After stepping down from her role at French restaurant L’Envol, pastry chef Mandy Siu is flying solo with her new venture, Finessence Pâtisserie
What inspired you to branch out on your own?
For the last 15 years, I worked in five-star hotels and fine-dining establishments, gaining experience and also learning about what our guests enjoy. It was now or never to step out of my comfort zone and build a brand of fine pastries that reaches more people.
How did you come up with the name Finessence Pâtisserie?
The name was suggested by my friend [and former Tatler dining editor] Wilson Fok. Finessence combines “fine”, “essence” and “finesse”. It’s similar to how we combine French techniques with our own twist to bring thoughtful, artistic pastries to our guests.
How can we get our hands on your creations?
Instead of creating a standalone shop, we built our own industrial workshop in the New Territories. Customers order through our website and we arrange pick-up or delivery.
By all accounts, your signature product is the [almond puff pastry cake] Galette des Rois. What makes it so special?
To maintain the quality of our production, we do a one-product, limited-time release. When I launched at the end of 2021, I thought [the galette] would be the perfect item to introduce in January. We weren’t expecting to have such a huge response. We use the highest quality of each ingredient, like fresh vanilla beans from Tahiti and 60 per cent content almond paste from Spain. We tested the recipe countless times to achieve the best balance of frangipane, in both texture and taste. We added even more nutty goodness by incorporating hazelnut praline to create greater depth of texture. After baking, we garnish it with a layer of Hong Kong honey to add sweetness and aroma.
In large establishments, the pastry team is divided into ranks. I started as a commis [apprentice] and worked my way up to a pastry chef. As team leader, I had to work with many colleagues from different departments to build united team spirit. Especially in Michelin-starred restaurants, where the working hours are long and the pressure is high, you need to be there for your team’s needs. We had great chemistry. We maintained the same team for more than two years, so I consider that to be a great achievement.
You’ve had the dream of opening your own pastry shop since you were 15. How were you so sure of what you wanted to do then?
Since I was a teenager, I liked spending time in the kitchen, but only to bake. Making desserts brought me a lot of joy. I appreciated the beauty of pastries and was curious about how to make them. My parents already worked in the food industry as Chinese dried food suppliers, so with their support and encouragement, I enrolled in a local culinary school and specialised in pastry and bakery, and got my first job in the industry. I started working with chef Tadashi Nakamura at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. He was my first mentor and I’ve always looked up to him.
You’re known for creating works of art on the plate. Where does your creative instinct come from?
In school I practised oil painting, sketching and Chinese calligraphy, and I’ve always been fascinated by art. I love learning from master chefs. I try to visit top restaurants in Paris and other big cities in France once a year to experience their desserts in person. I like to taste the food and understand the texture, structure, food source, shape and colour. When I create my own dish, I draw it many times to get the perfect design.
What is your favourite dessert to make?
A soufflé. It’s the simplest dessert with the smallest amount of ingredients. Just sugar and egg whites—but it’s easy to mess up.
Are there any up-and-coming pastry chefs in Hong Kong that we should keep an eye out for?
Joanna Yuen from [Japanese Argentinian restaurant] Andō. She infuses western ingredients into classic Japanese confections, and I love her originality. We’re both female pastry chefs from Hong Kong who have worked at Michelin starred restaurants, and we’ve become good friends over the years. I admire her persistence.
What’s next for you?
We launched our classic flan with a twist in February and we’re also diving into celebratory cakes and chocolates. We will be working with fashion brands and plan to have another dessert pop-up event in the future.
A resource for women to become their best selves, Front & Female celebrates trailblazers and tackles timely, provocative issues through inspiring content and events. Join the community by subscribing to our newsletter and following #frontandfemale