COVER STORY

Adri­ano Zumbo, Aus­tralia’s an­swer to Willy Wonka, is build­ing his candy-hued brand one de­li­cious layer af­ter an­other with more stores, new prod­uct lines and an ad­dic­tive TV show. DAN STOCK re­ports

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Stellar Contents -

Adri­ano Zumbo’s sweet dreams.

He might be known as the sweet as­sas­sin and the patissier of pain for his sugar-coated TV chal­lenges, but Adri­ano Zumbo is not im­per­vi­ous to crit­i­cism. Still, the man who pop­u­larised the cro­quem­bouche han­dles it with as­ton­ish­ing aplomb. Two years ago, while build­ing a mac­aron kiosk at Em­po­rium Mel­bourne, the mis­chievous dessert mae­stro took the un­usual step of em­bla­zon­ing the hoard­ing with scathing on­line re­views – of his work. “Con­sid­er­ing how he prances around like he in­vented all this stuff, it was a lit­tle un­der­whelm­ing,” fumed one. “I hon­estly hate your mac­arons and all that other rub­bish stuff you cre­ate. By the way get some hair while you’re at it,” seethed an­other, in a child­ish ref­er­ence to the bald-headed dy­namo. And this: “Over­priced, over­rated and out­ra­geous.” The most of­fen­sive words were even high­lighted in his sig­na­ture flu­o­res­cent pink. The move was dar­ing and ir­rev­er­ent – and to­tally Zumbo. “I’m se­ri­ous about what I want to do, but I don’t take my­self se­ri­ously,” he says. “If some­one wants to take the piss, who cares?” The un­flap­pable chef-en­trepreneur is now the pivot of a new show, Zumbo’s Just

Desserts, in which he dis­penses sage ad­vice to 12 am­a­teur cooks com­pet­ing to re-cre­ate his most fan­tas­ti­cal cakes. As you can imag­ine, their meringue is a mess, their flan has flopped and their choux is unchew­able. But Zumbo, ever-com­posed for a man who has a deliri­ous Willy Wonka tat­too, says the con­tes­tants rise to his “chal­leng­ing chal­lenges”.

“You want peo­ple who push them­selves – that’s what this in­dus­try is all about,” he says. “Even me, you’ve got to keep push­ing your­self. Push­ing, evolv­ing, try­ing new things, tak­ing in crit­i­cism from peo­ple, and think­ing about it and grow­ing.”

Life as a su­per-star chef is worlds away from the fid­gety 15-year-old who “couldn’t wait to get out of school”.

As a teenager Zumbo strug­gled aca­dem­i­cally but found his call­ing work­ing in the bak­ery of his sis­ter’s su­per­mar­ket in Coon­am­ble, in cen­tral-west NSW.

“I started get­ting into it, colour­ing the sponge, frost­ing it. I’d take them to school and ev­ery­one would love them. My teacher said, ‘Amaz­ing, you should keep this up.’ Ev­ery­thing else I did, I’d get in trou­ble. “So I started to feel good,” he says. Though dis­cour­aged by his Ital­ian par­ents who ran the other su­per­mar­ket in town – “They wanted me to stay at school and take over the fam­ily busi­ness” – Zumbo moved to Sydney and be­gan an ap­pren­tice­ship at a cake store.

“In my head, I al­ways wanted to open my own shop, filled with my own cre­ations,” he says.

A decade later, af­ter stints as a chef and work­ing hol­i­days in Paris learn­ing from such lu­mi­nar­ies as Pierre Hermé, that be­came a re­al­ity. In 2007 he opened his first patis­serie in Bal­main, sell­ing what has be­come one of his call­ing cards, the mac­aron (or Zum­baron as they’re known in his candy-coloured uni­verse).

That one store has grown to seven across two states, with two more open­ing by year’s end – Cir­cu­lar Quay in Sydney in Septem­ber and Don­caster in Mel­bourne in December.

Next up are Zumbo-branded Sunbeam ap­pli­ances and an app where play­ers build their own pas­try shop. Take that Poke­mon.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the 12-hour days re­quired for film­ing the new se­ries proved tricky.

Zumbo cred­its the “fan­tas­tic cast and crew” which in­cludes Bri­tish chef Rachel Khoo, last seen on My Kitchen Rules, who joins Zumbo as a judge, along with Gigi Falanga, his chef as­sis­tant.

Khoo says it was a great op­por­tu­nity to work along­side Zumbo, who was gen­er­ous with his knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence and “didn’t mind me ask­ing a mil­lion geeky pas­try ques­tions”.

“I was blown away ev­ery time Adri­ano re­vealed one of his cre­ations,” she says. “We shared a lot of pas­try ex­pe­ri­ences and tips.

“I think the most help­ful was how to eat grace­fully in front of the cam­era. Adri­ano loves his desserts and just goes for it.”

Yet de­vour­ing desserts is some­thing peo­ple are do­ing in­creas­ingly less, with re­fined white sugar re­plac­ing fat as di­etary de­mon num­ber

“Sweets are a del­i­cacy… that lit­tle bit of naugh­ti­ness”

one. Zumbo, how­ever, is un­trou­bled by such things as the I Quit Sugar move­ment.

“It doesn’t af­fect me,” he says with a shrug. “It’s not a load of crap, but there’s sugar in ev­ery­thing. Whether it’s re­fined sugar or co­conut sugar, it’s still sugar. For me, sweets are a del­i­cacy. It’s some­thing you need in your life, that lit­tle bit of naugh­ti­ness. You need sugar – it’s like hap­pi­ness.”

Treat­ing peo­ple is what drives the 34-year-old chef. In fact, he is so fo­cused on work and pleas­ing oth­ers that he is cur­rently sin­gle. Even­tu­ally he wants a wife and a fam­ily, but he doesn’t feel pres­sured to set­tle down. Not yet any­way.

In the mean­time, Zumbo is spin­ning many other plates.

“I want ev­ery­one to be able to en­joy what we do,” he says.

His reach ex­tends from packet mixes to smart phone apps, fes­ti­val ap­pear­ances to his own show.

And with so much on the go, Zumbo shows no signs of slow­ing down. Maybe it’s all that sugar. Zumbo’s Just Desserts, 7.30pm, Mon­day and Tues­day, Chan­nel 7

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