MEET OUR CRAFTSMAN: CHEF ALAN OR, SCIENTIST IN THE BAKERY
If one has visited the bakery of Chef Alan Or, he/she would probably describe his workplace as a laboratory, and Chief Baker Alan, the scientist behind it. Overseeing the bakery kitchen of The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, Chef Alan Or takes care of over 80% of the total bread production supporting the operations of six dining outlets at the hotel. Over half of his creations are produced with his very own range of meticulously grown and sustained dough starters, some of which were fermented since the opening of the hotel in 2011.
Growing up in the kitchen of his family-run bakery, Chef Alan picked up basic baking know-how as a child. More importantly, he inherited a passion for baking. In pursuit of refined skills and knowledge, he started his formal training at Grand Hyatt Hong Kong as Commis III at the age of 19. Later on, he joined the Regal hotel group in Hong Kong as Chief Baker, managing the central bakery for six years. In 2005, Chef Alan represented Hong Kong at HOFEX’s first live baking competition. It was at this time he began using homemade dough in his creations which he describes as “an elevated level of texture and flavor”. During his tenure with Maxims Group, Chef Alan had an opportunity to explore the feasibility of using homemade dough starters in bread production for the newly franchised Starbucks business, albeit only in small quantities.
Joining The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong as part of the opening team allowed Chef Alan to finally implement his dream blueprint – using his own range of dough starters of different natures, liquid or glutinous, high PH or otherwise, on different types of bread to achieve the perfect texture and flavor. For instance, French baguette is not made as easy as its appearance suggests. Chef Alan’s own version of French baguette is made with a combination of three dough starters, one for reaching fine pores, one for giving the dough a good lift, and one for brightening the baguette with the needed sourness. Another much-acclaimed work of the hotel’s bakery team are croissants. Executive Pastry Chef Richard Long adapted the original Lenôtre recipe to the Asian ingredients and weather, creating Ritz-Carlton’s very own version of croissant. To complement Chef Richard’s recipe, Chef Alan uses a less powerful dough starter to precisely control the level of flakiness of the croissant pastry. Instead of the more commonly used margarine, the team stays true to the authentic taste of this classic French pastry and uses a high proportion of fresh butter to produce a fascinating buttery aroma and evenly fine layers of pastry. This requires exacting management of temperature during the bread-making process.
While homemade dough starters do the magic in enhancing the whole texture and flavor profile of breads, one should expect they are widely used in restaurants and bakeries; however, on the contrary, they are not. Chef Alan explained, “Much work is involved in sustaining the dough starters. The first thing I do every morning when I come into the bakery is to ‘feed’ my five dough starters with flour and water, according to their nature, humidity and temperature. Tasting and PH tests are performed from time to time to make sure they are in good condition”. Chef Alan continued, “Sometimes I also seek comments from my private consultant, my wife. With her job knowledge on food safety and food science, I’m constantly maintaining excellent ‘health control’ of my dough starters.”
When asked on tips to best enjoy breads, Chef Alan shared, “Do not eat breads freshly out of the oven. Leave it to rest for at least 15 minutes to let the water content drop and gluten soften, for the best texture.”