Adriano Zumbo is one of Australia’s most celebrated patissiers, known for his croquembouche tower, made famous by MasterChef Australia. Zumbo is known for his technically challenging desserts and is set to give Zumbarons Masterclasses at this year’s Good Food and Wine Show (Sydney 27-29 June). I chatted with the sweet tooth about his success, indulging, and once wanting to be a truck driver.
Croquembouche has become your signature. Why do you think it’s so popular?
Well it’s a tower so it’s quite large, it’s quite visual. Most people know and love profiteroles so I think it’s a draw card that way. It’s quite a crowd pleaser. It’s something you can buy and you know that 85 to 90 per cent of people will love it.
What is you number one selling item?
Definitely it would be my Macaroons.
When you were a kid did you always want to become a Patissier?
No, not really. As a young kid I wanted to be a truck driver. I come from a country town [Coonamble in Northern NSW] with only 3000 people. When I was kid, one of the big things was watching all the cattle trucks and wheat trucks coming through town… I left school at 14 and started my [pastry chef] apprenticeship. I always watched my mum [cook] but actually, I’ve never loved food. I was a very fussy eater.
In what way?
I loved lollies. I love vegemite sandwiches, Milo, ham sandwiches, chicken breasts and that’s all I used to eat. I wouldn’t eat anything else. So at home there was always two sets of dinner, one for mum and dad and one for me, because I was so fussy.
How did you get into it?
I didn’t love school, I wasn’t really focused. I was always the dreamer. I came down to Sydney one weekend for a school formal and on that weekend I found job in the paper, went into the interview and got it and I packed my bags and moved to Sydney and have been here since.
Did you ever dream that you would be so successful?
No, definitely not. My biggest dream was to own a little shop but it sort of went the other way.
What was the big turning point for you?
MasterChef helped build my profile nationally and then international. I now go to other countries and people sort of recognise you, which is a bit surreal. We’ve just sort of grown. I have a great team. We’ve been able to back it up in the product and the ideas keep going, keep evolving. We’re trying to keep pushing and evolving [the product], so we’re not a one-hit wonder.
Do you have a sweet tooth?
Yeah – I love sweets.
How do you stay so slim while be surrounded by all these delicious treats all day?
I think it comes with the job, you don’t always eat that much because you’re always on the go.
But isn’t it part of the job to taste test the product?
Yeah [laughs]. That’s why you just got to take a bite. Take a bite and that’s it. Be strong. Put it down. But I do eat a lot of lollies and ice-cream at home.
What is your indulgence?
I love jelly gummy lollies, liquorice, ice cream and I eat my own ice cream, I take it home from work.
When you go to a dinner party are you always in charge of dessert?
Not always. It depends. Sometimes I don’t like making dessert. Lot of people don’t ask me as well because my friends think I’m busy. I like it when people make desserts for me but not very many people do. Everybody thinks “Oh no, I’m not making dessert for him.” But I actually like simple things, you can make me sticky date pudding or Roulade and I would be happy.
If you were to die tomorrow what would be your last meal?
It would be lollies or ice-cream. It takes me back to my childhood. I remember sitting with a packet throwing jellies in my mouth. So it’s not just the taste it’s one of that nostalgic things.
What’s the best part of your job?
The people I work with, people I meet and the creativity. I think it’s the best. It’s awesome to be able to come and work and have an idea and make it happen.
What about the worst part of your job?
Probably the business side of it. It’s running the business. Coming from a chef background it’s hard to break up business and creativity sometimes. You need to make something work it needs to be efficient but then when you’re creating, sometimes you don’t think like that, you think the opposite.
Tell me about your involvement with Good Food and Wine Show.
I’m holding Masterclasses. So the school I have – The Zumbo Academy – we’re making it mobile this year and taking it around Australia through the Good Food and Wine show. I’m hosting three Macaroon classes a day at every Good Food and Wine show.
What else is happening at the Good Food and Wine show?
There’s going to be heaps of good chefs there on the main stage. There’s Antonio Carluccio, Miguel [Maestre], Darren Robertson. So it should be good.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I would love to have a store in each state. I would love to have a store in Asia or London that would be my biggest goal. Just keep growing the business and come up with new concepts. Hopefully, I can come up with something new and hopefully change the market or the industry. We’re always striving for sort of bring something new and exciting and you’ve always got to keep trying and 1 out of 100 works.
WE WENT TO Adriano Zumbo, The Star, Pyrmont.
WE ATE Assorted Zumbarons, Zonuts – the croissant-doughnut hybrid. Apple Maple Cheesecake, passionfruit tart, salted caramel tart and individual decorated fondants.
WE DRANK Sparkling mineral water.