First published on 7 Feb 2011. Updated on 11 May 2011.
Adriano Zumbo doesn't have a girlfriend. It's hard to imagine the 30-year-old patissier ever having trouble with the ladies. But it's the time thing. "They need to be able to entertain themselves. Most of the time I'm busy thinking up new flavours for desserts or busy doing media or whatever. They can't be too clingy." Prospective ladies, take note, and maybe a good book. You're also going to want to like going to the movies (his last two girlfriends didn't) – and food.
The Balmain local is the proud owner of two cafés and a pastry shop and is about to open in Star City. But it wasn't always like this. Before MasterChef came along and made Zumbo a household name, he was a suburban food celebrity who might be mentioned in the same sentence as Pho An or Sweet Belem. He's been delighting Sydney food fans for years with his brightly coloured desserts and crazy macarons. Now he's a national identity and it's changed his life. "I just had a patisserie and was well known around Balmain and a little bit around Sydney. Now, it's playing around the world. I get emails from people in Iceland who are watching the show." And no, he's not tired of making that umpteenth croquembouche or chocolate mousse cake, just because it appeared on telly the night before. If anything, he sees it as a challenge. "It's a bit like when you're an apprentice and they make you wash the dishes and grease the tins. If you can't hack it for a year and a half, you won't last. So if I can't make croquembouche day in, day out, it's the same thing. It's about the deeper touch - enjoying the process as well as the result."
Growing up, Zumbo had a nearly all-sugar diet and has never been fat. Not even a little plump. But then, the 30-year-old pastry chef, who hails from Coonamble in the Central West, probably wouldn't have gotten that far if he hadn't had such an unnatural obsession with sugar. "All I could think of was lollies; chocolate bars; Top Taste lamingtons; ginger kisses... that's all that ever lived in my school bag."
Nowadays, as an architect of sweet things with a flair for the outrageous (he has a tattoo of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka on his arm and is partial to a choc top dipped in popcorn), his wild imagination has more ideas than he has time to put into practise. He'd like, for instance, to take his cakes out for test-drives in the back seat of his Renault. "It's about taking corners. If you can't get the cake home, people are unhappy." The rapid growth of the Zumbo empire has meant less time in the kitchen and more in front of the camera: his six-part Zumbo series, going behind the scenes of the business, premiered on SBS last month.
"I haven't had the time I want. I'd love to sit in a room for a couple of months and write stuff down. Sometimes I just want to disappear - to take a year off and completely vanish." If a year away in the Himalayas meditating on cakes gets the creative juices flowing, then bring on the yak milk - just one ingredient Zumbo is currently fascinated with, describing it as "wild and dirty".
His desserts are never anything less than delicious, no matter how challenging the subject matter may get. "A lot of things reflect on memories," says Zumbo. "It's about recreating something people eat all the time but in a different texture and a different reality. If you go way out, you only get a small percentage of people who enjoy the risk and find it tasty." The point of no return is a place Zumbo recognises but rarely visits. It's that soft area where tasty and interesting strays into disgusting. But is it worth it for that small percentage? "I don't think so."
To satisfy the creative itch, Zumbo holds Macaron Day, each year on his birthday, 6 November. "We'll do flavours you wouldn't eat on a day-to-day basis. Last year we did a pig's blood and chocolate macaron - we gave out tasters and people were loving them. I think it's the whole mind over matter thing with pig's blood."
Adriano Zumbo Café 114 Terry St, Rozelle 2039.
Manly PatisserieShop 1a 40 East Esplanade, Manly2095.
Balmain Patisserie 296 Darling St, Balmain 2040. (02 9810 7318).
Zumbo Screens on SBS One, Thu 8pm
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