Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

The sweet sweet life of pastry chef Alex Lee

Posted by Kimberly on June 11, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
June 11, 2007, page 2 (1,219 words)

Alex Lee is every woman’s dream man.
The Singapore-born 47-year-old Executive Pastry and Bakery Chef at Starworld casino has the ability to create mini desserts that don’t just make your mouth water, they can make you literally drool.
Having been in this line of practice for more than twenty years, Alex has honed his dessert-making skills across a wide range of hotels including The Westins, Shangri-Las and Hiltons around the world.
So much so that he has had the enviable role of being flown to such hotels to train their staff, including an opportunity to set the menu at the Swiss Hotel in Thailand.
Having been onboard at Starworld since May 2006, it was natural to firstly ask why he chose that particular casino’s restaurant to base himself in.
“Why Starworld? Because I’m Chinese. This is the first five star restaurant in Macau owned completely by Chinese,” he says.
The second question was equally natural, which of the desserts he had a personal penchant for.
“My favourite dessert to make is Kawa cake. The top and bottom parts are walnut based. It also has a garnish of 55 percent cocoa and fresh cream,” he says.
With only eight permanent members of staff and about half a dozen part-time, its a little astonishing to listen to the quantities of mouth-popping dessert being produced on a daily basis.
“In the lunch time there can be 20 varieties, in dinner time it can go up to 25 or 30. Once the guests finish what we have on the menu then I will bring out a different choice,” he says.
“During dinner time we usually bring out about 400 small desserts. Sometimes we can bring out up to 800. Lunchtime at the moment is about 200 and weekends are about 300-350.”
The sheer variety and volume is enough to make any dessert-loving individual stand before the selection looking a little lost.
“In some hotel buffets you can get mousse or some cake and that’s it.
“For mine, we have mousse, different types of cakes, we have puddings, we have tarts and this is very hard to get because not every chef likes to put the effort in,” says Alex.
To be more specific, the restaurant offers Portuguese tarts, ginger crème brulee, cherry strudel, baked cheesecake, lemon soufflé and blood orange jelly to name a few.
Many of them hardly warrant the term ‘sinful’ because “I use new technology from Japan and Europe with only 20 percent fat. So that’s why you won’t get fat. The concept of a small piece is clean and neat and the taste is there,” he says.
When prompted to go into a little detail about one of his creations, the quintessential Portuguese tart, Alex doesn’t hesitate, his passion for his food plainly evident.
“The basic is here. Follow it so it becomes Portuguese but I use butter. It melts at 25 degrees and is rich but it’s healthy. It’s not bad for your heart.
“When it comes to the filling, others use the essence for the vanilla. I use the pure vanilla stick. Very expensive but as I say, the amount that we use is not that expensive once you break down the costs,” he says.
From a beginning in family-run textiles, Alex’s father turned to bakery in Japan.
“When I looked at the pastries I thought ‘so nice!’ My uncle then sent me to an American baking school to learn about the techniques of baking. This is something a lot of bakers don’t have,” he says.
Once completed Alex joined a Westin hotel giving him the opportunity to travel. Joining A Hilton hotel later opened him up to a world of Michelin star chefs.
“They put a lot of effort and try and try and try. And that’s what made me interested,” he says.
Asked about the person who’s most influenced him, Alex admits it’s his previous boss at Macau’s Westin.
“The kitchen director. He taught me there was no anyhow. Everything had a strict process,” he says.
Surprisingly, the desserts aren’t Alex’s only speciality; his ability with dough has made him legendary among connoisseurs, having had competitors trying to copy his style of bread-making “but they still cannot. But all of this has come from my effort, not one day,” he says.
“All the master bakers who make the bread at the Tower, at the Westin, have been trained by me. And this makes me proud,” he says.
One need only look at the displays of realistic animals such as crabs and owls that Alex creates to marvel at his ability.
“To make the crab would only take me half an hour but to bake would take two and a half hours. You can display it for 5 to 6 months, no problem.
“I use any dough; rye, wholemeal, sour dough. I can make 100, and they all come out the same,” he says, adding that “French they do baguette. Italians can do ciabbata. Germans can do rye bread. For me, anything!”
But it is his wish to have someone who can learn the technique from him.
“It’s my wish to find someone to teach this method. In Singapore I can say most of the five star hotel section head bakers have been trained by me. I have some in Dubai and Shanghai, the same.
When I was in Dubai people would come from Europe, the rich and millionaires and tell me, ‘in my place at home, I cannot get like that. I’ve never eaten this before’,” he says.
The bread he makes is for sale, although the animal creations are not.
“I don’t sell the ones I design at the moment. People have asked to purchase so we will think about it,” he says.
Nevertheless, Alex’s bread is almost as mouth-watering as his desserts, his creations ranging from olive and herb to raisin dry bread, with all the recipes being his own.
He recalls an occasion during Christmas one year when he was requested to bake a panetonne for a client.
“So they fly in one from Italy. A really famous factory made panetonne. They asked me if I could please try and do the same as what they did.
“Then I said I’ll try but in the end, they tried mine and said ‘I never expected a Chinese guy like you can make such a good one, and even better than that!’,” he says laughingly.
Curious to know what the most unusual ingredient Alex has ever used in one of his desserts was, he gives two examples.
“Blue cheese pudding. It’s similar to panecotta but with honey and walnut. Also, black truffle added to éclairs. A little small bite can enhance it and make it ‘wow’!” he says.
In an ideal world, Alex would be given the opportunity to direct customers in the way they should eat his desserts; saving the dark chocolate slice and blood orange jelly for last.
In the past, there have been bakers who have taken credit for work created by Alex. One even had the audacity to put photos of Alex’s work onto a website without his permission, to which Alex responds saying, “this is not fair.”
No doubt credit long overdue will begin coming his way once customers become aware of the magic hands behind the desserts.

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2 Responses to “The sweet sweet life of pastry chef Alex Lee”

  1. debbie atkins said

    does the new chef know how to cater for someone who has coeliac disease?
    eating out can be a nightmare for me as i have to be so careful not to ingest any gluten ,flour, barley, rye or oats, pretty much most of the grains we have in most of the foods pre -prepared in cafe bars/pubs and takeaways.
    when we arrive this week i would love to be able to make the most of whats on offer in the marina. including the new chef!!!

  2. […] Iuzzini’s “Dessert Fourplay” book, and he mentioned that one of his mentors (Chef Alex Lee) encouraged him to start thinking about the possibilities of pairing vegetables with sweets, which […]

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