This is the first of a two-part chef chat series. Part 2 will run in this same space on Friday.
When you drive by Dolce Delights in The Mix Midtown complex, the storefront belies what awaits you inside. With soaring high ceilings, a well-appointed, modern space with design-driven furniture and shiny, washed concrete floors, Dolce Delights holds a glowing pastry shelf of jewel-colored dessert creations so tempting, you'll be hard-pressed to stop at ordering just one.
We sat down with pastry chef and owner Candace Chang to talk about her road to becoming a pastry chef and owner of her own shop in just two years.
EOW: Tell me a bit about yourself.
CC: Well, I was born in the U.S. I moved to Hong Kong when I was young, stayed there until high school, then went to school in New Jersey. I went to college at Baylor for fashion merchandising. So after I left Baylor, I took a few jobs but it wasn't exactly what I imagined; it wasn't something I could imagine doing for the rest of my life. So I was a little lost, kind of didn't know what to do, and my parents encouraged me, and said, "Why don't you do something you enjoy right; you're young, you don't have a lot of baggage, so go ahead and do something you like." And I've always loved cooking, always loved cooking -- love to eat, love to travel.
EOW: Did you get this love from Hong Kong? Because Hong Kong-ese eat well.
CC: Yeah, we're spoiled. We like our food. My parents love to travel, so we just try everything.
EOW: When you say your parents travel, tell me some of the places they've taken you foodwise.
CC: Well, of course, we go around Asia a lot: Thailand, Korea, Singapore, Japan, Vietnam. The craziest place I've been, to me, is Kenya, Africa. I was 12 years old, and my parents took us to Kenya for Chinese New Year. We tried weird food over there, like ostrich.
EOW: What's ostrich like, do you remember?
CC: A little gamey. It was just a piece of meat. But they had this plantain or potato-type side dish that I enjoyed.
EOW: Did your parents travel for pleasure or work?
CC: For pleasure. In Hong Kong, the school schedule is different. You have shorter summer vacation, but you have more small holidays throughout the year -- two weeks for Chinese New Year, two weeks for Easter, two weeks for Christmas -- so whenever we have holidays, we'd travel around the area. This was when we were younger. We moved to the U.S. when I was in high school, so we traveled less then.
EOW: Getting back to why you opened a pastry shop...
CC: Well, I always liked baking since I was young. My mom baked also. We didn't have electric mixers then, so the first time I made sponge cake, I mixed it by hand. I was just seven years old, and remember mixing it so hard, my arm was so sore. Well, I put it in the oven, waited 30 minutes, pulled it out and couldn't wait to taste it, but I remember thinking it tasted weird. Then I let my mom taste it and she asked me, "Did you put salt instead of sugar?"
EOW: Oh no! Poor thing!
CC: (Laughs) I know. I was so disappointed. That didn't stop me, though. I baked whenever I could growing up. In high school, I baked cookies for my track team. In college, I made basic cakes for people's birthdays. When I decided to go into baking, I tried to learn how to make fancier cakes, and make fondants and things, but I didn't really enjoy butter cream.
EOW: So you taught yourself.
CC: Yes, online. I went to classes at Michaels, classes like that in Houston, but I didn't like what I was learning. I talked to a friend of mine who told me about this pastry chef for hotels in Hong Kong. He didn't want to work anymore; he just wanted to retire and teach. So I said, "Okay, I'll be there. I'll be his student."
EOW: How old were you?
CC: This is two years ago...I was 26. I moved back to Hong Kong for a while and I just learned from him.
EOW: How did you learn? Were you in a commercial kitchen?
CC: Yes. He rented a place and turned it into a kitchen, and he just teaches over there. So I was like, "Can you teach me everything you know." And he said, "Okay."
EOW: How much does an education like that cost?
CC: He actually charged per day. It was about $50 to $60 per day. I was there for three months straight, then came back here for two months, then went back there for another three months. I came back here to look for a space, then after we found this spot, I went back for another two months while the build-out was going on. So I think I learned a lot about technique, how to make the cakes, and especially how to taste the cakes. A lot of people, even me, before learning all this, think that dessert needs to be really sweet, have a lot of sugar.
EOW: That's actually what I like about the desserts here. They're not too sweet.
CC: Yeah, it doesn't have to be. That's what he taught me. He said dessert doesn't have to be "sweet" sweet. It can be refreshing, it can be very light. You should still be able to taste the fruit, taste the flavoring, instead of just sugar and extract.
EOW: So what do you think he taught you the most?
CC: I think the most important thing was how to taste. He taught me how to taste each individual flavor. So for instance, for the raspberry pistachio cake, it's layered. Instead of mixing everything together, you can taste the raspberry. When I say pistachio, you can taste the pistachio separately. When I say almond, you can taste it by itself. They all go together, but you can taste them by themselves.
EOW: What about technique?
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CC: I learned techniques like how to make mousse. What's the difference between going really fast or slow on the mixer? When you go really fast, it makes big bubbles, so the resulting mousse is rough. When you go slow, it comes out a lot smoother. Also, little things like mixing it over an ice bath will make it smoother.
Check back with us tomorrow for Part 2 of our chef chat with Candace Chang.