Jason Wang rose through the ranks of Edmonton’s pastry scene to become the Shaw Conference Centre’s Executive Pastry Chef
Jason Wang was 19 when he decided to leave his home in China to study English in Canada. He picked Edmonton over other urban centres with larger numbers of Chinese expats, figuring he’d pick up the language sooner if he wasn’t tempted to speak his native tongue (Mandarin).
It didn’t take long for Wang to fall in love with the city, charmed by its friendly residents and economic opportunities — and undeterred by the snow. “I don’t want to say I like the weather,” he laughs, “but I’m fine with it. The weather is pretty close to the weather where I’m from, so it wasn’t a big surprise for me.”
Wang decided to stick around and build a career in baking and pastry. “I’d always liked baking stuff at home and started to like what I made,” he said. “But the more I did, the more I realized I needed formal training to get more knowledge.” He completed the world-class baking program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and got his first gig at a local bakery, which soon promoted him to head baker. It was a good place to start a career, but there were few opportunities to be creative, he says. “I started looking for a better place to let my creativity loose and do things outside of the box.”
At the suggestion of a former instructor, Wang successfully applied for a position as demi-chef de partie at the Shaw Conference Centre in 2008. In this role, he supervised a section of the pastry kitchen and had the opportunity to perfect new pastry techniques. “I learned everything [about baking], from the bottom to the top — there was lots to absorb,” he says. “I was so excited that there was a place in Edmonton where I could learn all of this.”
This spring, Wang became the Shaw Conference Centre’s new Executive Pastry Chef and now leads the entire pastry kitchen, including its eight staff members. On top of the day-to-day work of running a kitchen, he is responsible for creating new recipes, which happens frequently. The Shaw Conference Centre has a set pastry menu (which includes everything from muffins and danishes, to granola bars and cakes, to pizza crusts and dinner rolls), but also offers customized menus for special events.
Several times a month, Wang meets with Shaw Conference Centre clients to come up with new recipes (usually, desserts) that match the theme of the event. “People have high expectations with customized desserts,” he says. “It’s very challenging — and I like the challenge.” Wang seeks inspiration in food magazines and the master classes he attends in the US, but he relies mainly on his own imagination to come up with new ideas. “Some inspiration is good, but you don’t want to follow in someone else’s footprint.”
Another challenge Wang faces is the sheer volume of food his team of eight must produce. “For one function, we might make 100 kg of creme brulee for 1,000 people,” he says. In fact, the Shaw Conference serves 250,000 meals each year and can host as many as 5,000 people in a single day, which means Wang must coordinate his team’s efforts with the rest of the kitchen. “Everyone on the Shaw Conference Centre’s 30-person culinary team is extremely talented and works hard to ensure that quantity never trumps quality. Under the leadership of Executive Chef Serge Belair, we push ourselves to the limit!”
Love doughnuts? Read the Edmonton Journal’s interview with Executive Pastry Chef Jason Wang and see who he thinks has the best doughnuts in town!
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