Ever since he was just a little, curious child, Jason Licker always has fondness for sweet treat. At first, he’d only eat and have zero interest to cook his own creation at the kitchen, but one huge turning point changed his whole perspective since, and here he is; award-winning pastry chef, book writer, traveller and overall successful figure in international culinary scene.
With Hellobali, Jason opens up and discusses a lot of things about his personal life; from his best- selling book ‘Lickerland’, memorable moment in Iron Chef Thailand, to his fond thoughts about Asia and Bali in particular. Here goes!
Hi Jason! Tell us a bit about your background. What draws you into the world of cooking; and why pastry?
Growing up in New York, I always had a love affair with food. I was young, fat and ate a few donuts with a coca cola chaser. I grew out of my over-weight years when a girl told me I was funny, but I was fat, that woke me up right away and I hit the gym and became more aware of what I was eating. I did not have any interest in cooking; I went to college to be a High School English Teacher. When I was a turning point happened in my life and my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She was placed on a special diet and we started cooking some low sugar, low fat and low salt cookies and cakes since there was nothing in the supermarkets at the time. That was my moment that a spark ignited in me and I fell in love with pastry. I never had any interested in savory cooking, only pastry. I found balancing your palate with sweet, salty, sour and bitter flavors were just as important of creating art on a plate. I like the precision of pastry, the discipline of each technique and it unlimited creative wonders. My mother never knew I went to become a pastry chef. With losing her at a young age, I decided I would carve my own path to success and not go down a road like most, and that road has taken me across the world making cakes.
Such an inspiring story! Now, please elaborate to our reader about your ‘Lickerland’ campaign; which is based from your book of the same title. What are you trying to convey through it?
I can summarize Lickerland best like this: All- American fat kid turns into award winning pastry chef. The irony from overdosing on candy bars to winning Iron Chef Thailand has been carved out by a road not taken by most. Lickerland, Asian-Accented Desserts by Jason Licker, is a collection of sublime creations and incredible life experiences that led to over a decade of working in Asia. Immersing myself in different cultures opened his mind and molded his view on designing innovative pastry. Dynamic flavor profiles, textural contrasts and temperature differences are the core building blocks of a well balance Licker dessert. Lickerland was the only self-published James Beard Nominated Cookbook for the 2017 James Beard Media Awards. His nomination in the category of Cooking From A Professional Point Of View was in the presence of Chef Virgilio Martinez of the #5 restaurant in the world, Central, and legendary 3 Star Michelin Chef Pierre Koffmann. Lickerland also received the distinction of the #2 Asian Cookbooks in the World at the 2018 World Gourmand Cookbook Awards in Yantai, China.
We also would like to reminisce that time you won the prestigious Iron Chef Thailand. How did it shape your career moving forward?
I thought when I was asked to be on Iron Chef Thailand that it was a complete joke. I had no idea it was a real show in Thailand, similar to the one aired in the states. I took on the challenge and really had no clue what I was doing. I came up with five desserts that were based on ideas that it would not matter what the ingredients was. The theme was berries and cherries and we absolutely dominated Chef Gai. There is really no other way to say it without sounds like an egomaniac, but we won by eleven points, which was the highest margin of victory in the shows history from what I heard. It definitely was challenging and at one point I thought I was going to screw the whole thing up like I usually do, but we rock it and the victory was amazing. It helped me get more exposure while having an experience I will never forget.
I like the precision of pastry, the discipline of each technique and it unlimited creative wonders.
Throughout your career, you have created countless of brilliant and delightful pastries. Which one would be your favorite, and what inspires you to make it?
The Chocolate Bar is one my favorite creations because it reminds me of my childhood when I would devour dozens of candy bars. My version consists of three layers: 64% chocolate cream, banana gel and passion fruit-caramel. The flavor profile is of rich deep chocolate, fruity banana and sweet and sour caramel. The combination together is perfectly balanced and is like a grown up candy bar with pure power. It is served with caramelized phyllo dough and chocolate popping candy, so you have a super creamy, luscious chocolate bar with crunchy, crispy textures. After you eat this dessert you will never be there same.
You have travelled a lot during your career. What is your most memorable moment so far? And which country fascinates you the most?
There are so many moments that have made a tremendous impact on me. Eating sushi in Tsukuji Market at 5am in Tokyo, eating xiao long bao at the original Ding Tai Fung in Xinyi to eating insanely good pork neck with nam jim jaew on the streets of Suan Plu in Bangkok, Thailand. There are the special moments of eating food indigenous to a culture by the people that have passed down recipes from generation to generation that just blow you away. You just cannot replicate those flavors unless you are in that particular country at the places that they have originated. It opens your mind, expands you horizons and educates you where food comes from, how it is cooked and how people live. Even on this trip, I have become enamored by Indonesians flavor, especially sambal, all of the sambals. I love travel and hunt for the stories behind where food comes; it makes everything taste so much better.
What do you think about Indonesia or Bali? Would you be back for another pastry-related project in near future?
Bali is incredible. This is my third visit here and each time I ask myself why I do not live here. Indonesian food is so flavourful and dynamic with such deep traditions. I really feel it is just a matter of time for Indonesian food to explode globally. As far as pastry, the pastry team led by Chef Nico has great skills, passion and dedication to creating memorable desserts. I was beyond thankful that Exec Chef and friend Chris Smith Of Renaissance Bali Uluwatu Resort & Spa willing to set up the Licker Pastry Take Over (on Sunday, May 26th 2019). It has been amazing! I would definitely come for another- pastry related project if offered or who knows, maybe come back forever?
If you can only have three ingredients to make a pastry creation, what would those be, and what would you make out of it?
My three ingredients would be mango, lime juice and togarashi (Japanese 7-spice chili powder). I would just cut ripe, sweet mango in cubes, squeeze fresh lime juice on top and sprinkle some togarashi. It is a small snack of sweet and sour with a little heat. That is delicious to me.
What is your wildest dream that you have yet to achieve?
Having my own TV show exploring the world, different cultures, food and of course pastry. I am a people person and I am pretty dam entertaining as well. Maybe a good name of the show would be: “Licker does the world?” (Laugh) thoughts anyone?