Following an unusual path from the chemistry lab to the kitchen, Charins Chang was recently appointed new Head Pastry Chef at Benedict.
Chef Charins Chang is a busy young woman, but instead of growing weary, she thrives - especially when she talks about her true passion: desserts, cakes and sweets.
Charins, who is now Head Pastry Chef at Union Group’s Benedict, sat down with NOW! Jakarta to speak about her latest creations that include Churro Sundae, Granny’s Old Fashioned Apple Pie, Chocolate Overdose, PMS (Passion Fruit, Mango and Strawberry Cake) and Key Lime Pie.
For starters, I was hoping you could tell us more about your background?
I run charins.com, which is an online cake and chocolate shop. I also recently became Head Pastry Chef for Benedict. My background is actually not in pastry or the F&B industry - I went to uni and obtained a degree in biotechnology. Afterwards, I worked in Singapore in the science industry and in research for one year. But while I was working, I already started selling cakes online because I kept baking in my spare time and obviously couldn’t eat everything on my own. I soon realized that my cakes sold very well and decided to quit my job and expand my pastry skills and knowledge.
I went to France to attend Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Pâtisserie pastry school and then had the possibility to do an internship in Monistrol with one of the best pastry chefs in France, Bruno Montcoudiol. I purposely chose him because he is very humble and lives in the countryside where I could really immerse myself in the French culture.
After spending some time in France, I came back to Jakarta in early 2016. In January, I officially started charins.com and everything quickly fell into place after that. I run the online shop and supply to cafes as well. Additionally, I am a consultant for restaurants. My most recent project is Benedict, where I have been working since April.
That’s a very interesting path you followed to become a pastry chef. You don’t miss the old days that you spent in the lab?
In a way, I brought the practices from the lab into the kitchen. When I am in the kitchen, I always need to know what is going on chemically, for instance, I am very much focused on the temperatures. I really make an effort to understand all the reactions, and everything has to be accurate.
When did you first become interested in baking?
I have been baking since I was in high school. When I was in uni, I baked much more than before because I had more kitchen space as I was living with my parents back then. I also read a lot of books about baking to expand my knowledge. The books helped me to understand the scientific part of food, and that’s when I really fell in love with it.
What kind of desserts and cakes did you create specifically for Benedict?
All the cakes I made for Benedict are very “me”. I was given a lot of freedom to head my own department, which I truly appreciate. I like my desserts to look effortlessly beautiful. Even if they look messy at first glance, I have put a lot of thought into every single dessert, and I am a very disciplined person in the kitchen.
I decided to cover a wide range in the flavor spectrum to please everyone’s palate, from chocolate-y to fruity. I also like to use local products and go shopping for fruits like strawberries and limes on the markets in the city. Whenever it is possible, the ingredients are locally sourced.
One of my desserts, Banana Fritters, is a local dish as well: it’s a combination of glutinous rice cake, warm and sticky, and pisang goreng (fried banana) served with cassava chips. I crush and bake them with sugar flour until they become chips clusters and then finish it off with pandan ice cream and dried coconut. This dessert is very local but has a unique twist.
Which one is the most popular with the guests so far?
Indonesians love chocolate, so the Churro Sunday and Chocolate Overdose are big favorites. My own favorite among all of them is hard to tell. I like them all, but whenever I am baking the Chocolate Overdose, I keep nibbling on it - so that is a good sign!
The kitchen can be a very fast-paced and stressful environment to work in. How do you deal with these kind of situations?
Yes, that’s true, it does get stressful sometimes. Whenever that happens, I try to take a deep breath and maybe dance a little and just tell myself that all will be good [laughs]. But the kitchen staff is very helpful and friendly, so it was quite easy for me to adapt.
Do you have a certain work philosophy that you implement in the kitchen?
It all comes back to my background in science. It is a must for me to understand why you are mixing butter and sugar, why you are using a certain number of eggs or why you have to emulsify them - these things are very crucial to me. When you actually understand the purpose of each ingredient, you can recreate things more easily. When there is a problem, you understand where this problem comes from because you know the “science” behind the recipe.
Benedict is very well-known as a place for breakfast, lunch and brunch. How do you make sure that your desserts stand out as well?
I try to take a casual approach, since this is not a fine dining restaurant. Sometimes, you wake up and you feel like you need something sweet, maybe you are craving a pancake or waffles - which we also have on the menu. If you feel naughtier, you immediately go for the cakes and chocolates.