Written by Karn Chatikavanij
June issue ‘Dessert’, 2023
Raised in Turin by Sicilian parents, Chef Andrea Bonaffini has since travelled the world with his remarkable culinary gifts. Before settling in his current home of Bangkok, he had previously worked at numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, including the famed three-starred Fat Duck in London. With his talents taking him everywhere, from Milan to Japan, Andrea eventually fell in love with Asia and all its cultures and flavours.
Now leading the pastry team at the Four Seasons Bangkok, the friendly and bubbly chef can often be seen around the hotel in his chef whites, priding himself on using the best local ingredients, managing a busy daily schedule, and giving his guests a taste of La Dolce Vita.
Q: What does your daily routine at the Four Seasons look like?
A: My day at the Four Seasons starts at 7 o’clock in the morning. I take over from the amazing and efficient night team who work to prepare fresh pastries and bakery items for the guests’ breakfast, which is always a busy morning. Café Madeleine, the Four Seasons’ own dessert shop and café, also opens at 7am, as do all the hotel outlets. I come in to inspect and check that everything is in order and that fresh pastries are ready to go. After that, we have a morning briefing with the entire pastry kitchen team before we all get busy again for lunch at Riva del Fiume, the hotel’s Italian restaurant.
The afternoon is filled with preparations for afternoon tea at The Lounge. Then in the evening, if we have special events like weddings, I’ll stay with the banqueting team and finish at around 9pm. In general, I’d say I work an average of 12 hours a day.
Q: What kind of sweet treats can guests expect to find at the Four Seasons?
A: At the Four Seasons, guests are offered a variety of pastries and desserts that can be enjoyed all day long. Starting from breakfast—either at Riva del Fiume or in-room—you have a huge choice of freshly baked bread, croissants, and cakes. There’s an even bigger selection at Café Madeleine. At lunchtime, you can find my signature desserts at Riva del Fiume. You must try my Ravioli di Banana e Caramello there!
Over at our other restaurant, Brasserie Palmier, we serve refreshing French-style desserts. Then, of course, we have amazing afternoon teas at The Lobby Lounge, where the menu changes seasonally and by occasion. We also create customised desserts for beautiful events, like weddings, conferences, and pop-ups, such as the one we did recently for Dolce & Gabbana. The list goes on! We even have fresh, homemade sorbets and desserts for guests to enjoy by the pool or in-room. It’s definitely a 360-degree dessert and pastry experience at the Four Seasons. Yummy things can be served anywhere, at any time.
Q: Can you describe some of your latest creations at the Four Seasons?
A: My latest creation is our special and eccentric afternoon tea that was inspired by Bill Bensley and “The Faroese Chronicle Exhibition”. The menu is broken up into 10 chapters, inspired by nine countries visited by Bill Bensley and the Faroese Knitting Club. It includes 12 savoury and sweet petit fours. Some of the quirky creations we put into this menu include the playful Body of Banana Passion Ice Cream, which is moulded into the shape of a statuesque backside that is found in Palermo, Italy. There’s also a delicate foie gras butterfly inspired by the French Congo and a chocolate, coffee, and hazelnut re-creation of the iconic cat-eye glasses of the Faroe Islands. It’s a very colourful, playful, and artistic afternoon tea set!
I am now working on some new chocolate desserts for Riva del Fiume, focusing on chocolate from different regions of Thailand. I love chocolate and find it truly fascinating how it can come in different flavours, textures, and forms. Each type has its own character. I can’t say much on this now, but all will be revealed very soon!
Q: What are your sources of inspiration when creating new desserts?
A: Wow, that’s a big question. Well, since I am now here in Thailand, I am always very inspired by the local ingredients. I like to use beautiful local products like coconut, lemongrass, mango, and chilli. We had this beautiful dessert called Chili Chocolate Mango cake, which was inspired by how Thais eat sour green mango dipped in that traditional mixture of chilli, salt, and sugar. It became a very popular dessert at Café Madeleine.
Art and travel are also sources of inspiration for me. You can see that very clearly in the special afternoon tea menu for Bill Bensley’s art exhibition. My team members inspire me, too. Everyone at work likes to bring me local food to try, like Thai seasonal fruits, ingredients, and vegetables. So, I often learn from my Thai colleagues and find new sources of inspiration every day from them. It’s just another reason why I love working here.
Q: What are the differences in taste preferences between Italian customers and Thai customers?
A: Italian and Thai customers have very different flavour and texture preferences for desserts. While Italians love a heavier, richer texture, and sweeter flavours, Thais prefer to have their desserts lighter and less sweet. But then again, Thais can drink very sweet beverages like Thai tea. I think this is a very funny contradiction, from my observations.
Personally, my palate and tastes in desserts have definitely changed over the years, and I now lean more towards Asian preferences, having lived here for many years now. This is also partly from being married to my Japanese wife, who has a lot of influence on me.
Q: How do you know what kind of flavours customers will like?
A: This is a matter of daily exploration and observation. When I develop recipes and create new dessert menus, my very first customers are my team, which includes both local and expat colleagues. I rely on them for honest feedback. Ultimately, of course, feedback from the hotel’s guests are key. Since our guests come from everywhere and have different preferences of flavours, I try to mix and match and have something for everyone. The Thai Chili Chocolate Mango cake, for example, gives a French-style dessert a kind of Thai makeover. We also have more classic desserts and a classic French pastry menu for traditionalists.
My wife and I like to make desserts as well. Actually, we just made our own homemade mayongchid (marian plum) kakigori from scratch, which we’re very proud of. We even posted the recipe on Instagram. When it comes to cooking and making dessert at home, I always go for something simple and easy. I’m cooking all day at work, so the experience at home is more about the quality time that I get to spend with my wife and two cats, Ginger and Pepe.
Q: In your opinion, what makes a dessert truly great, as opposed to just average?
A:I think the attention to sourcing and using great quality, seasonal ingredients make a huge difference to desserts. Quality ingredients can turn a simple recipe into an amazing one. As long as you’re following a recipe, you can never go wrong with quality ingredients. They are the foundation of every great dessert and make the biggest contribution to the overall result. After that, skill and technique take it to the next level. Creativity is the cherry on top.
Discover the taste of La Dolce Vita at Café Madeleine at Four Seasons Bangkok, which is located on Charoen Krung Road. For any inquiries, call 02-032-0888.
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