Ten minutes with Melanie Nelson-Ström, head pastry chef at HKK
We have spent quite some hours at HKK. They have kindly invited us to see how desserts are made and to taste the delicious final results. It was a lovely experience looking at the well equilibrated team which executed their responsibilities like a Swiss watch. Silently and precisely. Melanie was there the most quiet of all. But she became very alive when she started to talk about her work and her creations. This sensible girl is a volcano of creativity, yet she remains humble.
How would you introduce yourself?
I’m Melanie Nelson-Ström and I am pastry chef at HKK London; we offer a unique Chinese fine dining experience within the Hakkasan group.
What is your secret desire/ambition?
To have my own chocolate shop / pastry shop with three chocolate tempering machines for customers to oohh and ahh over; one for dark chocolate, one for milk, and one for white! Throw in an enrobing machine as well and it would be like heaven! Nobody can withstand the fascination of watching a chocolate tempering machine!
What is your ultimate dream?
To continue to develop within the industry and help others realize their dreams to work with pastry.
What is your greatest achievement?
Progressing to running my own kitchen a little over a year since finishing my apprenticeship.
What/who is inspiring you?
With the proliferation of chefs instantly available on social media it’s nearly impossible to pick just one. There are so many great chefs who share their work generously on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It’s great that there has been a general rise in consciousness in the public about how great pastry chefs are and all of the cool stuff they make. It’s amazing to see what’s new and how everyone is eager to try new things and share their experiences and knowledge. I’m a very visual person, and I like to start with how I want my dessert to look on a plate, maybe even before I decide on what flavours I want to use, so platforms like Instagram are great for me. You can get little bits of inspiration from many different places and people; an idea for a garnish here, a flavour combination there.
What do you love most about your work?
The creativity of dreaming up new desserts and making a beautiful plate that you know customers will enjoy and remember.
What are your favourite flavours?
I love citrus flavours, especially lemon, and old standbys like chocolate and vanilla of course, it’s difficult to go wrong with them!
How is your relation to chocolate?
I have always loved eating chocolate and until I became a pastry chef I had no idea it could be so fun to work with as well! There are so many different ways to use chocolate and a million possible flavour combinations and so much to learn about the process in which it is made and how to work with it. You never stop learning.
Which chocolate desserts are on your menu, which of them is your favourite and why?
We have quite a slim lined menu, with two a la carte desserts and three desserts on our tasting menu which we change every three months. The tasting menu is our showpiece and right now it includes two chocolate petit four. One sesame ganache inside a moulded dark chocolate shell and one Szechuan pepper and chocolate caramel mou. The caramel is my favourite, it is so soft and melting and the numbing heat of the Szechuan pepper combines nicely with the sweetness of the caramel and the strength of the chocolate it is dipped in.
What was the best chocolate dessert that you have eaten and where?
A colleague of mine Kun Xu, did the Association Culinaire Francaise Chocolate Dessert of the Year Competition 2013 when we were both working at the Savoy. During her practise sessions I got to taste her dessert several times. It had it all, crispy chocolate nib tuille, beautiful thin sphere of tempered chocolate, creamy chocolate cremeux and refreshing fruit flavours.
What would be your final message for our readers?
If you’re interested in chocolate or pastry, take a course or badger someone in to teaching you about it! It’s not as hard as some people make out. And don’t be afraid to try new things and don’t be worried about making mistakes. When it comes to chocolate, even the mistakes are usually delicious!
You can taste Melanie’s lovely creations at http://hkklondon.com/