Cover Pastry chef Andy Yeung and his black panther chocolate showpiece

From sculptural showpieces to elaborate whole cakes, Andy Yeung turns pastry making into an art form

Compared to the clamour of a restaurant kitchen, with its pots boiling over, pans clanking, plates clacking and cries of “Order up!”, the pastry kitchen is a haven of calm. In the air-conditioned, humidity-controlled space, chefs patiently and contemplatively go about their work, deliberate and precise in the relative peace. It was no wonder, then, that this oasis appealed to Andy Yeung. As a young teenager who had gone from serving on the frantic restaurant floor to pot washing in the busy, bustling kitchen of his parents’ hotel restaurant, he was looking for an escape.

“The temperature and the atmosphere in the hotel’s pastry kitchen were much better. It was clean; it was cool,” says Yeung. It also offered him a creative outlet.

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“I was addicted to drawing when I was at school. However, my parents refused to let me take the art and design programme when I was at secondary school,” he says. But the pastry kitchen presented an opportunity for Yeung to flex his creative muscles. From here, Yeung began to work his way up through the ranks.

Having learnt the fundamentals in that first pastry kitchen, it was at the JW Marriott, where he worked for more than a decade, that he really refined his skills, particularly through his participation in culinary competitions.

“Joining competitions helped me because you are always trying to present something unique, or something new or something special,” says Yeung. These competitions usually revolved around chocolate, where impressive showpieces are crafted from the confection, just as a sculptor might create an artwork. “What I am doing is presenting my art in a different form. I’m presenting my artistic sense in chocolate.”

The process begins with extensive research and sketching drafts in pencil, before Yeung imagines how a 2D drawing can become a 3D reality. He employs a number of techniques: he uses clay and then silicone to make moulds; he uses wood-crafting skills to chocolate; and 3D printing is increasingly playing a role.

Temperature and humidity make chocolate sculpting challenging in Hong Kong, as does the lack of space. Chocolate showpieces are not things that can be built in a day, so as well as planning and execution, planning how and where to store the various components while the showpiece is being constructed—as well as looking after the final product—is key.

It’s often hard to believe Yeung’s masterful creations have been made from chocolate. The pastry chef has created such ambitious, intricate pieces as a Hong Kong-style rickshaw, a miniature Star Ferry, a replica coffee machine and a Pac-Man machine. But the creations he is most proud of focus on his home of Hong Kong.

In 2018, Salon du Chocolat, the world’s largest event dedicated to chocolate, took place in the city, with several chefs invited to create works around the theme “Old Hong Kong”. Yeung’s effort incorporated various signature Hong Kong elements, including the sign from a renowned Wan Chai pawn shop, a Hong Kong-style folding chair and some graffiti in the style of the late “King of Kowloon” Tsang Tsou-choi, who was known for his street art—all realised in chocolate. “I found that the history of Hong Kong is actually really beautiful, and it was an honour to have a chance to put it together in chocolate as a showpiece. This exhibition is also quite important because it was the first time Salon du Chocolat held its exhibition in Hong Kong, so it was memorable for me to be a part of it.”

The chocolate showpieces are just part of Yeung’s role as a pastry chef. And he’s always keen to transfer his exceptional skills in this realm to cakes and desserts. “A chocolate showpiece, at the end of the day, is a showpiece. It’s made with chocolate, so it’s edible, but it’s not actually meant to be eaten.”

These skills ensure Yeung’s other creations, such as cakes, also stand out visually, most recently in his creations as executive pastry chef at The St Regis Hong Kong. “The techniques that I use for making chocolate showpieces help me give my cakes a special look,” he says. But they are also always accompanied by innovative flavour and texture combinations ensuring his creations are a feast for all the senses.

Yeung is also keen to pass his skills on—particularly when it comes to chocolate showpieces—which he does in his role as a member of the Hong Kong Chefs Association, where he coaches young chefs ahead of competitions and helps them elevate their skills and win awards. In this manner, they can follow in the footsteps of pastry master Yeung, who is himself an award-winning pastry chef, having competed as part of the Hong Kong Culinary National team at the IKA Culinary Olympics in 2016, bringing home two gold medals and one silver.

But whatever else he’s working on, chocolate looks likely to remain ever-present for Yeung, who has plenty more ideas up his sleeve for showpieces that he has yet to reveal. “I love chocolate,” he says. “It just makes you happy.”

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