Born into a treasured tradition of culinary appreciation, Italian-proud, Adriano Zumbo, offers no quiet indulgences with his unique approach to food. Australia’s well-known Master Patissier and dark lord of the pastry, reveals a lot about himself.
I read somewhere that you love movies. Is this true?
Oh yes... Love movies. As long as it can keep me awake. I like them all but comedy is my number one. I like having a good laugh. The latest one I’ve watched was on the plane with Will Farrell.
Since 2009, you’ve become known to Australians as an International Celebrity Chef and with the Cleo nominee, a bachelor of choice. Five years on from those nominations, who has Adriano Zumbo become?
[Laughs]. The Cleo Bachelor is an odd one. I think I’m the same person. I haven’t changed. My schedule’s changed. I get to travel a lot more. I’ll probably say, I feel a lot more pressure. There’s a lot more to do and business keeps me going. I’m trying to create better products that people will like. The things in between, you know, writing, going on TV. It’s all a bonus.
What do you prefer: being in front of the camera or behind scenes?
I used to say behind the scenes because I still love creating. I love being in front of the screen and, travelling and so on. These days the business is a lot more stressful. But I still love going to festivals and meeting people. That’s where I came from in my business, that’s where I love to be.
You’re often written up as generous and approachable. How do you remain grounded as a person when all of the benefits of celebrity-dom is at your fingertips?
I think that if you take things too seriously, then I don’t think you can survive. You’ll drive yourself insane; you need to keep yourself very grounded. Everything happens for a reason. You’ve got to try and turn everything into a positive, no matter how negative it is. You’ve always got to put a positive into it. There are so many different personalities, if you were to have an ego and clash with all those people, it just doesn’t work. I’ve got to be strong with what I believe in and get the right people on board. Be accepting and understanding and try and get yourself and the team to that end resolve.
Is there a particular mantra that you live by?
Oh, I don’t know, for me, it’s life it, love it, have fun. If you do something you love, you end up living it pretty much and you got to have fun. I spend so much time in one area I got to enjoy it. Be serious and be professional but don’t take your self too seriously. If something is a little bit wrong or whatever, it’s not the end of the world. You’ve got to laugh about it.
How do you have fun?
At the moment, I’m really living it with regards to the business – it takes up a lot of my time. I love cars. I love to travel. I love music, comedy. I have great friends around me to keep me grounded.
What have you had to give up for the business?
You give up your social life. You need to get it built up, get settled. Then it’s a matter of whether you survive. Its matter of whether you can make it to that place where you can chill back a bit, where the systems are great, you have a great following, the customers keep coming back. It’s not easy. There are so many places opening and closing; everybody wants to get a piece of it. There wasn’t as much passion and interest in the industry before. The average person at home wasn’t that interested in food. Now there’s a great foodie culture. There are so many kids who love to cook as well.
What is your advice to the young wanna-be chefs? You’ve got to have passion, set yourself a dream and chase it. Find yourself a good job even though it’s not easy. There are only so many people that can do an apprenticeship. It’s competitive. Live your passion a home, with books, if you can’t find an apprenticeship; use the Internet for information. I was head chef at 19. I was quite young, I taught myself so much stuff. I wanted that responsibility - that challenge. I read up on so many things. Today, there are so many courses out there. Develop to the next level. There are certain things that you need to be able to teach yourself. You may not learn that in a course. Follow the instructions. As your knowledge starts expanding, you can start to create things in different ways. You’ll know that you can substitute an ingredient, for example, water with other liquids, to make your own liquid.
Speaking to other chefs, I understand that working with pastry involves technique. Do you think technique helps you or does it hinder you in the creative process?
It depends on the person I think. The technique is important. To make a great product, you have to have great technique; temperature-wise, skill-wise. But it’s not everything. You can make things up. It is what you want it to be. That’s the beauty of cooking. I meet so many chefs who do things in different ways.
Does the public decide what ultimately stays on your product list? Are you driven by demand?
It’s a bit of both. I travelled to Europe and loved macaroons for example. But nobody here was really making it. That’s what I decided to make. To create something new is really difficult. It’s sometimes driven by Media or Television. People don’t just turn up for your products.
But you’ve had a bit of both for yourself. People have just turned up for your products?
Yeah, I suppose. But it’s not an easy thing. If you want your customers to come back, you create something they can enjoy.
Talking about creativity, you’re known for being so unique. You’ve created products with pig’s blood and hamburger ingredients – very much out of the box. How does your creative process start?
I’m visual. I create in different ways. Creativity and inspiration come from life. Everyone is different. I might see a light bulb but another person may see an idea for the shape of a cake. You might say a word and it may give me inspiration for something. It inspires a track of thought. Someone else may have thought about pig’s blood but may not have wanted to take that risk. Risks can pay off or not. It also comes down to how good you are at executing the idea. It’s not just about putting a flavour into a macaroon. It’s also about how good you are at putting the texture together into the product you are trying to create. There is a way to put things together.
You’ve added on another level to the growing Zumbo business with opening stores in Melbourne. Why Melbourne?
Melbourne is known as the foodie capital of Australia. I think that Sydney and Melbourne are quite on par with each other but Melbourne is quite European and laid-back whereas Sydney is fast-paced. I always had Melbourne on the cards. I always wanted to have something there.
Any plans to expand to other states?
The end plan is to have a store in each state if I can get that far. I’d love to have stores in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide even Hobart.
Let’s talk about Fancy Nance – the afternoon high tea salon. You’re known for unique naming conventions. What was the idea behind the name?
My mum’s name is Nancy and I always think she’s very fancy. When I was a kid, my mum used to wear gold jewellery on her fingers just to go shopping. I used to call her “Fancy Nancy” because she looked like a jewellery store with all that jewellery on.
There’s a huge difference between the traditional afternoon tea I’m accustomed to in England and the one you’re serving. Why the deviation from tradition?
Everyone’s doing the same thing. I like to do something different. It’s good to turn things on its head as long as you remember the tradition. We want to give people a different experience. Whenever I think of High Tea, I always think of upper-class settings. I’ve decided to open up something that is more contemporary than traditional afternoon tea places. I wanted it to be a bit more laid back. We don’t serve food on stands. Everything is plated fresh to serve.
So no cucumber sandwiches then?
If you come in, I’ll make some for you.
Do you think you’ll take your brand international?
I hope so. It’s one of my biggest dreams. I always said I wanted to have one of those bags that said New York, London, Tokyo etc. We’ll see how it goes. Anything can happen.
Anything can happen and it probably will!
Absolutely. I hope so. If I have the right formula I hope to do it.
Do you have mentors? What have you learned from them?
I don’t have mentors in the traditional sense. I learn from anyone and everyone. I usually watch a lot of business videos that I can learn from.
What is the main quality you look for in people; whether it’s working with them professionally or just in friendships?
Honesty and Flexibility – easy going, love what they do. Then you look at their skills. And people who love to have fun. I like to be around people who are relaxed, who can keep themselves happy – don’t need a lot of attention.
What ticks you off; an absolute can’t stand?
It would probably be a person who doesn’t tell me the truth or someone who is doing a job who doesn’t really care about it.
Where do you go in Sydney when you want to eat impressive food?
My favourite food place to go to is Rosso Pomodoro (http://www.rossopomodoro.com.au/). Japanese, Mexican and Italian are my favourite foods.
Recently, you’ve supported the Australian Red Cross. Previously you supported Movember, Westmead Children’s Hospital. How do you choose what causes to support?
I don’t have a particular way to choose which charities to work with. I try and do as much as I can for someone else. At the moment I’m doing Red Cross. I just did Starlight Children’s Foundation a few months ago.
What can Zumbo fans expect next?
I don’t know. We’ve done so many things. You can only stack so many things on top of each other. I always sit there at work and think about that. For me, it goes back to the start.
Where will we see Adriano Zumbo in the next five years?
Hopefully on every TV screen and in lots of countries.
And now for the question, I’m sure every girl wasn’t answered. Is Adriano Zumbo open to proposals for romantic dessert ideas?
Oh yeah for sure…I’m looking for simplicity in those ideas. For romantic situations, that’s what you want. Something you can indulge in over and over again. The simpler the better.
Adriano Zumbo is one of Australia's culinary ripostes for anyone who does not believe that our patisserie industry leads the way with creativity and technique. He redefines generosity, influences us to take risks and appreciates his clientele. There is no "have to" relationship between Adriano and his customers. It's all a matter of "want to." It begs the question; what's in the Zumbo recipe for success that keeps us all coming back for more? I believe that the proof is in the eating. Be prepared to be Zumbofied.
[reposted from the Plus One's Magazine]
Facebook: Adriano Zumbo Patissier