Jason Licker

Name: Jason Licker
Location: Hong Kong
Current job(s): Ku De Ta Restaurants (Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong)
Position: Corporate Pastry Chef
Years in the industry: 19
Notable awards / employers: Iron Chef Thailand Pastry Champion 2014, Rising Star 2004 Starchefs.com

Tell us how you knew you wanted to become a chef.
Growing up, my family always ate like animals, its was like a sport for us. I didn’t start cooking till I was 19 years old. I didn’t even know how to turn on the oven in my house. I just microwaved everything or ate a whole box of cereal. I started cooking with my mother when she was diagnosed with cancer. We started baking low fat, low sugar items due to her diet and instantly became addicted to Pastry. I watched cooking shows, read magazines and then led me to landing an internship at Union Square Café with Stacie Pierce in New York City. Its been a crazy nineteen years, being in Asia the past ten and cant wait to see what is next….

Did you always know that pastries were your calling?
It’s quite ironic that I became a Pastry Chef since I was quite overweight growing up and now I barely eat sweets. When I mean overweight, I mean I was the last one picked for sports in Elementary School (Yes, that guy..)

Thai Tea S’mores

What is your inspiration and motivation in your day-to-day routine?
My inspiration and motivation is to make, create and innovate. Consistency and efficiency each and every day is mandatory. Respect the products’ natural flavors and just enhance them. I think you should be your own harshest critic and push yourself to succeed.

What is the most difficult and best part of your day as a chef?
My most difficult part of my day is watching the kitchen get slammed and having to wait for my turn. I always want to be a part of the action and waiting sometimes can be a little frustrating. I am also not a huge fan of meetings, though they are necessary. The best part of my day is when I see a cook perfectly complete a recipe or complete a task over and over and watch them grow. I love to teach and feel that its our role to pass on our knowledge. I also enjoy when we are in the weeds during service, the Pastry Station is only about two meters, so when it’s the rush, its gets a little crazy. I love that.

Which chefs did you idolize in the start of your career and who has your respect now?
In the start of my career, I really had no clue of the great Chefs. Living in New York I was lucky to be surrounded by so many talented Pastry Chefs. Eric Hubert, the first Pastry Chef of Jean Georges was the first mentor that made me say, “Wow, I want to do this.” Also, of course, legends like Pierre Herme, Sadaharu Aoki etc. have influenced me to push myself. I respect any Chef who does the daily grind with passion and commitment to excellence.

What is your claim to fame? (For example: a signature dish, setting a trend, etc.)
My claim to fame besides being bald and sarcastic? I guess it would be winning the Iron Chef Thailand Pastry Edition last year. That win brought some attention to my Asian Accented Style of balancing flavors, textures and temperatures.

Chocolate Mille Feuille
Chocolate Mille Feuille

What is your favorite thing to make?
I love the speed of a busy service, but also enjoy making laminated doughs and molded chocolates, there is something therapeutic about those two tasks.

What is your favorite dessert and where can we get it?
Favorite dessert of all time is Pierre Herme’s Praline Mille Feaulle. It’s a life changing pastry, rich, textural enigma of perfect puff pastry, feuilletine, praline buttercream… it had me at hello…

What are the best and worst things about working in a foreign country?
Being abroad for ten years, living in four different countries, the absolute worst thing is being away from my family. I only see them once every year and a half to two years and its excruciating being away from them. The best part of about living abroad is traveling, discovering different cultures, making new friendships and confronting challenges (I worked in a kitchen in Shanghai with thirty Shanghai-nese Pastry Staff, there was quite a language barrier, but we kicked ass).

In your opinion, name the world’s best culinary place to learn and experience.
The best place to learn is in any kitchen with people that have a passion for their craft. Whether it’s a four star restaurant or a food truck, if you surrounded by people who love what they do, you will learn. Always push yourself each and everyday.  Only you can make your dreams a reality.

Chawan Mushi
Chawan Mushi

What’s your history with Ku De Ta?
After years in hotels, I really wanted to get back into working in restaurants and cook what I wanted. In hotels, you tend to gear towards the masses and cant be as creative as you can be in restaurants. Chef Jonathan Maza, another Nobu alumni, and I were connected and I joined the opening team of Ku De Ta Bangkok. After a year and half with great success, I was promoted to Corporate Pastry Chef overseeing our projects in Singapore, Bangkok and currently preparing to open our newest venue in Hong Kong.

If you could change one thing about the food industry, what would it be?
I hate the politics of our industry. I judge people by their food and commitment to their passion.

What is on your kitchen tool / machinery wish list?
My wish list would include a one shot chocolate machine, an enrober with a cooling tunnel, and an Emery Thompson ice cream machine and pasteurizer. These are some big ticket items that hopefully one day I will have.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself in the beginning of your career?
I would really ask myself if I was crazy to get into this field and knowing the sacrifices you have to make. Then I would do it all over again the same exact way.

What are some of your favorite food driven print/web publications?
One of my favorite publications is So Good Magazine.

What are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud when I see cooks that have worked for me grow and succeed. I am also fortunate to have worked throughout the years with some incredible Chefs that have carved out their path to success. This is important to me. Passionate people bring positive results.

What is your culinary career “best case scenario”?
Being a Chef/Partner in my own company with multiple concepts. I love working with people and building something from the ground up. Anyone ready? LOL…

Name one chef we should be on the lookout for in the future.
Be on the look out for Jonathan Maza. Maybe I am a little biased because I have worked side by side with him for two years, but its not just his cooking ability that’s outstanding, but his ability to design kitchens, create concepts and never settle for mediocrity. Those traits will equate success. You will hear about him soon.

How did you find Chef’s Roll and what urged you to join?
Chef’s Roll is a unique platform that connects Culinary Professionals, to be used as a platform for your work and access endless information about our industry. I discovered the Chef’s Roll Facebook page and immediately signed up. Living in Asia, I find Chef’s Roll to be an incredible tool where I can connect with other Chefs and read about the latest trends and news in the States.

What’s next for you?
Next is focusing on our newest project, Ku De Ta Hong Kong. We have a three floor project dead center in Central Lang Kwai Fong (Restaurant/Club-Lounge/Roof Top Bar). My goal is to create memorable dessert experiences in all of our venues and blow up Hong Kong with some new dynamic Pastry. This is my immediate focus, but of course my long term goal is to start my own company and build different concepts (ok, not so long term, hopefully sooner then later!).

To learn more about Pastry Chef Jason Licker, visit his Chef’s Roll profile.

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