Andrea Dopico Cafarelli visiting chef at CAST Alimenti.
If the eyes are the mirror of the soul then the deep ones of Andrea Dopico reveal passion and a fascinating determination. At the age of 28 not only she has already achieved important collaborations with the Spanish chefs stardom (such as Carme Ruscalleda, Jordi Cruz, Paco Pérez) but also she was mentioned among the 30 most influential artists under 30 y.o. in Europe by the prestigious Forbes Magazine in 2017. Andrea is a firm girl and she is determined to pursue her idea of pastry whose South American foundations merge into the rigor of haute cuisine.
Your career path wasn't exactly clear-cut: after four years of marketing and PR studies in Madrid, you chose to enroll at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Art in Vancouver. When did you realize that your profession would be that of pastry chef and why did you choose Canada for your training?
"I will give you a very sincere answer: I have always loved pastry, but in my country, Venezuela, being a cook is not considered a prestigious profession. So I chose an international school to become a professional and with this goal I studied marketing for almost 4 years. Then, due to personal reasons, I went back home and there I finally realized that I had to do what I really wanted.
I chose to move to Canada because the school in Vancouver offered a very intense and thorough program that included internships; I needed to learn quickly because I had embraced this profession a bit late. Curiously, I turned from a mediocre student, at the University of Madrid, into the best student in the class with excellent marks, once in Canada.
So I realized that if you really want something, you invest all your effort and energy into it, no matter how hard it is. I agree, my path was not always on track, but whatever experience I have collected during my journey before being a pastry chef are now involved in my today profession. For example, the synchronized swimming, which I performed for 10 years, taught me the concepts of team work and discipline as well as attention to details. On the other hand, I am grateful to my mother who was a very creative woman and inspired me to attend classes of pottery, illustration and creative writing which allowed me to develop skills useful in my present work.
I believe that pastry chefs are not heroes, we do not cure diseases, but a dessert has the power to give people the happiness of a moment and for this reason our work is very rewarding. I started cooking as a child for my family and today I do the same thing for a more extended "family", maintaining the equal feeling of sharing."
Who are your teachers and how did they influence your career path?
"I had a great mentor in my life not only professionally, but personally too: Carlos Garcìa, the first chef I worked with in Venezuela. Carlos used to work at el Bulli and then had a restaurant in Caracas which was in the ranking of the 50 best restaurants in South America.
The brigade in his kitchen was like a family; there I realized this was the kind of environment I wanted to work in, even if I was aware of its rarity. I learned also the positive attitude when facing the difficulties: at that time, even more today, it was not easy finding the ingredients in Venezuela. Carlos never considered those obstacles as a defeat, but instead as an opportunity to proudly value the food of our country. He taught me the foundations onto which I would build my career and I hope he will stand by me throughout my professional path, because he is a very special person.
I have acquired elements of knowledge from all the other chefs I've worked with so far and I always tell the young people who approach this profession that the pastry chef who works in a restaurant must be able to interpret the chef's philosophy in a dessert which has to reflect his personality. In my opinion this is a great creative opportunity which makes our work pleasurable and motivating every day."
How would you define your pastry?
"This is always a complex question because I'm still learning, I don't have full awareness of my style yet, I keep on trying and I make errors. I experiment and analyze with critical mind the positive aspects of my desserts with the aim to improve always.
What I mostly appreciate about a dessert are its different shades of flavors: you taste a spoonful of it and feel the acid note, then take another spoonful and find a trace of alcohol ... it’s a pleasure for the customer to experience diverse flavors in the same dessert.
Talking about the form of the dessert, I normally opt for elegant shapes even though not necessarily too geometric - a natural, yet elegant and feminine touch is my preference."
At the beginning of this year, CAST Alimenti has launched a Professional Advanced Diploma in Italian Pastry Arts for Hotel & Restaurant Service. How much do you think a specific training for this profession is important and what job opportunities do you foresee?
"Vocational training is very important. When you start this career without a specific training, it’s not that you have a knowledge limit, but your learning opportunities are based on the style and philosophy of your working environment. Courses like the one offered by the CAST Alimenti allow you to go beyond this limit and eventually, when joining a kitchen brigade, you can aspire to cover higher positions rather than as commis, but as Chef De Partie for example.
Furthermore, if mastering the techniques is certainly fundamental, it is equally important, in my opinion, to become aware of our own creativity. As a matter of fact, in our work we alternate moments for creating, with moments when you need to follow the chef's recipes and thus creativity is not put into practice.
When you create a dessert, the first attempts rarely go well. Often the original idea is very far from the final result as it goes without saying, that the pastry chefs at the beginning of their career must be curious and experiment a lot and this requires time and practice. Therefore I advise young people to "Come forward", because the chef will never ask you to create something for him, instead you should come up with something to show. The chefs will teach you a lot out of their own experience and wisdom; it is essential, especially at the beginning, to be guided and assisted. However, curiosity and eagerness to learn must come from the student and I am sure that a program like that of the CAST Alimenti will allow focusing from the right perspective."
What would you recommend to our students who are approaching this profession?
"Since I started my career belatedly, I tried to recover the lost time energized by a sort of "obsession" for pastry: I used to talk, think, observe and eat pastry only! I was working and then I was attending refresher training as I used to assist the chefs by being their right-hand man whenever required…I earned much more than just my job. Indeed, in time I acquired so many different experiences and I developed self confidence in the kitchen, a place where normally competition is very high.
I recommend students to be open to every possibility and at the same time to create their own opportunities. For example, here at the CAST Alimenti they have the unique chance to attend lessons given by some among the best chefs in the world. They are granted the opportunity to understand their thinking process, to witness their working method and see how they set up a line, how they arrange the mise en place... as these are all key practical elements that one cannot learn from books."
Can you foresee any evolution in the professional role of a pastry chef?
"In my opinion, there is still a lot to do in our profession. It breaks my heart when I hear comments by customers that "the food was good, the dessert mah..."
It is commonly known that many pastry chefs are underpaid and undervalued. However, I believe that we will be able to improve and the right value will be given to our work if we continue to talk about it, especially with the customers.
I still remember when I ate at El Celler de Can Roca. I had already been there a few months before to organize a competition with the help of Jordi Roca and I had the opportunity to see the kitchen brigade at work: they moved like a symphony, a perfect execution, the details of a performance run by so many masterfully coordinated people which reflected in the menu, perhaps I might not have appreciated if I hadn't explored the kitchen before.
This is what I mean when I say that we need to value our work; we have achieved a position by working hard and we must be proud of what we do. And one day people going out of a restaurant will say: "The Food Was Good ... But The Dessert Was Just Grand".