A patisserie at Sam Choy’s - sweet!
Friday - November 07, 2008
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It might come as a surprise to hear the latest designer “pastry shop” is not in one of our busy shopping malls, but rather at Sam Choy’s restaurant.
Ron Viloria is the highly skilled pastry chef at the helm, and is creating some memorable moments in a quiet corner of the restaurant.
Viloria began his culinary career in Guam, worked for some time in Hawaii and has spent the last couple of years in Japan honing his skills.
With a brand new bakery within the restaurant, a glass display cabinet filled with sweet treats at prices that would seem more appropriate at a local bake sale than a sophisticated patisserie, this is one place you should put right at the top of your holiday shopping list. With creations like Pistachio Opera, Japanese Cheesecake and Tarte au Chocolat, Viloria brings outstanding pastry-making to Sam Choy’s. Customers can valet park and shop a la carte, or take home desserts after lunch or dinner.
I stopped by for a taste of Viloria’s newest creations and a chat about what fuels his passion for pastry.
Jo McGarry: How did you decide on pastry chef as a career?
Ron Viloria: I began my chef training at the Guam Hilton - I was born and raised in Guam - and it was a very classical training. There was a European chef at every station in the kitchen and you basically worked your way through the various levels: garde manger, saucier, patisserie - very strict and truly the “old ways” style of learning. So I did that and then when it came to patisserie I immediately thought it would be something I could do.
JM: It seems to me that while almost anyone can be taught to cook, it takes a certain artistic temperament to be able to create pastries.
RV: Well, I think it helps. I graduated with an art degree from the University of Guam, and I do like the artistic element of working with pastry and sugar and chocolate.
JM: The types of pastries and desserts you’re making here at Sam Choy’s are incredibly detailed and beautiful. Do you have to be really passionate about pastries and baking to achieve this kind of level?
RV: The thing is that you can push yourself to a different level when you’re working with chocolate and sugar. It’s demanding and difficult, but you can express yourself and push yourself a little farther, I think.
JM: You just spent considerable time in Japan. What did you learn from that experience, and why Japan?
RV: (Smiles) Oh, I learned so much. I always keep up with food trends and competition worldwide, and the Japanese are always at the top. There’s a reason for this, I now know. They work 16-and 18-hour days and they are incredibly dedicated to what they do. In the fine-dining restaurant where I worked, something as simple as a tart shell could evoke the deepest concentration. The search for perfection is very strong there.
JM: So is pastry making a Zen thing or a fear thing?
RV: (Laughs) It’s a little of both. It’s really a passion for perfection. Do you know that Tokyo now has more Michelin-starred restaurants than Paris? All over the country there’s an incredible level of dedication to perfecting the dining experience. Where I worked, the minimum lunch was $150 per head, and you can expect to spend upwards of $300 on dinner in a fine-dining restaurant.
JM: How did the experience affect you?
RV: Oh it energized me totally and refocused me, and it enabled me to perfect my pastry-making techniques.
JM: Lucky us! So we can now taste and see all of this at Sam Choy’s.
RV: Yes, I have this corner of the restaurant - Sam’s calling it Ron’s Corner - and we’re using great, high-quality ingredients, and I can guarantee we’re making things you won’t find anywhere else in Hawaii - anything from coconut tarts to macaroons. We do a Japanese cheesecake that’s light and soft - more like an angel food cheesecake - and lots of chocolate. Our Pistachio Opera, for example, is pistachio joconde layered with pistachio butter cream and chocolate ganache, then garnished with pistachio croquant and thin chocolate sheets. I can guarantee no one else is using pistachio in Hawaii! We’re using fresh vanilla beans, high-quality flour, and just great ingredients. I think people will be happy when they stop by and see what we have.
JM: The prices are surprising.
You have little bags of gorgeous cookies for $1!
RV: Yes, we want to be able to keep the prices very affordable and at the same time let people taste some different kinds of cakes and pastries. That’s the great thing about working with someone like Sam Choy - it’s an amazing experience and a great opportunity.
JM: So for the holidays we can expect to see lots of traditional Christmas fare?
RV: Yes, we’ll have yule logs and stolen. I have lots of plans for the holidays - lots of small, reasonably priced cakes, where we’re really focusing on taste.
Sam Choy’s 580 N. Nimitz Hwy. 545-7979
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