TOOWOOMBA-born Ryan Stevenson has come a long way from his first cooking experience of making simple meals in Boy Scouts.
A part-time job in a bakery while studying mathematics at university piqued his interest more than numbers, so he decided to try baking as a profession instead.
The 42-year-old is now head chef at Belgium’s Callebaut Chocolate Academy, after extensive studies to become an expert pastry chef and chocolatier.
“A pastry chef is someone who specialises in making pastries that can be plated, meaning they generally only last a few minutes, or cakes that can last around two to three days before they need to be consumed,” he said. “A chocolatier is someone who specialises in making chocolates and sweets that have a long time before they need to be eaten.
“They need to have a better understanding of ingredients and how to preserve their creations for a longer period of time.”
Stevenson moved from London to Belgium in 2004 to learn more about pastry and said being an Australian in Belgium had helped his career, enabling him to stand out among other talented pastry chefs and chocolatiers.
“Belgium has a very strong pastry culture, where eating cakes is very much ingrained in their way of life, to the extent that certain public holidays are associated with a certain pastry,” he said.
“On January 6 everyone will buy a pithivier and on Mother’s Day they will buy their mother a cake. On December 6 people buy speculoos biscuits for their children. At Christmas it’s necessary to buy a Yule log and Easter is of course chocolates.”
He said his proudest achievement came when he won the Belgium pre-selection for the World Chocolate Masters, feeling “I had finally achieved something good”.
Stevenson was at Pan Pacific Hotel Perth last week thanks to Callebaut chocolate agent Mayers, who hosted him on a demonstration tour around Australia.
“A part of being back in Australia means I am able to showcase my extensive knowledge and demonstrate all aspects of chocolate and patisserie, including unique recipes for pastry and chocolate application to other industry professionals,” he said.
“The best thing about being at home is meeting up with friends who are also pastry chefs and being able to share my knowledge, to help the Australian pastry and chocolate community become stronger and more motivated to achieve great things.”
When asked what tips he could give people to help their chocolate and patisserie skills at home, Stevenson’s answer was simple.
“My advice would be to learn and continue to learn,” he said.
“When I started they told me that in my field it is an apprenticeship for life, which means that even I need to continually learn.”