Adriano Zumbo, patissier

I’m constantly trying to outdo myself ...

Chocolate mousse cake, macaron towers and a 75-piece croquembouche – it’s the stuff a sweet tooth’s dreams are made of. But for master patissier Adriano Zumbo, this is daily life. Now one of the nation’s most celebrated pastry and dessert chefs, the Sydneysider’s first experience with the sugary goodness was pillaging the lollies and cake mixes from his parent’s IGA supermarket in rural NSW. These days, Adriano owns a string of successful stores around the country and is renowned for his innovative works of edible art – be it a chamomile sponge cake for Mother’s Day or a punk rock bunny for Easter. After releasing his latest cookbook The Zumbo Files in April, The Weekend Edition caught up with the sweet genius this week to talk macaron towers and Margaret Fulton.

Working as a world-class patissier sounds like a dream come true, but it’s time to fess up: how many treats and batters do you end up eating over a day’s work?
In terms of tastings, I’d probably try around six cakes a day, but that’s just a spoonful each and then I’d eat probably another two handfuls of chocolate or sugar a day. When I was a bit younger, I ate WAY more, but that’s when you’re mastering the techniques – you need to try your food at every stage of the process.

You can master all kinds of pastry madness while some of us can hardly poach an egg … Can you please share one cooking tip with our readers?
My one cooking tip is don’t just throw in the ingredients in the pan or mixer and leave it. Make sure you watch what the ingredients do when they’re put over heat, or when the water and sugar breaks down – by properly observing, you get a deeper knowledge of food and cooking.

Some of your creations have knocked our socks off, but which do you consider your greatest culinary achievement so far?
I wouldn’t like to say what my greatest culinary achievement so far has been, because I’m constantly trying to outdo myself. The V8 vanilla cake, which I first made for Margaret Fulton’s birthday party (because I was told she likes vanilla as a flavour) was a definite highlight. Layers upon layers upon layers of vanilla in different forms – it’s still a best-seller.

Your new book The Zumbo Files had us salivating before we even opened the cover, what can readers expect to find inside?
Well, they’ll find a lot of sweets, sections on mastering the basics of pastry and a chapter of savoury offerings as well. I love creating new mash-ups and flavour combinations, so readers will hopefully be surprised by the end result. One that’s come to mind is my sausage rolls with Earl Grey tea …

What’s your personal favourite recipe in the book, and why?
I can’t choose because they’re all so different! If I was going to single one recipe out, there is a spiced chocolate flourless cake that is perfection because it’s so simple. This is a recipe for anyone who wants to cook from The Zumbo Files but isn’t a confident baker.

As a kid living in rural NSW, what did you dream of becoming when you ‘grew up’?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a footy player or a truck driver – the realm of pastry chef never really entered my mind growing up in country NSW! I started baking because my parents had an IGA supermarket and my favourite job was working at the in-store bakery, playing around with the packet cake mixes.

You left school early to begin a pastry chef apprenticeship; what can you remember about stepping into a commercial kitchen for the first time?
I started my apprenticeship at an Australian bakehouse, so I wasn’t really that nervous or intimidated by the environment. In fact, it was strange how I fitted in straight away. As an apprentice, I was really dedicated, staying back to learn more techniques, sometimes working 16 hours a day off my own back. I think the scariest part was living in Sydney, seven hours away from home at the age of 15.

What’s one of the greatest lessons you’ve learnt in your career so far?
Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt (which I also try to teach my staff) is how to turn a negative into a positive, always try to have an open mind and you are nothing without your team. That’s three lessons, not one, but all of them are important to me.

You’d been crafting your sweet delights for a little while, but MasterChef really shot your work into the spotlight – how was business after that croquembouche got its pretty face on TV?
You know, the croquembouche is something everyone seems to remember, but it wasn’t until my third appearance on MasterChef when I made the chocolate mousse cake that my profile went up and up. Then, in Series 2, when I made the V8 vanilla cake and the macaron tower, things got CRAZY. For months and months afterwards, I was closing my store at 9:30 am because I had nothing left to sell. The power of TV really can’t be underestimated.

You’re a household name, you’ve published cookbooks and your stores are always buzzing, but what in your life are you most proud of?
I’m proud of everything I’ve done. I’m proud of the people I’ve worked with and the people I now get to train in my kitchens. I’m proud that I get to do this for a living, because this is a tough business.

What’s on your bucket-list? Any chance of bringing those macarons to Brisbane?
Definitely! Opening a Brisbane store is definitely on the bucket-list. Not this year unfortunately, but hopefully in 2016.

Perk up … outside of the kitchen.
Dine … Melbourne. Some outstanding restaurants and chefs – too many to name.
Indulge … Eataly in New York. It’s an Italian food emporium and heaven on earth.
Be inspired … I take inspiration from anything and everything, but travel is also very important. Moving around and seeing, eating, smelling new things – that can’t be underestimated.


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