Jeffery Koo Ka-chun, executive chef of VERO Chocolates, is a celebrated pastry chef and master chocolate sculptor. He's also the proud winner of several international chocolate sculpting competitions. Koo began his culinary career at 18, and has been into pastry-making for more than 13 years. His pursuit of excellence has earned him the praise and trust of employers but his staff find him too demanding. Now the pastry chef of Hong Kong's National Culinary Team, Koo's high standard for himself and others has paid off.
How did you get into pastry-making?
I never thought of becoming a pastry chef. I wanted to be a fireman. But joining the Professionals Pastry School's pastry course (the course is now offered at Vocational Training Centre) changed my life forever. I developed a huge interest in making pastries.
I was very lucky to begin my career at a five-star hotel where I met chef Yves Matthay who taught me a lot about pastry-making and chocolate sculpting.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from many sources. Eating is one way of getting inspired. Whenever I eat, the different ingredients inspire me to mix and match and form a new flavour.I also draw inspiration from other chefs. I look at their masterpieces and check out window displays.
What was the breakthrough point in your career?
While the hotel I was working in was under renovation, I had the chance of going to France and learn from Pierre Gagnaire, who has won three Michelin stars, and one of the top chefs in the world. At that time, I had about 10 years of experience under my belt. I already had a clear idea of how to mix and match different ingredients. Learning from chef Gagnaire took my understanding of ingredients to a whole new level. I never thought of using cucumber in dessert.
In France, I had a new understanding of mixing and matching ingredients which benefits me greatly when I need to create my own recipe and pastry collections.
How did you become VERO's executive chef?
After working in a hotel for more than 10 years, I considered opening my own cake shop. One day I came across VERO products in a department store. I found them very elegant and I realised it was a local brand name.
I called up the owner, Roger Chan, and requested for a meeting with him. We clicked instantly, things went really well and he offered me the position of executive chef and more importantly, the freedom to do things my way - from the renovation of the shop to making recipes.
What are your main duties?
I overlook the operation of the cake shop. I create recipes and teach staff to make pastries. I take quality control very seriously. I tell my staff to follow each and every step in my recipes.
How would you describe your pastries?
My pastries cannot be called Japanese, French or anything. I have my own style and love to mix ingredients. I like strong flavour but not too sweet. I never have customers second-guessing what they are tasting because I believe a good chef should give customers a clear idea of what they are eating.
What are your plans?
I would like to participate in more international pastry contests. Right now I am preparing for the 2012 International Confectionery Art Competition.