By Kathryn Gordon—Co-Chair, the Center for Advanced Pastry Studies
Chef Peter Yuen is a master of flaky pastry. Combining the best of classic French pastries and Asian baked goods, his bakery LaPatisserie P in Chicago is famous for Chef Yuen’s special lamination method, as well as treats ranging from croissants to pork buns. He has trained under master bakers in both America and Hong Kong, and placed first in the “Viennoiserie” category at the 2008 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. In anticipation of his exclusive two day viennoiserie workshop at ICE on July 12-13, we caught up with Chef Yuen to learn more about his unique pastry philosophy.
As a specialist in laminated dough, do you remember your first experience with flaky pastry?
My first memory of eating flaky pastry was in Hong Kong: a curry beef puff. It was simply delicious—warm, crispy, buttery crust with a hot spicy filling! All those fantastic layers of crispy pastry really got me hooked, and I knew I had to learn how to make laminated dough.
Is laminated dough used differently by Asian and French chefs?
There are a great many differences between Asian pastries and their European counterparts, primarily in the choice of ingredients. However, there are many similarities in the preferences of textures. In particular, crunchy or fried foods are appreciated by many cultures! I would go so far as to say the Chinese may have been the first to make fried laminated items, hundreds—if not thousands—of years ago.
What keeps you motivated in your career?
There are many things that I love about my job, from the sharing of knowledge to designing great baked goods. I particularly enjoy creating better techniques to accomplish certain processes. It is also a joy to travel frequently, mainly because I never took advantage of travel when I was younger. Everything seems so new to me that I almost feel like a “kid in a candy store.”
I like interacting with students and consulting clients because, in communicating with them, you can learn so much about yourself as well. I approach consulting as a form of teaching, though there is added pressure to perform. The only part that is a turn off for me is that the measurement of success is often in dollars and cents. But regardless of the task, a day rarely passes that I don’t learn something new. That is what keeps me motivated.
What words of advice would you have pastry chefs that are just starting their careers?
I always tell students that there are 5 levels of knowing:
- You don’t know what you don’t know
- You know what you don’t know
- You know what you know
- You forgot that you know
- You pretend that you don’t know anything so that you can stay curious and keep learning what you don’t know
Don’t get stuck at level number 3! When you think you know it all, that is when you make the most mistakes. So be humble. As for other words of advice: only “perfect” practice makes perfect, and it takes a great amount of time and patience to reach a respectable level of competence.
What will you be covering in your CAPS class?
I will be sharing my knowledge of laminated dough with students—from theory to techniques and terminologies. Additionally, to highlight the unique approach that Asian chefs bring to savory flavors, I will select some of my all-time favorite items to showcase in the class.
Click here to register for our upcoming two-day workshop with Chef Yuen on July 12-13.