Juan Pablo Colubri is the executive pastry chef of Hakkasan Group USA. His career within the Hakkasan group developed with an incredible speed. Four years ago he joined the group, moved around the restaurants of the group to later become the head pastry chef for HKK London (we interviewed him then) and soon after that he was off to USA for a completely new Hakkasan challenge.
Your career has developed at rocket speed. Or does it just look like this from the outside?
Yes, you are right. It feels like yesterday when I joined the company. It’s all thanks to hardwork and listening to my boss, Chef Graham Hornigold. I will never forget the day I met him, it was in the UK team announcement for the Coupe du monde de la patisserie, at Yauatcha. There was a selection of fine European patisserie from Yauatcha and viennoisserie at the table that looked like they came out of a book. It took me only one bite of a croissant of that table to instantly realise I had to work with the master that made it, so I didn’t hesitate to approach him at that moment. Since that day I have never stopped learning from him, and I’m still in love with Hakkassan concepts and the way they are transmitted to the customers. Chef Graham taught me everything, from restaurant desserts to team management, to setting up new restaurants from scratch.
You started as head pastry chef at HKK London and moved to Las Vegas (USA) within a few months to become the executive pastry chef for Hakkasan Group USA. How did this feel for you?
At Hakkasan group I started as a Junior Pastry Sous Chef at Hakkasan Restaurant London, four years ago, in Mayfair. After a while, I was promoted to Sous Chef at Hanway Place, still Hakkasan Restaurant. Since the beginning I was managed by Chef Daniel Pearse, he was Head Chef when I started and I have to thank him for all his influence that made me so creative and improve the plating of my creations. My last step in London was as Pastry Head Chef at HKK, where I had my own team and where I could develop my managing skills. In London I got to know all the Hakkasan group restaurants and learnt all the dessert concepts from the beginning, that’s why the following step to USA was not that difficult, although still challenging as I jumped from managing one operation to manage six, it felt great.
How was starting a new project in the USA from scratch?
It was challenging of course, and that's why I like it so much. Hawaii was the first place I arrived; we opened there the first Yauatcha restaurant US. Working with different departments within the company was exciting and building a new team from scratch was great. Setting up the kitchen and finding new suppliers was new for me and I learnt a lot. Right after Hawaii, I went to Houston, where we opened the second Yauatcha US, which again was another great experience. Now both restaurants are running successfully and I’m proud of my team at both operations. I had always Chef Graham to give me all the necessary tools to make it happen.
Did you have any previous experience in the USA? Did you know the American flavours, expectations, culture? If not, how did you learn about it?
This was my first time in the USA, each region has its own personality and flavours. When I get to a new city, I love it because everything is new and it’s fantastic getting to know great people and learn their culture and flavour preferences. Also, I am originally from Argentina where we have influence from the USA so I’m familiar with American culture.
What is the main difference between Hakkasan group pastry in USA and UK?
The concepts and the ideology are the same in USA and UK. Working closely with UK team will bring both teams together. In UK we are holding 4 Michelin stars, in USA we still need to work on this.
Do you have any special desserts in USA that are not available in the UK? If yes, which ones?
Yes, Hakkasan restaurant USA has different desserts than UK, although the concept is the same. You can also find at each Hakkasan USA a signature dessert that is specific to each operation, that is “the only at” dessert. In Yauatcha we had one dessert that was developed for Yauatcha USA which had such success that you can now find it in London, it is the tropical dome.
Are there any techniques or ingredients that are used in USA but aren’t used in the UK?
As the ingredients come from different providers in USA and UK, some techniques will sometimes be modified to get consistency in the product. Although in both USA and UK, the basics of pastry are respected and we maintain a good standard of practice to standardise all the procedures to be at a competitive level.
Of all the desserts you are creating there, which are your personal favourites?
My favourite one is the coconut and lychee mousse because is a “free from” dessert (free from gluten, alcohol, dairy, nuts and gelatin), it is refreshing, light, balanced and so tasty…you can find it at Hakkasan USA. And from Yauatcha are my favourites the tropical dome, which is our best-seller, and the apple choux bun.
Which Cacao Barry chocolate is your fevourite at the moment and how do you combine it?
My favourites at the moment are the origin dark couverture chocolate Tanzanie and the origin milk couverture chocolate Papouasie. I am using the Tanzanie in the coconut and lychee dessert in which I combine the Tanzanie chocolate acidity, roasted flavor and floral notes profile with the coconut, lychee and lime. The 75% cacao Tanzanie adjusts perfectly well with the healthiness of this creation.
About Papouasie, I like the frutal notes combined with the acidity of the cocoa bean and the creaminess that the milk gives to it; it will be in our next fall/winter menu so the combination will be a surprise.
In our last interview before you left London for the USA you were mentioning that one of your ambitions is competing at World Chocolate Masters. Is this still in your plans?
I’m always thinking about it, is one of my goals in my career. I’m still training to improve my level in all the pastry fields. At the moment I am also quite busy with the openings and my new responsibilities, but for sure it is still in my future plans.
You have reached practically as much as a pastry chef can reach in his career - you are at the highest professional position. What are your dreams/ambitions now?
It is never enough, and I’m always ready to learn more. There’s always something else to achieve. I would love to be part of a selected group of pastry Chefs in USA and work together with them, be in the World Chocolate Masters, spread all my knowledge to all of my Chefs and make them the best Pastry Chef team.