Adriano Zumbo

Adriano Zumbo


Adriano Zumbo is MasterChef Australia’s sweet superstar, but he is not your typical pâtissier. His desserts are as fantastical as Willy Wonka’s, as artistically crafted as Pierre Hermé’s, and most of all, as weird and wonderful as his meat-flavoured macarons.
For any MasterChef buff, Adriano Zumbo needs no introduction. He has become a household name in Australia following his successful TV appearance, where he stole the hearts of the nation with his passion for desserts and his gravity-defying Croquembouche. He proved he could come up with some of the most whimsical, revolutionary creations the pastry world has ever seen, but most surprisingly, this talented chef has not let it go to his head. He is as sweet as his Apple Maple Cheesecake, and he hasn’t lost sight of where it all started – his love for his childhood sweets.

Zumbo is now known as the “King of the Croquembouche”, the “Master of Macarons”, but his first taste of the sweet life started as a kid when he would raid the lollies and cake mixes from his parent’s supermarket. He would stuff his backpack full of old-school sweets and share his sugar highs with his friends at school. For most of his childhood, he practically lived off the stuff, rarely eating savoury food unless it was crumbed chicken, hot chips, Vegemite on toast or plain pasta.

Perhaps it was the rush of sugar in his veins, or perhaps it was a burning desire to make something of himself, Zumbo grew fidgety at school and longed for something more. He wasn’t even sure if he liked making pastries, but at 15, he got the chance to enrol in a four year apprenticeship in Sydney, so he took it. It was here that his love affair for confectionary soon flourished…

From an aspiring pâtissier to a budding entrepreneur, the Zumbo empire was born. As the face of pastries across Australia, Zumbo now owns four patisseries across the country, with two bestselling cookbooks under his belt (and one more on the way). But what is most impressive is that despite this fame and success, Zumbo hasn’t forgotten his inner kid. He doesn’t deny that some of his desserts are evolved, reincarnations of his favourite childhood choccies that he used to stuff into his backpack, like the Cadbury Picnic bars or Curly Wurly’s. Nor does he hide the fact that he idolises Willy Wonka, to the point he even has him tattooed on his right bicep.

Feeling a little like I’ve bagged a Golden Ticket myself, I got the chance to speak to Wonka’s biggest fan at the launch of W Retreat & Spa Bali’s “MAD T PARTY”. As I gouge on his bubblegum macarons and strawberry balsamic cronuts, we talk about his time on MasterChef and his lip-smacking desserts that the world can’t get enough of. And of course, we chat about his favourite goodies. Listening to him talk about these childhood treats is quite literally like watching a kid in a candy store. His eyes widen, his speech gathers pace and I can tell that as he describes each one he is internally reliving the same sweet excitement that he felt all those years ago…

Q: Following your appearance on MasterChef Australia, you’ve shot to fame internationally. How have things changed for you since the show?

A: TV was certainly a game changer for me. If it wasn’t for the exposure of being on MasterChef, I don’t know if I’d be where I am today. It has given me so many opportunities – the opportunity to be noticed and the opportunity to reach my goals. It drives me to always improve because now I have this continuous pressure wherever I go – a pressure to always live up to people’s expectations. But at the same time, I’m still living my life and I’m still chasing my passion.

Q: Had you planned a career in television or did it just happen?

A: I wasn’t meant to be on TV at all! For MasterChef I was simply asked to make a Croquembouche as they were having a few problems constructing their own. I was supposed to just drop mine off at the studio then go home – they said they’d stick my name on the credits at the end. But I ended up getting involved in the planning of the Croquembouche Challenge, so the night before the show I got a call saying they wanted to include me on camera. I stayed up all night making the Croquembouche because I wanted it to be perfect – Then that morning on the way to the studio, it took a tumble in the taxi, so I had to make it all over again anyway!

Q: You’re now an icon for many people, but who have you always looked up to?

A: I look up to anyone with a passion, whether it’s a passion for cooking or an Olympic sport. I admire people who go for what they love and what they believe in, someone who is focussed and driven. I always cry when the Olympics are on, when the champion lifts the gold medal and you can see they’ve achieved everything they ever dreamed of. I get so emotional!

Q: How about Willy Wonka? I see you have a tattoo of him on your right arm…

A: Some people have called me the modern-day Willy Wonka, but I don’t necessarily want to be him. I’m just so fascinated by that movie because it was so far ahead of its time – and it still is. Even to this day no one has been able to successfully copy Willy Wonka’s creations. They’re still a fantasy but at the same time they’re so accessible. He’s a genius! One day when I build a house, it’s going to have a Willy Wonka chocolate river in it. I want to jump out of bed everyday and just land in chocolate! I bet it’s possible…

Q: You clearly have a passion for creating the extraordinary, and each of your desserts reflect this. Where do you find the inspiration for each one?

A: Life in general inspires me. Just looking around right now I could find something to work with. The colour of those leaves would be a great colour for a macaron. Or the pattern on that ashtray could be the topping for a pastry. Life is intrinsically inspirational, it just depends what you absorb and what you take from it.

Q: So what’s the weirdest and most wonderful dessert you’ve ever made?

A: That has to be my pig’s blood macaron. My family come from the Calabria region in Italy and a traditional Calabrian dessert is pig’s blood chocolate pudding with a few spices in it. So I made a pig’s blood and spiced chocolate ganache with a blood jelly in the middle. I know it sounds disgusting but it’s actually quite nice – it’s very rich. We also did a fried chicken macaron served in a little box with a side of sauce. It’s all about having fun and keeping the excitement alive.

Q: The names of your desserts are also really cool, like the “Malt and Teaser” or the “Wassaup-bi”. How do you come up with those?

A: It’s a mixture of lots of thinking and a bit of luck! Sometimes a name will just come to me in a random moment, like if someone says a word and it suddenly clicks. But I also try to think of names that use a play on words or hint at something quite controversial – in fact, some of the most popular cakes happen to have the rudest names!

I try to make them as quirky as possible because I think it’s key to getting them noticed. It’s also the first thing that interacts someone with a dessert. Whether it’s seeing the name and thinking, “what does that mean?” or having to look closer at a cake because it doesn’t have a simple label like “chocolate cake” – it gets you involved and it gets you interested.

Q: You’re a self-proclaimed lover of old-school sweets and chocolates – which are your favourites?

A: That’s a very hard question for me to answer because I love them all! The only thing I’ve never really liked is Turkish Delight, but everything else I could eat all day. I guess I used to eat Curly Wurly’s the most though. They’re so long, thin, chewy and full of caramel. I also loved Milo bars – you know, the compressed Milo covered in chocolate? They’re amazing. But these days I prefer things a little simpler with less sugar, things like Cherry Ripe and Bounty.



Q: Do these childhood sweets influence your own creations?

A: Absolutely. It’s a bit like having an encyclopedia for sweets, one that I’ve been building up since I was a kid. I think about all the different layers and the components that I’ve ever tried: the wafers, the nuts, the caramel. Chocolate bars and cakes are all about texture, so they’re a great reference for me to shape my own desserts.

Q: You’ve been dubbed the “Master of Macarons”. What makes a perfect macaron?

A: Patience, good quality almonds and a stable, good meringue. Tick all of those boxes and you should be good!

Q: So what’s your favourite flavour?

A: I love simple macaron flavours like passionfruit, salted caramel and chocolate brownie. The crazy, creative flavours I make are great for a one off, but I like being able to eat more than one… in fact, I like being able to eat the whole box!

Q: Your styles and your flavour profiles seem to change quite a bit. What are you into right now?

A: Again, really simple finishes and lots of colour. Obviously the main focus is the flavour and texture, but a simple finish is key for me.

Q: Life seems pretty sweet for you right now. Do you have any big plans for the future?

A: Not too many actually. I’ve recently launched my own brand of TimTams which is a huge collaboration for me. I’m also writing a new book and opening a new store in Sydney, so I guess I’ll just see where these projects take me for now.

Q: And finally, what three tips would you give to budding pâtissiers?

A: First, you need to build a thick skin – don’t take anything to heart. You’re there to learn so you’ve got to be knocked down to get back up again otherwise you won’t go anywhere in life. Second, you’ve got to have a passion for looking outside of the box. Don’t accept anything for what it is. Be creative and just go for it. And finally, have a dream. Then chase it.


Rice Pudding Zumbarons


For the Zumbaron Shells:
• 300g Caster sugar
• 75ml Water
• 110g Egg whites (1)
• 110g Egg whites (2)
• 600g TPT (a mixture of ground almonds and sugar)
• A pinch of cinnamon

For the Rice Pudding:
• 280g Arborio rice
• 750g Cream
• 750g Milk
• 5g vanilla paste
• 150g Caster sugar
• 150g Brown sugar

For the Ganache:
• 225g Cream
• 4g Cinnamon
• 4g Vanilla seeds
• 375g White chocolate
• 120g Butter


 First make the Zumbaron Shells:
1. Place the water and sugar in a saucepan and cook to 118°C.
2. Place the first group of egg whites in an electric mixing bowl and start whisking. When they are starting to froth, slowly drizzle the hot sugar water down the sides of the bowl. Whisk until the mixtures comes down to 50°C.
3. Add the second group of egg whites to the almond mixture to make a paste, then fold through the initial meringue mixture.
4. Mix together until a stable, soft mixture is achieved.
5. On a baking tray lined with a Silpat baking mat or silicone paper, pipe 4 – 4.5cm rounds. Tap tray to rid any excess air.
6. Dust shells with cinnamon and leave tray at room temperature to form a skin on the macarons (until touch dry).
7. Place in oven at 150°C for about 15-18 minutes. Leave to cool.

Then make the Rice Pudding:
1. Place the cream, milk, rice and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to boil. Simmer until the rice is tender, stirring occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking.
2. Once the rice is cooked, stir through the sugars and continue stirring until the sugars dissolve.
3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Then whip up the Ganache:
1. Place the cream, vanilla and cinnamon in a saucepan and heat to 70°C.
2. Melt the white chocolate then mix in the cream. Allow to cool to 50°C.
3. Once the ganache has cooled to 50°C, blitz in the butter with a hand blender. Set aside to cool.

Put it All Together:
1. Mix the rice pudding and the ganache together.
2. Fill the rice pudding ganache into a piping bag with a 12mm plain nozzle. Pipe the ganache onto the flat side of half of the macaron shells. Top with the remaining shells.
3. Admire, then enjoy!

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