A chat with Tony Olsson – new ambassador of the Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland
It is never an ordinary thing to talk to the former captain of the Swedish national pastry team, Olympic gold medallist, renowned ice cream innovator and Sweden’s most prominent pastry chef – the culinary legend himself, Tony Olsson.
As Swiss Education Group welcomes Tony as the newest ambassador of the Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland, we sat down to talk about mentorship, culinary artistry, success and, of course, ice cream.
Hi Tony! You once said that the celebrated Swedish baker Jan Hedh was a great inspiration for you. How important is it for a young chef to have someone to look up to on the road to becoming a master chef?
It is very, very important to have the right mentor who can guide you on the path to a successful career. Everything is much easier that way. Nowadays you have social media, which can also be a great source of inspiration for young chefs. However, it puts a lot of emphasis on how pastries look and not how they taste.
Before thinking about design, you need to know how to work with your ingredients so that your final product tastes good. Social media doesn’t teach that. It mainly gives you tips on design and technique and a lot of ideas, which is great. But there’s nothing like having a mentor who can help you find your own style.
Having won many prestigious competitions, developed successful businesses and baked thousands of cakes, do you now enjoy sharing your knowledge with the younger generations?
Yes, I love it! I always say that when you’re young you get to learn a lot of recipes and techniques, and when you get older you get the huge honour of sharing the experience and knowledge you’ve accumulated throughout your life. I especially love seeing young people smile when I’ve shown them something new and unexpected – it’s a great feeling! Training the national team to go to the European Cup in Bakery or to the World Cup finals in Lyon, as an example, was a great experience for me.
What do you prefer most – teaching pastry or making pastry?
I have been working as a pastry consultant for Sweden and neighbouring countries for 12 years now. I have so much love for it! But I always say that after a few years it is time to go back to the real business again. It’s important to put your skills to the test in the real world, in a pastry shop or a restaurant, and see if your ideas actually work.
You have announced a collaboration with the Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland, where you will organise masterclasses, among other things. Besides specific cooking tips and tricks, what message are you trying to convey to aspiring culinary artists?
I want to show them the magic of pastry and inspire curiosity. I always advise students to put in many hours at the beginning of their career and motivate them to work hard for their dreams.
What is the one thing a pastry chef should have to succeed?
The most important factor is your spirit and your enthusiasm for the profession. If you don’t have this as a pastry chef, I think you will have a hard time. You have to eat, sleep and breathe pastry!
At the same time, as I mentioned earlier, I believe that taste should be the most important thing for a chef. Therefore, to be a good chef, you need to have a great knowledge of the ingredients you use and how to use them, and you also need to know your tools.
Do you sometimes change roles and become a student again?
Yes, absolutely! If I don’t learn new things, I’m 100 per cent sure I should leave the profession.
You have previously said that you always strive for simplicity and choose the same traditional flavours like vanilla and raspberry for your sweets. At the same time, you try to surprise a customer. Can you explain the magic of using simple ingredients to create something familiar yet so unique?
It’s a difficult question to answer and a scary one because nowadays it can sound like being classic is boring. But I think that constantly looking for new flavours can sometimes make the recipe too complicated and the final product too difficult to obtain.
Perhaps one of the most trendy fruits in the last 5-10 years has been Yuzu, which I love. Can I use it together with, for example, classic red fruit and some liquorice that we really love in Scandinavia? Sure, why not. But I think there are so many different ways to experiment with that classic flavour and that’s what I’m aiming for.
There is a saying that you should never cook when you are angry, because everything will burn or taste disgusting. Have you noticed such a tendency? Or does it not apply to experienced cooks like yourself?
If I’m angry, nobody wants to be near me, so it’s better for me to go into the office.
What is it like to work with you? How do your colleagues describe you?
I think most people would say: “His life is all about pastries”. Some colleagues who go home as soon as the working day is over would probably say that I’m too hard on them, maybe even angry and that I think I know everything.
But the rest, I think, would say that I am ambitious, have extensive knowledge and always try to help my colleagues as much as I can. I am much more tolerant now that my two children have grown up. As a father, I can understand young people in a completely new way. Many thanks to my children Johanna and Joakim!
You are known as an ice cream innovator. What is the flavour that everyone should try this year?
This year we have introduced chocolate ball ice cream. A “chocolate ball” is a typical Swedish product that all pastry shops have. So I decided to turn it into ice cream last spring and customers love it!
To conclude, what is the most fashionable sweet for 2022?
I think the most fashionable sweet in 2022 will be a fresh strawberry/Yuzu cake with an amazing white chocolate cream decoration around the cake. At the same time, I see people increasingly looking for something light, fresh, with less sugar, often vegan and made with local products. Such cakes are becoming more and more popular every year.
Thank you Tony for a great talk! See you soon in your masterclass at the Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland campus!