Jason Licker, executive pastry chef at The Westin Resort Nusa Dua, Bali shares his experience on self-publishing an award-winning cookbook and his latest Asian-accented pastry creations.
With a career that spans more than twenty years and across continents, Jason Licker currently calls Bali home. His recent appointment as the executive pastry chef of The Westin Resort Nusa Dua, Bali coincidentally happened when the island is gearing up to host the world’s leaders at the 2022 G20 Bali summit in November. The New York-native hits the ground running, so to speak, overseeing the beachfront resort’s pastry and dessert offerings in all of its dining venues as well as the banquet.
“Pastry-making is something that I am deeply connected with – it just clicked right from the start. It is intense and demands long hours but I love the challenge of being able to utilise the palate beyond just sweetness,” says the chef. His fascination with Asian flavours could be traced back to his globally influenced upbringing in New York. However, it was at Nobu Miami in 2000 did he discover ways to use Japanese ingredients in pastry, be it miso or matcha.
He continued his exploration in combining sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami to create his own style of Asian-accented pastry in Shanghai, Macau, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore’s renowned hotels and restaurants.
Eventually, his signature palate-challenging creations were compiled in an immaculately designed, self-published cookbook, Lickerland: Asian-Accented Desserts by Jason Licker. It was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2017 and crowned second in the Asian Cookbook in the World category at The World Gourmand Cookbook Awards 2018.
His second self-published cookbook, Baking with Licker: Home Baking with Asian Accents was a 2021 IACP Cookbook Award Finalist and the winner of the Best Asian Cookbook in the World at the 2021 World Gourmand Cookbook Awards.
What fuelled your fascination with Asian ingredients?
Growing up in America as a fat kid, I was traumatised with sugar. So, when I create something, I like complex flavours. I like to cut the sweet with the sour, enhance it with salt or add a slightly bitter taste. My travels in Asia also exposed me to a myriad of ingredients. Thailand influenced me a lot with their excellent fruit produce. Vietnam’s coffee and usage of spices like cinnamon, as well as their way of adding beans or corn into their desserts were also another influence. I’ve been coming to Indonesia over the years and its usage of palm sugar in the desserts inspired me.
Why did you decide to self-publish your first cookbook, Lickerland: Asian-Accented Desserts by Jason Licker?
I had a deal to create a restaurant that didn’t go as planned. So I pivoted and used the fund to write a cookbook about Asian-accented pastry. It wasn’t a straightforward process. I worked with a good friend of mine, photographer and designer Jason Michael Lang, from the beginning. However, I stupidly didn’t hire an editor from the get-go. I learned the hard way that self-publishing involves a lot more than just writing and taking pictures.
The whole process, from ideation to holding the printed book in my hand, took about one year. At the end of 2016, I celebrated its publication with a few friends in Bangkok. One of them badgered me to submit it to the James Beard Foundation Awards. So I did. I sent the hardcopy through a courier and still thought that there was no chance a self-published book would make it, and forgot all about it until a few months later when there was an email from the James Beard Foundation Awards about an online nomination announcement event.
I was in Bratislava when the announcement was made. The internet wasn’t good and I went to a bar, got connected to the WiFi, and as soon as I went online, my phone erupted. Lickerland: Asian-Accented Desserts by Jason Licker was nominated. Looking back, it played a pivotal role in my career. The book allowed me to travel and worked as a freelance pastry consultant.
Tell us about the second book, Baking with Licker: Home Baking with Asian Accents.
The second book is the opposite of the first one. I learned how to do it by making all the mistakes the first time so the second book was much smoother. It took nine months to produce and I wanted it to be different. While the first book leans more toward fine dining, the second is made for home bakers who wish to combine and explore new ingredients. There are classic recipes with twists of Asian influences like Yuzu and Lemon Meringue Pie, Chai Tea Flan, Miso Blondies, and many more.
I started the book in 2019 with a photoshoot done in Bangkok. Then, the pandemic happened. I was in Hawaii at the time, so the production process was done in three countries. The graphic designer was in Bangkok, the editor was in Hong Kong and I was in Hawaii. It came out during the pandemic, where the world was a different place and we all had different needs.
What are the current trends in pastry?
During the pandemic, we witnessed the explosion of bake shops worldwide. In times of peril, it is only natural that we go back to the basics: the food that gives us comfort such as freshly baked warm breads, cakes and cookies.
However, I think we will see a growing demand for healthier pastry such as gluten-free and reduced-sugar options. CBD-infused desserts will also get more popular, where it is allowed.
What can we expect when we visit The Westin Resort Nusa Dua, Bali to taste your creations?
True to Westin’s Eat Well philosophy, I try to create nourishing and balanced sweet treats with the bounty from local ingredients and artisanal products. We’ve started to introduce gluten-free and vegan cakes in our offerings; believe it or not, our Vegan Coconut Cake with Raspberry and Seasonal Fruits is one of the favourites!
At The Lobby Bar & Lounge, guests can find several new signature desserts such as Balinese Coffee and Passion Fruit Choux, Mango and Guava Mousse; Calamansi, Strawberry and Meringue Tart, as well as Matcha and White Chocolate Cake. The list will evolve. I want to make desserts that people crave.
I am currently working with the team to revamp the menus. There will be a modern take on Italian desserts at Prego, something more adventurous than just a classic Tiramisu. At Hamabe Japanese Restaurant, guests will find distinctive Japanese-accented desserts.