A New School of Pastry Chefs Got Its Start in Architecture
By Priya Krishna
New York Times
23 January 2018
Photo courtesy of International Culinary Center
College of Environmental Design alumnus Jansen Chan (B.Arch ‘97) has evolved his passion for architectural design into a passion for pastry design. Chan is the Director of Pastry Operations at the International Culinary Center (ICC) and has been with the organization since 2012.
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Chan worked briefly in the architecture field before moving to Paris to study pâtisserie. Once his studies had concluded, Chan returned to the Bay Area and continued training at some of San Francisco's finest restaurants including Kuleto’s, John Frank, and the Fifth Floor.
Soon, Chan accepted an offer to work for Chef Alain Ducasse at the 3-Michelin star Alain Ducasse restaurant in New York City, as well as Mix in New York City and Las Vegas. He then worked as an as executive pastry chef at New York City’s Michelin-starred Oceana.
At the International Culinary Center, architecture plays a central role in the curriculum. Chan added a chapter in the school’s textbook titled “Elements of Design” which applies elements of architecture theory, such as principles of dynamism and scale, to desserts.
Further, since 2015, the school’s pastry program has incorporated architectural practices such as making sketches and timelines as well as project planning.
Chan mentioned that in recent years, a number of students have come to the school from the architecture field. “They have a much easier time at adapting because they are used to being asked questions. They are better able to express their creative ideas,” he said. “Pastry students with no design backgrounds will be the ones to draw a tall chocolate structure with nothing holding it up.”
Chan also incorporates technology in pastry education. He employs tools such as lasers, which may be utilized to bake and pipe batter at the same time, and water-jet cutters, which increase the precision and efficiency of trimming cakes.
Technology is a double-edged sword, however. Perhaps, technology can take the blame for the outlandish desserts that have gained popularity on social media.
“You have all these photos of desserts covered in rainbows and sparkles, and they might taste like sawdust, but no one knows, because it looks great on social media,” said Chan. “Instagram is a great way for pastry chefs to communicate, but there’s also the danger of people walking away from great pastry just because it’s not totally visually driven.”
Chan recounted an experience at a bakery in Thailand involving a red velvet cake. “It resembled a red velvet cake,” he said, “but it didn’t have any cocoa. Someone had seen it online but didn’t take the time to look up what, actually, is in a red velvet cake. That’s the problem with social media. You lose context. Architects are the opposite — we’re invested in the process.”
Chan’s desserts have been well represented by publications such as Food & Wine, Art Culinaire and Baking and Pastry: North America. Former New York Times critic Frank Bruni declared Chef Jansen’s desserts “splendid” in 2009 and his doughnut platter was named the best dessert in New York City by Time Out New York.
Also within this community of architects turned pastry chefs is Dinara Kasko who began as a Ukrainian architect, Jennifer Yee who has a degree in interior architecture, and Baruch Ellsworth who studied architecture at a California community college.