Introducing the rock star of the pastry world – Adriano Zumbo

21 Feb

It used to be that Australian audiences went crazy for real rock stars – men who could shred a guitar, or pulverize a drum kit. These days, we’re all going crazy over men who can rattle their pans in the kitchen. We are obsessed with our chefs. They are the new rock stars of the celebrity world. And the most rocking rock star of them all is Adriano Zumbo. To date, the celebrity chefs (Neil Perry, Matt Moran, George Colombaris etc) have all come from a fine dining restaurant background. But Zumbo is breaking through the toffee ceiling. Think that a patisserie is just the home of the custard tart and lamington. Well, think again. He doesn’t call his kitchen ‘the lab’ for nothing.  It’s a place of experimentation with flavours and textures, where people queue out the door and around the block to buy a slice of culinary wizardry.

Australian audiences first met Zumbo through Masterchef where he reduced contestants to quivering wrecks with his insurmountable pastry challenges such as the eight-layer vanilla cake, the croquembouche, and the macaron tower. It’s the macaron that’s made him a star. He’s risen to fame on the back of this humble concoction of two meringue discs, sandwiched together with a luscious gooey filling. Now, he’s got his own TV show (‘Zumbo’ –  Thursdays, 7:30pm on SBS) furthering shooting his rock stardom further into a stratosphere.

Think ‘master patissier’ and you might conjure up an image of a podgy, ageing French man. This is the very antithesis of who Adrian Zumbo is. For a start, he’s young – just 29 years old. He’s got tattoos and the physique of a man who spends more time in the gym than he does eating his own wares. He was born and raised in country NSW – the son of Italian migrants who operated supermarkets in Coonamble. These days, Zumbo is assembling an empire – built on eggs, butter, flour and cream – with two patisseries and a cafe in Sydney. There’s no doubt he sees himself as a modern day Willy Wonka; the Wonka tattoo on his arm is evidence enough. But you can also see it in his creations.One of Zumbo’s recent gimics was to produce five golden macarons (how you get a biscuit to glisten like a gold coin like he did, I do not know) sold randomly to customers, with the prize being a day in the Zumbo kitchen. The cameras were there to capture the excited reactions of the winning customers – and you would think they had won lotto.

What the TV series is revealing is that there are a couple of themes that drive Zumbo’s work – one of them is childhood nostalgia. He loves making cakes based on flavours we all loved as kids. A recent episode of ‘Zumbo’ showed him creating a multi-layered milo cake that you drink with a straw and ends with a yummy base of crunchy milo – the bit we all liked to eat with a spoon at the end of a milky drink of milo. The other thing he loves to do is mess with your head by making traditionally savoury flavours into sweet treats (pigs-blood macaron anyone? Or maybe you’d prefer the wasabi-pea flavoured eclair). The sight of chopped-up hamburgers swathed in cream to infuse the burger flavour is something that will stay with me for a long time – both for its slight repulsiveness – and the constant refrain in my head – ‘gee, I bet that tastes good’.

The birthplace of the macaron is France, where pastry making is steeped in history and tradition. While Zumbo honours that tradition with his technically-demanding creations, he’s also making pastry into a very modern business and capitalising on his chef-as-celebrity status. He recently launched his summer ‘collection’ of cakes with a catwalk show, where the new creations were paraded by models in clothing that kind of matched the colours of the desserts. And, at the end, Zumbo himself took a stroll down the catwalk to the rapturous applause of his many fans, who had queued down the street to take their place at the summer launch. Afterwards, Zumbo posed for photos with his fans (he’s big on facebook) and even signed autographs. But it’s not just for show. You get the sense through the TV show, that this is who Zumbo truly is. He’s the guy who plugs into his i-pod at work and cooks like a demon, interspersing his whipping, beating and folding to throw a few nightclub-worthy dance moves. He seems to employ upwards of 40 or so people – none of them look over the age of 30. It all seems like a lot for a 29 year old. But he’s a cool customer. A box of cakes gets trashed one hour before a major function and it’s clear Zumbo’s not happy – but he doesn’t rant, rave and shout about it. He gets cooking. He’s a cool dude. He’s the modern day rock star.

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One Response to “Introducing the rock star of the pastry world – Adriano Zumbo”

  1. Anonymous February 21, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    what a crock…..enbush…(spelling is wrong i know…i did french for 6 years at school…i am born on bastille day…and i have been to france….however it doesnt mean i can spell in french)

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