had been participating in the Coupe du Monde for many different years before reaching first on the podium. I would say not only me, but many former team members had equally contributed many valuable skills and experiences developed from the past, which surely helped lead team Malaysia towards this glorious achievement.

Competition is a place where I feel has driven me to push my skill set beyond it's boundaries. The process has not been easy at all but the learning experience has always been the ultimate reward. Many people often overlook the end result as an ultimate gain in competition, and there's no doubt that winning is a great feeling, but I always remind myself not to be consumed by ego and pride for current achievement or it will hinder my process towards progress.

But whats beyond that were the experiences which continue self progress. By learning from other contestants through their work in competition. This is what leads us to the next level in the future of pastry. We try to keep ourselves humble and appreciate others work as well. 

 

Q4: What's the most important part, to you, about teaching classes? Do you have any memorable or favorite experiences while teaching a sugar sculpting, pastry, or chocolate class? 

A: Motivating and building a student's confidence is the key to drive them to continue growth after class. I believe this will motivate the student and give them the initiative to continue practicing what they had picked up in class. 

It was not long ago when I was conducting a sugar class in Tunisia, there was some returning students from previous classes and I was super pleased to see them and how their skills had improved from the first time I had taught them.

One of the students I remember was so frustrated, struggling during last years sugar class, and when I saw him recently he had made huge strives and improvements in the right direction. Seeing a returning student shows a sign of acknowledgement which continues to motivate me to share my knowledge further. 

 

Q5: What is your favorite thing about the field you work in and what you do? What inspires you to go into work each day?

A: Experimenting with pastries and showpieces is my favorite thing to do. It challenges my boundaries in order to keep myself away from what I'd consider my comfort zone. Once you get addicted to your art, work no longer feels like a chore. It becomes more than interest and I can't resist the urge to start working again when I encounter something inspiring.

Further more, my work had led me to gain interest in photography. This helps me take nice pictures of my work and apart from that you begin to be more sensitive to colors and toning. It really helps me see and develop my art in a different perspective. 

If you're interested in learning more about chef Chong Ko Wai check him out on Instagram @breadpitt where he shares a ton of his incredible art. You can also view some of his work on the C3 Lab page @c3lab_my

We hope you enjoyed this Q&A with Featured Chef Chong Ko Wai. Chef Ko Wai is such an incredibly talented down to earth individual who is very humble. He goes to show you that incredible skill can stem from drive, passion, and determination. 

If you have any questions for the chef be sure to leave them in the comments and we will hopefully have them answered by chef Chong Ko Wai himself.

For more featured chefs, exclusive savings, and other news be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter; We promise we won't spam you. If you're interested in viewing another Q&A check out last month's Featured Chef Aubrey Niccoli and find inspiration from a freelance chef who created her career from nothing and who now cooks for celebrities, music producers, and c-list executives.