Viet Nam News
By Minh Thu
Roses, lilies, daisies, sunflowers and orchids are all in bloom or slightly open. They are no less beautiful than those displayed in any flower shop. Their brilliant grace charms all people upon first sight.
They are even edible. Surprised? They’re not real? You’re right. They are buttercream and sugar flowers made by baker Nguyễn Vũ Hoàng Anh.
At just 22, Anh is already the owner of Mito Sweets, a brand focusing on cakes, sweets and training. He’s also authored many magazine articles on how to make cakes.
Anh gathered his knowledge and experience in book Thế Giới Ngọt Ngào (The Sweet World) in 2009, which received a warm welcome from baking lovers.
Now, he’s a famous trainer and judge of pastry contests, not only in Việt Nam but in other Asian countries.
But people don’t know that he didn’t expect to one day become a maestro of the sweets world.
Six years ago, Anh was a high school student. He once accompanied a young female neighbour to a bakery shop to collect materials. He was dazzled and became lost in the world of colourful molds, decorative objects and baking tools.
Mimicking nature: From buttercream and gumpaste, Anh can create any kind of flower and make it look real.
His neighbour was his first teacher. She showed him the basic steps to make a cake. Gradually, he was attracted to find out more.
“I never forget the glint in my friends’ eyes when I gifted them the cakes I made,” he said.
“Baking had such an irresistible attraction to me that I decided to research it seriously,” said Anh.
Though Anh graduated from Hà Nội University’s Chinese language faculty, he was determined to pursue his career as a professional baker.
He spent a lot of time looking up material for himself on the Internet to learn more. After two years of self-study, he used all his savings to study abroad. The courses earned him a Masters and equipped him with further precious knowledge and experience.
He discovered that he had an endless love, passion and inspiration for fondant and gumpaste cakes. This genre has recently appeared in Việt Nam and a common example is the exquisite and expensive gateaux.
“The material is wonderful,” Anh said. “It’s partly like Japanese clay and partly like Vietnamese rice dough to make tò he (toy figurines). I can use it to create any form I want; flowers, animals, animated characters and other symbols.”
He started with simple things like cupcakes, then tried himself with birthday cakes and finally wedding cakes, which require the most diligence and talent from bakers.
“This genre was new in Việt Nam and there were very few experienced bakers to consult with, so I had to learn and practise hard to master it,” he said.
“The ingredients were so expensive. There was no ready-to-use gumpaste. So I had to mix it on my own.”
“And can you imagine? A student like me didn’t have much money to buy sophisticated molds from abroad. I used beer bottle caps to shape rose petals. It wasn’t bad, actually.”
Gumpaste is very sensitive to temperature, moisture and to other ingredients. That’s why Anh experienced many failures that often discouraged him. The thing that helped him move forward was that he could always learn from defeat.
“You never know what you can do with gumpaste if you don’t try,” said Anh.
“I love flowers and remember their colours and characteristics. Then I try to mix colours to imitate real flowers. It’s a happy feeling when I see the gumpaste flowers bloom from my hands.”
One artwork he is most satisfied with was inspired by Venus, the immortal god of all-encompassing love, beauty, sex, fertility, prosperity and desire.
He spent four days making this cake. The first day was for making sugar eggs and all the roses. The golden egg on top symbolizes love, beauty and sex, and the gold dust colour represents immortality and desire.
On the remaining days, he made the two tiers, painted the Venus picture and added other hand-modeled details.
“Because the Birth of Venus painting inspired this cake, I tried to paint Venus with coloured gel and alcohol to give the cake a nice watercolour effect. The alcohol dries very quickly, so all the details and colours will set beautifully on the fondant.”
He made a statue face and a rose by hand out of gum paste. Though income from making cakes now brings him an easy life, he doesn’t presume on using molds, especially in this "Venus" cake, because he wants to make the details very unique.
“I made this cake with so many new techniques. I painted all the details with edible golden paint to make it resemble royal jewelry. My strong point is sugar flowers - so I made a rose bouquet on top of the egg. The bouquet is made to resemble roses growing from the egg.”
As a reward, it won the title "Cake of the Month" last year by Satin Fine Foods, a world-leading manufacturer of Satin Ice fondant distributing to over 60 countries worldwide.
“I can’t work without music and every time I work in my studio I need to have music playing for inspiration,” said Anh. “I always choose a song to match the theme of the cake I am making.”
For this cake, he played the song Venus by Lady Gaga to get the inspiration he needed.
“The quick rhythm of the song gave me so much energy and helped me concentrate on the cake,” he said.
From a student who knew nothing about baking, Anh has now become famous and successful within his chosen genre.
He’s busy with classes where he can meet people who share the same passion and bring him much energy and inspiration to work.
Anh teaches in both Hà Nội and HCM City, and also receives invitations to train bakers in Singapore, Jakarta, Hong Kong and Manila. This month, he will head to the Macaron Pastry Training Centre in Bangkok for a course about floral cakes. He’s so proud that he has a chance to return to the place where he had once been a student.
Days pass, but glossy buttercream and fondant cakes still bring Anh an infinite source of energy to create with. For Anh, life’s meaning is so simple: “I just do something I love and inspire others, that’s enough for me. Let me sweeten your day,” he said. VNS