French-Taiwanese model, actress and TV host Amanda Strang has unveiled her latest pastry venture, Flakes & Layers. The single-pastry concept, focused on pop-ups and delivery, has been a huge hit with Hong Kongers across the board, from fashionistas to children. We asked Amanda what drove her to launch the venture just as F&B operations are being pared down due to the Covid-19 spike.
It broke my heart when my former pastry store Petit Amanda closed. I lacked the confidence to start another brand, but my heart and gut just kept telling me to do it. Pastries put a smile on your face. Rent is very high in Hong Kong and packaging is expensive but I just want to make myself and others happy and I have nothing to lose this year. We’ve all learned not to take things for granted, we’ve all learned to be humble and we’ve just got to stick together and hold each other’s hand through this period. This is my passion project for Hong Kong people.
The inspiration is from Dominique Ansel. It’s a very simple item but also complicated as it’s a super gourmet donut. My Ooonuts are made with croissant dough, whereas Dominique Ansel deep-fry their donuts. More than half of a croissant dough consists of butter already so deep frying it is too much for me. My Ooonut is a hybrid of a donut and millefeuille – the exterior of my Ooonut is like a croissant, soft on the inside but crisp on the outside. I don’t like the jelly filling of a traditional donut so I the use vanilla cream you find in a millefeuille as a substitute. Hongkongers love millefeuilles.
The French cream of a millefeuille is what you’d find at very high-end pastry shops – it’s expensive and you’ve got the beauty of the cream and vanilla, which calls for real vanilla beans to get that true flavour. I use only the best ingredients, so for the chocolate version I use single-origin dark chocolate from Valrhona. I don’t skimp on anything.
It does take a lot of confidence to do a single-item pastry brand. I have to thank my mentor, the famed food critic Chua Lam, when we co-hosted a food show. It was tough at first but once I proved myself he became so supportive of me. He said: “it’s hard enough being half-blooded and be accepted in Hong Kong – You’re half-blooded but the people have accepted you and that’s a milestone of its own.” Since I love pastry he encouraged me to take the plunge. But he told me to always remember my palette and to know my customers. So that was my big journey with Petite Amanda, and then I went back to culinary school.
I built this business on a very low budget. I’m still not sure how I’ve done it but I just had to have faith and grab the bull by the horns, so to speak. The power of believing is so important. I remember I struggled with the logo and getting the packaging printed. I was at my printer’s testing and mixing colours until late at night because I could only afford one pantone colour print and a small deposit. It’s been a very emotional journey and I also have to thank Ruth Chao of Indicube who helped me with my packaging and branding and for being an incredible source of support when I was doubting myself. I’m very grateful to have a lot of support from the women in my life. This journey of Ruth and I coming together to work on my brand has been one of the most beautiful experiences of my life and I also have to thank my good friend Nana Chan of Teakha who let me use her kitchen to bake my pastries.
I did an internship at Four Seasons under Ludovic Douteau, who was then the head pastry chef at Caprice. Every week I did three days’ modelling and three days in the kitchen. Ludovic was also another mentor to me – every night, he would take me to the side and do a 20 minute quick lecture on the basics of French patisserie. It was a surprise for a lot of people because I would be mopping floors or cleaning the kitchen table one night and the next day I’d be on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar– it was really fun. I did that for six months, went back to Cordon Bleu cooking school and graduated third of my class. Then I went to work at Laduréein Paris. I worked nights from 10pm to 7am. It was tough, but a great experience.