Pastry Chef Pichet Ong: The James Beard Award Nominee Dishes On His Sweet Culinary Journey

Pichet Ong's the James Beard Award nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef who built his career from the ground up.
Image via Instagram/pichetong

For those looking for inspiration, look no further than chef Pichet Ong, who has seemingly seen it all in the food world. Originally attending school for architecture, Pichet had such a passion and love for food that, thanks to his upbringing, he found himself engulfed in the culture, traveling from coast-to-coast on a journey that has seen him become recognized as one of the top pastry chefs in the industry.

As someone who never went to culinary school, Pichet Ong hustled his way to where he is today, relying on his own experiences, creativity and following his dream to reach great heights — which included a nomination for a James Beard Award in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category. How’d he do it? Ong sat down to chat about his journey to get to where he is, where he gets such creativity for his dishes and what he’s expecting next.

Shut Up & Hustle: As A Renowned Pastry Chef, Can You Talk About Where Your Love For Sweets Comes From?

Pichet Ong: “I come from a family who loves to cook and eat, with no boundaries on when to eat (laughs). You can have ice cream in the morning and chocolate before you go to bed. There are no set rules.”

Shut Up & Hustle: So How Did You Turn That Love For Sweets Into Your Career?

Pichet Ong: “I went to school for architecture in California first, and always loved to bake and cook at home. I actually started out in baking because it was an opportunistic moment at that time. A position was available in San Francisco, and, after a period of being a line cook with meat and fish, I realized that I loved making and eating desserts much more. I was just interested in cake and tarts and ice cream. I have a soft spot for ice cream.”

Shut Up & Hustle: And You Make Your Own Ice Cream, Yeah? Any Types Of Flavors We Should Definitely Try?

Pichet Ong: “Yes, yes I do! I think that chocolate and strawberry is always going to be my favorite. I think fruit flavors are always harder, but I do like to use a fresh fruit. With that, though, it’s not always consistent in sweetness, so you have to go by taste every time you make it, and then the ratio has to be changed according to the water content of the fruit. I like ice cream a little bit more than sorbet. Sorbet is a great way to convey fruit flavors in general, though, so I’ll mix and match sorbet with a vanilla ice cream to get the same, similar effect. Like a swirl.”

Shut Up & Hustle: You’ve Often Used Coffee In Some Of Your Ice Creams, Why The Love For It As An Ingredient?

Pichet Ong: “I love it! First of all, I love drinking a good cup of coffee. I would go out of my way to get a good cup. When I first moved to New York, there really weren’t many options, so I tried to do my best with what I had at home or at the restaurant. And I also love incorporating good coffee into my dessert; I mean, I love coffee ice cream, particularly if it’s with caramel or chocolate. Fruit can be hard to mix it with, but I once did a tiramisu with pineapple that I thought was very interesting. Another time I did avocado ice cream with coffee that was also very interesting. I made a milkshake out of that, which tasted great.”

Shut Up & Hustle: How Do You Come Up With Some Of Your Unique Recipes?

Pichet Ong: “To be honest, I have no idea where the inspirations for these come, but I had dishes in different parts of the world where they’ve done things that all just work together. I’ve had guacamole and iced coffee together, and, it some ways, it just worked well.”

Shut Up & Hustle: Do You Find Yourself Making Things That Other People Want, Or Do You Bake Stuff That You Really Love?

Pichet Ong: “You never just do it for yourself. I think there’s a part of it where I do want to make food that I like to eat, and that’s why I’m very careful with what I’m putting into my cooking. It’s always natural and the best product, organic if possible; even if that sounds cliché. But I also think about the audience because, particularly, as a pastry chef, I’m usually doing desserts for a venue or a chef who likes things a certain way.”

Shut Up & Hustle: You Didn’t Go To Culinary School, So How Fortunate Are You To Have The Journey You’ve Had In Your Career?

Pichet Ong: “It wasn’t so much a struggle for me, although, being in the business for over 25 years, I’ve seen a lot of changes. When I first went into cooking, I was very much a minority because of what I was doing. I did question what I was going to do, whether that was Asian desserts, just because of the way I grew up. But those kinds of questions don’t really come up anymore. Technically speaking, I don’t know everything about cooking and baking; I think it’s always a learning process for me. At the end of the day, the way I approach food is very simple, as is the kind of food that I like. So it’s never going to be too much of a challenge for me because I’m not going to make it unnecessarily complicated. I want the products to speak for themselves.”

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