|Written by Luke Thatkhao|
|Thursday, 06 September 2007|
| Contemplating the endless variety of small and large tarts, parfait dishes, frozen molded, petit fours, small and large cakes, holiday, party and wedding cakes produced by Chef Fabrice Leblus, one is reminded more of time-consuming artistic creations than pieces of dessert that are popped into one’s mouth, thus destroying these magical visual delights. From the bite-size pastries to the splendid special party and wedding cakes, one has to appreciate all the know-how, efforts and loving care that go into what a normal customer takes so much for granted.|
According to Chef Fabrice, “it seems like I was born and spent my entire formative years in my father’s bakery in Belgium. That was my whole world, and at the age of fifteen I wanted to quit school to work full-time for my parents, but they forced me to finish my secondary schooling. I wanted the practice and felt that a formal education would have been a waste of time and offered little individualism and personal initiative. I started working for my parents at eighteen, inherited the family business and married at twenty two, struggled through somehow until the age of 25 when I decided to have my parents sell the bakery, divorced, and left Belgium to seek much needed working experience overseas. In those days the two predominant places for the hospitality industry opportunities in Asia were Hong Kong and Singapore.”
Chef Fabrice’s career path included working at two of Singapore’s most famous hotels which earned him priceless experiences and knowledge, though he was having problems with his beginner’s English language and the strong Singaporean accent did not help. His salaries were minimal and he still required money sent from home. His first job in the position of Pastry Chef was at the Inter-Continental in Beirut, Lebanon. The next two years spent at the Sheraton in Kuwait City where an unlimited working budget, a bustling working pace, and tough operational challenges made him a much more self-confident person. During a vacation in Thailand, he discovered Chiang Mai where “there were no taxis, finding anybody speaking English was an issue and the city reminded me of what my own hometown would have been like half a century ago.”
Now as the Pastry Chef at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Hotel in Chiang Mai since its December 2004 opening, Chef Fabrice admits that “my first impressions of Chiang Mai were far from being encouraging. Having experienced Bangkok, Phuket, and some of the Northeastern provinces, I certainly did not expect Chiang Mai to be more than ‘just a big village’, but since those difficult initial days, I have learnt to appreciate and love this very special place. After Singapore and my other previous countries of employment, Chiang Mai and all that it has to offer is such a refreshing change.”
In the last three years in his present position, Chef Fabrice has found that there is a very small percentage of the Chiang Mai population that is ready for the kind of delicacies that he is capable of producing. The styles are totally different and Thailand is not bakery cultured the way most European countries have been for centuries. Most Thais used their very first taste of super sweet pastries as a point of reference and Fabrice has great hopes of changing these habits.
Chef Fabrice’s ongoing challenges is to find out what would sell best to the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi’s clientele, what are their expectations, and what would excite their palates. As many of the bakery ingredients, such as chocolate, have to be imported and are very expensive, pricing is also a major factor. Many of the regular customers and colleagues are quick to point out comparisons in prices, tastes, portions and presentations between many other local top-selling pastry shops and his own bakery products. Located in the traditional northern style boutique “Kad Dhara” shopping complex of the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Hotel, the Oriental Shop offers pastries and the finest ice creams, teas and coffees. “The delicious classic pastries and bakery delicacies would rival anywhere in Europe”, added Chef Fabrice.
Besides being immersed in his professional life at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Hotel, Chef Fabrice feels that the time has arrived in his life to establish himself and settle down in one place. He is very happy in his personal life, has recently purchased a villa, surrounded by a large fruit orchard, in a rural neighbourhood of Chiang Mai and hopes that his future endeavours will keep him within this region.