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Rendez-vous with Executive Pastry Chef Smita Grosse at Grand Hyatt

Here comes spring, a joyful period to enjoy a nice afternoon tea and sharing some time with your family and friends during this Easter weekend. We had the chance to meet with Grand Hyatt Executive Pastry Chef, Smita Grosse, for an insightful and inspiring talk about her career, passion and pastries.  

Chef Smita Grosse, originally from Mauritius, speaks English, French and a little bit of German. She has explored and experienced working as a pastry chef in different destinations, like Jakarta, Dubai, Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong. She has now been working at Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, where she could explore her freedom and to create, for almost three years. 

During her career journey, Chef Smita received the opportunity to start with culinary experience but not long after, she felt in love with pastry, a whole new world where she could use all her creativity.  

French Guide: What is the 5 adjectives that can describe you and your working ethics?

Chef Smita Grosse: “Teamwork is important for me because without the team, you cannot achieve what you want. For instance, you cannot deliver for 500 or 800 people if I do not have a team. You can’t move ahead that’s why it is important. 

The second adjective would be “Respect”. I believe that respecting each other is a basic. I am a friendly person and I respect my teammates as human being.  

Also, when I enter the kitchen, a simple “Good morning” is already good start of the day and I am always happy to have a chat. I love working in friendly and respectful environment.  

“Passion” is what drives me in my everyday life. I am very passionate about everything I do. I love Pastry, you have to love what you do.   

The last one would be “Trust”. You must trust your team to move ahead, and to cooperate to tackle any challenges. 

FG: How do you get your inspiration?

I get my inspiration from nature. I like hiking so whenever I spot some unique and interesting shape of leaves, I would want to reinterpret it and put in my dessert.  

I also like furniture or design. For Halloween, I was inspired by porcelain, the classic ones look like a pumpkin and it was fun to play around with the shape of it.  Furniture and specific items in design like a line of a chair, can bring a nice finishing on my dessert. I also like furniture or design. For Halloween, I was inspired by porcelain, the classic ones look like a pumpkin and it was fun to play around with the shape of it.  Furniture and specific items in design like a line of a chair, can bring a nice finishing on my dessert. 

Whenever I have time, I try to think more on every theme and every occasion, I am a little bit different from other pastry chefs because my creations are me. I create to express myself and it is deeply related to my background story, my encounters and inspirations. 

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FG: Are you inspired by other chefs or other person in your life?

Many people are inspired by other chefs, I don’t say it’s wrong, it’s good but you can also put in a little bit of your creativity. … I try to be a little bit different because I want to have something that is mine. … that can represent me.” 

There is one pastry chef, Frank Haasnoot that I have always followed because he inspired me with his work ethic and his spirit. One of my signature pastries is inspired by him: the chocolate splash. I have reinvented it with my own taste, for instance, I have put on coco beans; you can sense my touch on it. I give credit to him because I truly respect how he creates beautiful and tasty masterpieces that can be deliver in a large production.  

Also, he taught me to be pragmatic. Some pastry chefs would only make one or two cakes that you can’t produce for 100 or 200 pieces. But with my kitchen, we deliver 1000 pieces without any problem. We assure a good taste and a nice product at the end.  

FG: What was your first memory of cooking?

My very first memory of cooking was when I did my first dessert for a grand scale event, a family wedding. It was just a panna cotta, with a mix berry compote and delicious Mauritius pineapple but everyone was amazed to have a western dessert at the ceremony, and that feeling pushed me a lot to keep on this path.  

Of course, my dad also influenced me since I was a little kid. He is a cook and I have always seen him cooking at home with us. I felt early in love with cuisine, this is a passion that I have inherited.  

When I chose this path, I started as a Kitchen chef, I did my apprentice for two years in Mauritius, in the one and only best 5 stars hotel. And I fell into pastry after 18 months of apprenticeship, and I have 6 extra months on pastry, it was a real shift in my career. 

For me, the main reason is pastry is not just cooking, but art. I can truly express myself in different ways, technics: chocolate work, sugar, baking pastries, dough, cream, ice cream… etc.  

Pastry opens a whole new world to me and since then, I am very happy. Especially, right now, as an Executive Pastry Chef at the Grand Hyatt, I have no boundary to express myself and my management trusts me, I get the freedom to be creative and that’s a precious.  

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FG: Being the first female Executive Pastry Chef in the hotel, have you ever encountered any difficulties as a woman in your career life?

In my career, I have got into critical situation when it is difficult to hold on and keep going but thanks to my mentor, my family and my teams, I have had the strength to move forward to keep the positive part of my experiences.  

In one of my previous experience, I had a very bad conversation with my Executive Pastry Chef, he told me something that really hurt me. He said that because I am from an island, dark-skinned woman, I won’t be able to make it and become an Executive Pastry Chef in Asia.  

It hurts me because I do everything where I was standing and there was just one position to go up. The thing is, when you worked with a leader and your leader told you something like this, it was sad and frustrated. For me, I think the feeling of frustration maybe was a sign and signified that it was a good time to go and find something else. 

So, I have applied in different places and for the first time, I got to be an Executive Pastry Chef with Kempinski Hotels in Jakarta. They were nice and welcome, and I never have struggles. For me, it was a dream come true. 

I do believe if you try and work hard enough, you can achieve everything in life. This experience became motivation and inspiration because I always take the negative things to inspire myself. In order to be a good leader, I learnt from the bad, and I will take feedback from the team. 

FG: How is the working environment in Grand Hyatt?

Hong Kong is multicultural and very open. We have a lot of female leaders in Grand Hyatt which shows the company is more open and therefore I love to work here. 

Before COVID, I had to fly here and there, they let me support and involve with many things. I am happy with my team. Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong is really challenging because of the production and the quantity, quality that we must deliver every day.  

At the very beginning, after talking to my mentor who helps me growing and get to where I am today, he told me to not worry and to accept the position at Grand Hyatt because I am hardworking, skilled and passionate. I am happy that I listened to him. 

FG: Do you think is there anything that needed to be change in the industry to achieve a more gender-equal working environment?

We can’t say equality in one word. For example, women get pregnant, they have maternity leave but men don’t have. I think it should be the company. The company’s philosophy and vision should be aligned with understanding the needs of women and men.  

I prefer to talk about HUMAN EQUALITY, because we are all human beings with different needs and different skills apart of our gender. 

FG: Do you consider yourself as a strict chef?

When I was in Macau, yes, I was stricter because I oversaw the whole team. It was quite a challenge and we made it.  I was working at Galaxy Macau as a sous-chef, and I hired all the staff and settled the kitchen. I hired some of my colleague that I worked with in Dubai. The difficult is when you work with friends, that’s different and the emotional part could take over. That’s a risk. 

I have tried to keep a professional ethic, but I tend to forget about the outside world. They thought that I became a bit bossy. But we need to be fair in the team and after a few years, they all send me a message to say sorry because they reach to the same stage in their career and now, they understand how difficult it could be to lead and to be fair with your team.  

FG: Do you have any funny memories in the kitchen?

I remembered we had a VIP event at Grand Hyatt. We had to make a birthday cake, part of it was real and part of it was fake, the cake design was a disco ball theme .When we entered the ballroom, we had to transport the cake on a platform, and people were dancing with the music, it was crazy. 

Suddenly, the ball felt off on the floor and rolled on few meters. Thankfully, the first layer was fake, so the cake was still comestible and most importantly, the guest laughed and was still happy. 

FG: Do you think HK customer have more loyalty?

I believe HongKongers are loyal when the pastries are tasty and nice looking. They appreciate the good work and when you are a nice person, they will always be open-minded and fair with you. I truly appreciate that.  

Before, I was a bit shy. Step by step, I have learned to socialize with people, especially in Hong Kong and its cosmopolite crowd.  

In here, I feel closer to my customers, we have connection because they have a real interest in pastry and my work.  

FG: So, what are the major differences between the customers in Macau, Jakarta and Hong Kong?

For Macau, I would say the guests like nice, clean and detailed cake. It was a lot of Chinese guests. Macau people like warm dessert more than the cold dessert. They won’t bother much of the good product that you used, they are just something efficient that could do the job for a nice picture on Instagram.  

For Singapore, the guests like mostly classical dessert, like a classic black forest or strawberry cream cake. They like spongy cakes too and less pastries alike.  

For Jakarta, the guests are totally into sponge style cake and not too much in mousse texture. A simple cake is fine for them. If you bake a fancy cake, they will just like it for a nice photo, but they would not eat it. 

For Hong Kong, my guests are expert level. They do love cakes and sweet pastries.  They accept the creativity, and it’s like “first, the eye eat and then you try”. Price is not of problem if it stays good and look good. They know what good food is and can taste the different! 

One day, one of our VIP guests ordered her favorite dessert, a black forest cake. She only love and really praise the one I make.  I didn’t have enough time to check the chocolate my team used to make the shavings. 

When my customer got the cake and tasted it, she directly texted me about the cake being different. She could taste the difference between 72% and 64% chocolate!  

And of cousre as “TRUST” is important to me, so when I check back it was actually a 64% chocolate instead of the 72% 

That’s why I really care about my guest and their comments are important. Their feedback is precious for improvement. 

FG: Talking about pastries, do you have any favourite ones?

Yes, I do! I love Mauritius Cream horn (Cornet à la Crème). It is typical Mauritius pastry. That’s a puff but look like a horn and inside you have coconut, this is my favourite. 

I do love crêpe too. When I am moody, I need some sweet and I will go for a crepe with chocolate. It is easy to make. 

FG: What would you do when the pastry too sweet or too salty?

I would definitely make it all over again. But sometimes when I might tasted it and is too late, got no choice, I would balance it either sweet or salty, adjust with some sourness or fruit. 

You can also add lemon juice to adjust the flavor, it is called “the magic method”, but I seldom use it. 

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FG: For Easter, what could we find at CHOCOLATIER Grand Hyatt Hong Kong?

We have this new collection “Sweetness from Paradise“. I used a lot of Mauritian‘s flavours. You can find muscovado sugar, Mauritian rum, vanilla beans from Madagascar, and pineappleI have also got inspiration with a Rum baba sauce inside, a mixed of pineapple, rumvanilla and lime. 

I wanted to remind me Mauritius because I really miss home too. I love pineapple in Mauritius, many people selling pineapple in the street. You can eat with orange sauce or chili. 

For Easter, we have our festive cakes like Sunny Egg (French Pastry): spiced almond biscuit, mango kalamansi mousse, marinated mango and pear. Easter Chef’s Signature: mini cakes (Chocolate earl grey tea, raspberry hazelnut caramel, coconut mango with passion fruit and Easter Lamb (French Pastry), yuzu baked cheesecake, yuzu chocolate. 

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