The process of transforming plain caramel or chocolate into a genuine masterpiece is mesmerizing. That is the reason that during the four days of Modern Backery 2013 Show attracted extraordinary number of visitors to the booth of Robert Oppeneder, the famous confectioner and the President of Chefs Association, where he conducted an on-line workshop on making various art pieces of isomalt-based caramel. In spite of his very tight schedule, Mr. Oppeneder has found several minutes to talk to us.
Robert, you use various sweet materials in your work. Why was it caramel that you chose for your art presentation in Russia?
– First of all, chocolate forming requires numerous specific devices and appliances, and then, it is a time-consuming process while chocolate takes long to solidify.
Moreover, caramel is not widely used in most countries, including Russia. That is why I’ve chosen it as a theme for my workshop at the show.
Where do you get the ideas?
– Everywhere - in traveling, for example. Then, I have several confectionaries and a confectioners’ school in Germany. My work itself inspires me.
What do the customers appreciate in confectionary: the shape or the taste?
– Both are important. If the sweet dessert looks fine in the shop window, it will surely attract the customer – as they say, people eat with their eyes first of all. And if one likes the taste of a confection he or she bought, this customer will buy it again and again.
Do you try unusual combinations for your products or do you prefer the proved recipes?
– I like to try something new. I travel a lot and in each trip I explore ingredients popular in the country I’m visiting and find the ways to use them in my products to please our European customers with new flavors.
Could you, please, name the most unusual combinations that you used?
– In 1989 I went to Australia and there were many so called ‘tacker bush’, various spices and additives to the Australian food. My favorite ones became Wattle seeds that smell pretty much like coffee. I bought them and brought to Germany. I was the first to do it.
How did your customers like Wattle seeds?
– Products with this ingredient became extremely popular in Germany.
Did other European manufacturers display interest in this ingredient?
– Yes, new ideas are often copied – fully or partially. For instance, I was the first to write a book about chocolate and establish confectioners courses in Germany. Nowadays many people do this.
Are you a sweet-eater yourself?
– No, I’m not.
And there isn’t any dessert that you can’t resist?
– I actually don’t like deserts at all. But visiting a new country I always taste local sweets. Thus, I went to Uzbekistan not so long ago and enjoyed the national confectionary a lot.
So you don’t like the sweets – and what do you usually do with the products you make at your numerous workshops?
– Give them to those who like.
What sweets do you think will be popular in future?
– Those ones that contain less sugar, with the taste made with natural components. Thus, many manufacturers make their products healthier through replacement of sugar by isomalt. Then, products with bifidus bacteria become very popular now, not limited to milk products. Prebiotics are added to chocolate today. The idea of making chocolate with prebiotics was born and implemented in the USA where the problem of obesity raises much social awareness lately.
Does the use of bifidus bacteria make the process of chocomate manufacture more difficult?
– No, it remains the same.
What do you think of confectionary traditions of Russia?
– On the one hand, your country has many traditions of sweets production of its own, and on the other – the last century saw coming of many easterm companies that influenced a lot both customers’ choice and assortment.
In large, Russian cuisine is very interesting, but there are many Europeans in Russia now, both tourists and foreign workers, which requires cafes and restaurants where people could eat not only Russian but also European dishes.
What Russian confectioners can learn from their European colleagues and vice versa?
– The Russians can borrow various marketing strategies and cost effective technologies. As for Europeans, they can learn to cook national dishes. As a matter of fact, many Russian people who live in Germany would like to buy traditional Russian food but can’t get them from Russia due to certain reasons.