Ever since the first time we sunk our teeth into a moist, dense and gorgeously decorated cupcake at Hotel ICON's lobby cafe, Green, we haven't been able to stop gushing about them and craving for more.
Now, we meet the man behind the muffin tins, Danny Ho, executive pastry chef at Hotel ICON to find out how he got into the pastry business, who he looks up to most and -- you'll never guess -- what his secret tool in the kitchen is.
LifestyleAsia: When did you first realise that you wanted to become a pastry chef?
Danny Ho: I was seven or eight years old when I first started helping my mother out in the kitchen. I loved playing with all the butter, flour, and sugar, and since then, I just knew it was something I would love to do.
At my first job as a chef back in Malaysia, I was often bullied by those in the kitchen who were more senior than me. For example, I'd have to buy them a pack of cigarettes in exchange for each lesson on how to make a certain dessert.
These days, I lead a team of seven at Hotel ICON, but no, I don't accept cigarettes in exchange for dessert lessons. In fact, my whole team is non-smoking, which is a requirement I have of them.
LSA: What originally brought you over to Hong Kong?
DH: Back when I was working at the Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur, I was told that somebody wanted to see me, and I immediately thought I was in big trouble.
You see, the chef isn't usually asked to come out unless there's something wrong, but when I got out there, I was greeted by two people. They asked me if I was responsible for the dessert spread, which I was, and then asked me to come to Hong Kong to work for them. They turned out to be from COVA Pasticceria & Confetteria here in Hong Kong.
LSA: Who do you look up to most as a chef and why?
DH: Definitely Thomas Liu (of Thomas Trillion) because he's always trying new things and being very creative with his desserts. It's also something I strive for, as I'm constantly trying other peoples' desserts for research, and coming up with new recipes for The Market.
I'm a strong believer in continuous learning, which is why I like to enter myself and my team in culinary competitions. That way, we're able to learn new skills while keeping our own skills sharp.
LSA: Do you have a favourite tool or piece of equipment in the kitchen?
DH: Actually, I do… and it's a Bobbi Brown brush! (laughs) I use it to paint and decorate the cakes, not myself, so don't worry.
LSA: As executive pastry chef, you oversee everything from desserts to breads to petits fours. What is your personal favourite thing to make?
DH: My favourite thing to make is cakes, which I try to create with not too much sugar. Hong Kong people don't like their desserts too sweet, but that doesn't mean that the desserts need to taste bland. I try to make healthy desserts that aren't all that bad for you. Just look at me, I eat my desserts every day and I'm not fat (grins).
LSA: We're big fans of the green tea pana cotta, apple crumble and lemon tart, but what is your ultimate, must-try dessert at The Market?
DH: Definitely the durian cheesecake, which is only available on Friday and Saturday nights at The Market. Durian is something that people either love or hate, but I actually converted someone who didn't like durian before trying the cheesecake and ended up really liking it!
LSA: Lastly, what's the secret ingredient in those scrumptious cupcakes of yours?
DH: (sly grin) All I can tell you is that the cupcakes are based on a recipe from Germany...
When he's not standing by the dessert counter at The Market asking customers for feedback or greeting his loyal fanbase of doting middle-aged aunties, Ho can be found in the kitchen burning the midnight oil (or butter, more likely) and tinkling with new recipes for desserts.
The Market, 2/F Hotel ICON, 17 Science Museum Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, +852 3400 1308