Pastry chef Christy Tania’s resume reads like a who’s who of blue ribbon culinary institutions and A-list celebrities. It was during a stint at the legendary Ritz Hotel in Paris where she plated up desserts for actor Johnny Depp and former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Her success, however, was not without sacrifice. After taking a huge leap of faith and changing careers (Christy was IBM Singapore’s youngest female manager at age 23), she undertook classical training at the Ducasse Institute Ecole Nationale Superieure de la Pattiserie near Lyon.
Back in Australia, Christy worked at MasterChef mentor Shannon Bennett’s restaurant, Vue De Monde, and Sake before taking up the position of head chef at Melbourne’s Om Nom. The 40-seat dessert restaurant and bar situated within the Adelphi Hotel boasts a menu of delicacies comparable to works of art. Last year, Christy made the exciting move to the prestigious Langham Hotel as executive pastry chef.
Christy presented her thrilling dessert, Mistique, as a Pressure Test dish on MasterChef last season to gasps from contestants and judges alike. The multi-layered cake consisted of a caramel milk mousse, vanilla marshmallow, passionfruit curd, chocolate crumb and a banana milk brownie, and features a 65 step recipe.
This season, Christy is back to wow Australia with her latest Pressure Test dessert, The Floating Ice Cream.
You’re no stranger to MasterChef, having appeared on the show last season. Can you describe how you felt about returning to the show this season?
Every year it feels more and more exciting. I always feel honoured and humbled each time I’m asked to take part in the show. Some people might not realise that each year MasterChef asks us guest chefs to create recipes that are better, bigger, fresher and more unique. It’s an absolute challenge for us professionally, to [improve on] our own past performances.
What did you enjoy most about your experience this season?
I enjoyed the connection that I felt with contestants. It’s about more than just me presenting them with a challenge; I’m also able to coach them, cheer for them, feel scared for them.
How did it compare with your first time on the show?
It was a nerve-wracking experience at first. I vividly remember meeting the three judges - who probably thought, “who is this young lady?” - and feeling the same urge as the contestants to prove to everyone (the judges, the crew, Australia) that I could cook. Now it’s a lot more relaxed; I went from wanting to prove myself to a ‘bring-it-on’ mentality. I’m looking forward to pushing myself.
It’s only been a year, but can you note any changes in the calibre of the contestants, or any other changes?
They are better for sure! They never failed to surprise me. They are more knowledgeable from the get-go; for example, they all know how to temper chocolate well before entering the competition, something that was considered rocket science a few seasons earlier.
Your incredible dessert Mistique featured on the show last season. It’s visually spectacular; how important do you think aesthetics are in this field?
Put simply, a chef – particularly a pastry chef - is an architect wearing an apron. Our job is to create delicious, tasty food that is pleasing to the eye; aesthetics, flavour and textures go hand in hand.
Before training as a pastry chef in France you had a corporate job; can you talk us through this career change?
Every one of us has that question, “what if?” and I answered that calling. Look, I’m not saying that everyone should drop their briefcases and run to don their aprons, but I think it never hurts to live a little. I wanted to dip my toe in pastry and went to France in my gap year and I fell in love with it. It seems like a crazy change, but I dipped my toe before I plunged… I still plunged in the end though.
How (or when) did you know that your future was in food and cooking?
When I had to finish work after midnight, when I had to work on Christmas and New Year, when I had to peel a big box of lemons and I was still madly happy about it.
Who or what inspires you?
It sounds funny, but beautiful looking pastries and failures always inspire me. I’ll be sitting at home looking at pictures of the latest trends in pastries and all I can think is, “how did they do that? What ingredients would that be? That looks super nice to eat! I want to make that!” I’ll then go and experiment and if those fail, I’ll just get more and more curious till I get it. Once it’s done, I’ll move on to my next experiment.
Do you have any advice for our contestants or any aspiring chefs out there?
I keep telling everyone in my kitchen that you’ll start out due to your passion for food, but you’ll stay if you are stubborn. It’s an industry that will test and challenge you all the time.
If you were a contestant this season, what would be your signature dish and why?
A plated version of my Mistique I think. I personally love the flavours; it’s a combination of tangy, refreshing and rich, smooth, chewy, and crunchy. It’s theatrical. A plated version would allow me to add components that I can’t incorporate in an entremets (a whole cake) such as ice cream or sorbet. It would be delicious!
You’ve trained and worked all around the world; how do you think Australia’s pastry scene weighs in on an international scale?
We still copy a lot from our international counterparts; our pastry boutiques take a lot of inspiration from France, and our restaurant dishes are pretty much dictated by what is happening in Asia and Europe. However, for a young country we have shown that we are very quick learners and we are hungry for knowledge and advancement.
You’ve worked at the Ritz Hotel in Paris and The Adelphi Hotel in Melbourne, and last year you undertook a new position at another hotel, The Langham. What draws you to the hotel environment?
Hotels provide a spectrum of challenges. You have to create so many different menus: for the restaurant, in-room dining, functions, meetings. You have to wear many different types of thinking hats at once and it challenges the strategic part of the brain that I used back when I was a business consultant.
As the executive head pastry chef at The Adelphi Hotel’s Om Nom Dessert Bar, you received a chef’s hat within two months; can you describe how that felt?
To be perfectly honest with you, I couldn’t believe it. I knew what we were doing was experimental, but to be awarded [the chef’s hat] is something that I never really dared ask for.
We know you have a bit of a sweet tooth, but do you have any savoury dishes you particularly enjoy?
Ramen, sticky pork hock, and good old aged steak cooked to medium rare. I would never say no to any of those!