It is never an ordinary matter to chat with the former captain of the Swedish national pastry team, Olympic gold medalist, renowned ice cream innovator and the most outstanding pastry chef in Sweden – the culinary legend himself, Tony Olsson. As Swiss Education Group welcomes Tony as the newest ambassador for the Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland, we sat down to talk about mentorship, culinary artistry, success and, of course, ice cream.
Hi Tony! You said once that the celebrated Swedish baker Jan Hedh was a great inspiration to you. How important is it for a young cook to have somebody to look up to on their way to becoming master chefs?
It´s very, very important to get the right mentor who can guide you down the path to a successful career. Everything is a lot simpler that way. Nowadays, you have social media, which can also be a great source of inspiration for young cooks. However, it places a lot of importance on how pastries look and not how they taste.
Before you think about design, you need to know how to work with your ingredients so that your end product tastes great. Social media doesn’t teach that. There, you mainly receive design and technique tips, and a lot of ideas, which is great. But it is nothing like having a mentor that can help you find your own style.
After winning numerous prestigious competitions, developing successful businesses and baking thousands of cakes, do you now enjoy sharing your knowledge with the younger generations?
Yes, I love it! I always say when you are young, you get to learn a lot of recipes and techniques, and when you get older – you get the tremendous honour to share the experience and knowledge that you’ve accumulated throughout your life. I especially love it when I see young people smile, after showing 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 Worldcup finals in Lyon, as an example, was a fantastic experience for me.
Which do you prefer more – teaching pastry or making pastry?
I have been working as a pastry consultant for Sweden and the neighbouring countries for 12 years now. I have so much love for it! But I always say that after some years it’s time to return to the real business again. It´s important to put your knowledge to the test in real life, that is in a pastry shop or restaurant, and see if your ideas actually work.
You have announced a partnership with Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland, where, among other things, you will be teaching masterclasses. Besides specific tips & tricks of food-making, what message do you try to pass on to aspiring culinary artists?
I want to show them the magic of pastry-making and inspire curiosity. I always advise students to put a lot of hours into the start of their careers and motivate them to work hard for their dreams.
What is the one thing that a pastry chef should have to be successful?
The most significant factor is your spirit and your enthusiasm for the profession. If you don’t have this as a pastry chef, I believe you’ll struggle. You must eat, sleep and breathe pastry!
At the same time, as I mentioned before, I believe taste should be the most important thing for a chef. Therefore, to be a great chef, you have to have a vast knowledge of the ingredients you use and how to use them and, also, to know your tools.
Do you sometimes switch roles and become a student again?
Yes, for sure! If I’m not learning new things, I am 100% sure I should leave the profession.
You have said before that you always aim for simplicity and choose the same traditional flavours like vanilla and raspberry for your sweets. At the same time, you seek to surprise a customer. Can you explain the magic of using simple ingredients to come up with something familiar yet so unique?
It’s a tricky question to answer and a scary one because today to be classic can also sound like you are boring. But I think when you constantly look for new flavours, it might sometimes overcomplicate the recipe and overkill the end product.
One of the most trendy fruits in the last 5-10 years maybe has been Yuzu which I love. Can I use it together with, for example, classic red fruit and some Licorice that we really love in Scandinavia? Sure, why not. But I find there are so many different ways you can experiment with the classic taste and that is what I aim for.
There is a saying that you should never cook when you’re angry, or else everything will burn or taste yucky. Have you noticed such a tendency? Or does it not apply to such experienced chefs like yourself?
If I´m angry nobody will want to be close to me, so it´s better for me to go into the office.
What is it like working with you? How do your colleagues describe you?
I think most would say, “his life is about pastry.” Some colleagues who go home as soon as the work day is finished would probably say that I´m too hard on them, perhaps even angry and that I think that I know everything.
But the rest, I think, would say that I am ambitious, have extensive knowledge and always try to help colleagues the best I can. I´m much more tolerant now that my two kids have grown up. Being a father, I can understand the youngsters in a totally new way. Big thanks to my kids Johanna and Joakim!
You are known for being an ice cream innovator. What is the flavour that everyone should try this year?
This year we have presented “chokladboll” ice cream. A “chokladboll” is a typical Swedish product every pastry shops have. So I decided to turn it into ice cream this spring and the customers love it!
To wrap up, what is the most fashionable sweet of the year 2022?
The most fashionable sweet of 2022 I think will be a fresh Strawberry/Yuzu cake with a fantastic white chocolate cream pipping around the cake as decoration. At the same time, I see that people are increasingly looking for something light, fresh, with less sugar, often vegan and done with local products. Such cakes are becoming more and more in demand every year.
Thank you Tony for a lovely conversation! See you soon in your masterclass on Culinary Arts Academy Switzerland campus!