The model-turned-chef makes her comeback with Flakes & Layers, a roving patisserie making its next stop in Causeway Bay
Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a pastry chef.
In 2005, I enrolled on a patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, as it was a rocky time in my modelling career. When I came back to Hong Kong, there was a reality show on TVB, where starlets and models were invited to cook—almost like Iron Chef. I went on and won, and it launched my TV career. A few years later, I was invited to co-host a show with China’s biggest food critic, Chua Lam. He encouraged me to explore cooking because the public now trusted my palate. I went straight back to Le Cordon Bleu to take a baking course and then applied for a pastry internship at Caprice at the Four Seasons Hotel in Central. I then worked at La Duree in Paris in their laboratory and finally launched my [now closed] patisserie Petite Amanda in Hong Kong.
Was this always your dream?
It was always a dream of mine to have my own patisserie. As a child, my father had a sweet tooth, but my mother couldn’t really bake, so I grew up making pastries.
What makes Flakes and Layers unique?
I want to share the joy and love I have for pastries as doughnuts always put a smile on people’s faces. So I created a gourmet, one-hand item. I call them “ooonuts”: a hybrid of a doughnut and a millefeuille. Instead of using puff pastry like a millefeuille, I use laminated croissant dough and the cream filling of the millefeuille. There aren’t many one-hand items out there, so I was keen to make a glammed-up version of a doughnut. I use the best ingredients too: vanilla beans from Tahiti, single-origin cacao from Venezuela and instead of a sugar glaze, I use a pure chocolate glaze. [With toppings including] beautiful pearl sugars from France and sprinkles with chocolate metallic colouring, it’s no ordinary doughnut.
What were some of the challenges involved in setting up Flakes & Layers amid Covid-19?
The challenge wasn’t Covid-19. Over the last five years, the universe has shaken up my whole world. My marriage fell apart, I closed Petite Amanda, my father got really ill—it was one thing after another and I was in a dark place in my life. I devoted 2019 to building up my confidence again. It started with mastering certain sports, then I re-entered TV and got myself back into work. With Covid-19, there wasn’t much TV or modelling work coming in, so I thought this was the best time to start a passion project.
What was it like collaborating with [graphic designer] Ruth Chao for your packaging?
I knew of her through the social scene and I always loved her work. We had meetings in my kitchen and we just clicked. When Covid-19 began, I almost delayed my launch and she encouraged me to just do it and not let my fear get to me. She’s been by my side this whole time. It’s a real example of women’s empowerment. The packaging colours are actually an ode to my grandmother: her powder room had green and pink tiles in it. I love that Ruth incorporated this as well as my background in fashion into the design.
Who have been your mentors in the food industry?
Ludovic Douteau, from when I interned at Caprice, took me under his wing for those six months and I still call him when I have any questions. But my biggest mentor of all time is still Chua Lam. He’s like a second father to me. I can’t thank him enough for always being there.
What can we expect in the future?
At first Flakes & Layers was only supposed to be open for deliveries, but then Lane Crawford came knocking and asked if I’d do a pop-up at their IFC shop. It turned out bigger than I thought, and it has been a wonderful surprise. I’m touched by how happy people are that I’ve come back to the pastry world. In September, my pop-up was a food truck in K11 Musea; in October, it’ll be in Causeway Bay [at Lee Garden Two], and for Christmas I’ll be back in Central.
Strang's tips for making irresistible ooonuts
1. Proofing your dough before baking is important so that the dough rises to its full potential. It’ll ensure your dough comes out looking plump and pillowy like a cloud.
2. Double-bake the dough until it gets golden brown. This also gives it that extra crunchiness.
3. Never refrigerate croissant dough once it has been baked.
4. Handle your goods with care and love. Once the ooonuts are on the tray, carry them as carefully as you would carry a pan of water and keep them in an air-conditioned place.
5. The best way to check you have the right consistency when you’ve tempered your chocolate is to drizzle it from the spatula into the bowl. If it leaves a slight trail, you know it’s ready for glazing.
6. A common mistake when making laminated dough like puff pastry or croissant is to overflour dry dough. If you do this, the dough won’t absorb the flour.
7. When making cream, try not to burn it. This isn’t a barbeque. The only time you ever burn anything is when you’re making crème brûlée or caramel.
8. Making pastries is quite a technical job. Most of the time you can’t reverse your mistake. So if you feel it’s going wrong, cut your losses and start again.
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