A Bite into the Bread Trade
Taiwanese master baker, Chang Chun-kaiBy Rigche Ma
The humble loaf, lauded as the staple of life in many cultures, has proven its prowess beyond borders. As famed Taiwanese master baker, Chang Chun-kai, reveals, traditionally Western-styled breads had successfully integrated into Asian societies, both as a snack and as part of a meal. Bakeries serving breads of distinct east-west flavors and textures are a common sight from the suburban streets of Singapore to the crowded cities in China. Baking bread had been elevated to high art, seeing Taiwanese, Japanese and Korean representatives at international bake-offs as consumer’s expectations rise and tastes buds are refined. Asian Fusion probes deeper into the intricacies of a master baker’s journey and offers some insight into the bread trade.
AF: Was it the smell of freshly baked bread that first lured you into the kitchen?
CC: No. It was in high school, back in Taiwan. I had friends who were baking apprentices. I joined them out of curiosity and just plain playfulness.
AF: Bread makes the world go round. In your case, bread also took you around the world.
CC: It did. It open doors to me and took me to interesting places. I spent 2 years as an apprentice to the renowned baker Wang Fushou, at the luxurious Lai Lai Hotel, which later became the Sheraton. And then I spent the next 6 years learning various techniques at more than 10 bakeries in Taiwan. I was offered the position of master chef, to be in charge of all baked goods at Giovanni, one of the best Italian restaurants in Taiwan. I spent 8 years there, where I created and perfected a cheesecake recipe, before I was headhunted by top management to oversee the opening banquet of Taipei 101 – a Taiwanese landmark building, which enjoyed the title of the world’s tallest building for some years. They were connoisseurs looking for a really good baker, top of the field, and they saw many other candidates from all over the world. They kept coming back to the restaurant where I was, and even made friends with my bosses at Giovanni. Finally when they offered me the position, they spent another 3 months convincing my bosses and me. It was a very good offer, no doubt – a master baker’s dream. I was reluctant to leave for sentimental reasons. I only stayed at Taipei 101 for 4 years – leading the baking department of the upscale supermarket, Jason’s, before I was headhunted again. This time, I went to Vietnam, to oversee a chain and later, I was sent to China to oversee productions for hotels and airlines.
AF: That’s an illustrious career. But, what makes good bread?
CC: In my experience, the concept of good bread varies from people to people. One can talk about the ingredients, the methodologies, the chewiness, crustiness, and even crunchiness, but it all boils down to a matter of taste, in every sense of the word.
AF: The conscientious and skillful baker knows a true masterpiece leaves a lingering memory long after the food is gone and digested. How does one achieve this?
CC: It is a disciplinary matter of experience and precision, together with the right ingredients and equipment.
AF: Beside a lingering memory, what aftertastes would you like to leave for posterity?
CC: Anyone can meticulously study the methods, commit all the techniques to heart, and accumulate any amount of experience, but then, if one wants to go beyond, and perhaps enter into the role deserving of the title ‘master baker’, it takes guts and creativity. One has to discard all that was previously learned. Instead, one’s intuition must lead. Of course, this can only be done after much rigorous training.
AF: Did you learn this from one of your many masters?
CC: No. I discovered this myself. This is my theory, which I impart to my students.
Master baker Chang, more affectionately known as Lao K, is celebrated among his peers as
a top tier baker. Widely traveled and closely familiar with the industry across many parts of Asia, he is also respected for his keen grasp on the commercial business of baked-goods, bakeries and baking.