What's harder, being a model or a pastry chef? 'Pastry chef - that's a no-brainer. You need to get up so early to be in the kitchen and you're on your feet all day. The hardest part is when you have a few staff working with you and you need to watch over them. I'll train them; I'll say, 'These are the products, this is how I want them made.' If there isn't enough communication, there can be misunderstandings.'
Chinese people typically prefer their desserts less sweet than Westerners. Is that a challenge? 'The hard thing with [my pastries] is they [have] a French taste. I cut down on the sugar as much as possible but there are a lot of things I can't adjust. If I use less sugar, the texture changes. It's hard to find a balance. For the chocolate tart, I use dark chocolate with milk chocolate but keep [the flavour] quite French. Chinese customers think it tastes too sweet but Western customers come in and buy six at a time; it's their favourite item. They've even asked me why I don't make it with only milk chocolate.'
You've worked at some great patisseries in Paris, including Ladur?e and Jacques Genin. Who else would you like to work with? 'I've already worked with the person I most wanted to - Ludovic Douteau, when he was at Caprice [at the Four Seasons hotel in Central]. When I applied for my internship at Caprice [in 2009], I approached HR and they thought it was a joke. I had to tell them how serious I was. They weren't sure if they should put me in the open kitchen - they didn't know what the guests would think. I told them I wanted to work with Ludovic and only Ludovic. For me, he's a star. He keeps [his desserts] really simple, but he perfects them.'
What's the highlight on your menu? 'The plaisir sucre is my favourite pastry. It was invented by Pierre Herme when he was at Ladur?e. It has three kinds of milk chocolate - squares, ganache and chantilly - and it looks really good. I remade it for Hong Kong because you can't get it here. I also remade the mille-feuille, piping the cream the way they do at Jacques Genin. So [in my pastries] you can see the history of what I've been learning.'
What attracted you to pastry making? 'I've always loved cooking. When I was living with my parents, we'd cook together on Sundays. My mother felt it was her duty to cook for the family; but she could never make desserts, and my father has a real sweet tooth and a passion for chocolate. When I was nine, we moved to India and my father couldn't find good desserts. I knew he craved a good chocolate dessert, so I took a cookbook and made my first chocolate souffl?- though it ended up looking more like a sponge cake than a souffl? When I opened my shop, he was out of this world. He was so proud that I had my own business; when I dropped out of university, he thought I was going to stay a model for the rest of my life.'
The packaging at Petite Amanda is very distinctive. How did you come up with it? 'It's by a husband-and-wife team called Latitude. [Julie] grew up in Hong Kong but her parents are Swiss and she understands what pastries are about. The pyramid box imitates [architect I.M. Pei's glass] Pyramid in Paris, outside the Louvre. The beauty of pastries is in their colour, so all the packaging has a different colour. I want people to come into the shop and feel that they're not of this world, that they're somewhere else. That's why I spent a lot on the packaging - I want them to have an experience. You need to eat to be alive, but you don't need pastries to stay alive. It's something special.'