Adriano Zumbo. The Punk Pâtissier.
Grunty Cars, Legendary Cock-Ups and his Lucky Peg.
Known in the media as “The Dark Lord of the Pastry Kitchen,” the “Sweet Assassin” and the Pâtissier of Pain,” you’d be forgiven for assuming that time spent with Zumbo might involve whips, chains or studded leather blindfolds.
With this in mind, you might find your gaze curiously drawn to his egg beating technique or indeed feel the urge to peek inside his utensils draw, wondering all the while what might go on after hours in this stainless steel world of big whisks, suspended metal pan hooks and shiny, cold prep benches.
In contrast, though I’m greeted with European kisses, a warm smile and he’s wearing cottony soft denim with a lucky peg attached to his pants.
In his arms, he gently cradles exquisitely designed presentation boxes of the prettiest, fluffiest and most delectable macarons (Zumbarons) in all the land.
Gentle cradling aside, he is a force to be reckoned with in the competitive and cut-throat world of baking and reality TV judgement. Creating and constructing his Croquembouche is no mean feat, the V8 Cake takes the biscuit in terms of laboured layering and tireless precision and the Fairytale Gingerbread House is an outstanding example of limitless patience and determination.
7 little Zumbo Wonderlands of shimmer-dusted, romance-infused, colour-bombed deliciousness reside in Sydney and Melbourne. Impressive yes but what the hell are you supposed to do if you find yourself in Brisbane?
If you are lucky, today is the day that you step inside one of these glorious emporiums and if you have a sweet tooth your soul will be sold. Forever.
Rich, molten, cascading, sludgy chocolate….air-puffed chantilly clouds, delicate as Autumnal butterfly wings at the first hint of snowfall… billowing pillows of ruby-red velvet ganache… gooey, caramel drenched nuttiness… perfectly hand-crafted shells of angelic, heart-breaking crunch. It’s almost too much to bear. For a Taurean.
‘Eat me!’ – the echoing high-pitched screams are deafening and vibrate mercilessly from every corner of your conscience to every angle of the display counters as you clock even more magnificently elegant morsels of decadence.
Are these walls closing in? What’s that ticking noise? Who let the giant bunny in singing “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane? Is this pâtisserie heaven or diet hell? I haven’t felt this much conflicting euphoria since Ben the Skinhead made me an exceptional cup of tea at college in 1990 and a little mushroom floated to the top.
And then, at last, it’s nearly here…the X-rated sweet surrender. Like a surf-worthy plunging breaker of chilled crystal gloss, drenching me in a mid-summer Bondi heatwave…”I’ll take 3 of those, please. Ok, let’s make it 5. I’ve got kids you know. Actually, let’s round it up to 10 as they’ll probably have some friends over tonight. Sod it, make it 20 then, it’s nearly Christmas and the neighbours might pop in”. Like those sweet babies will ever see a new dawn.
Then, at last, slave-like, with the gaze of a zombie you leg-it outside, the dignity of your exit rated at nil as you pause only to rip open this box of heavenly plenty, preparing to permit your taste buds to take over from the lies that your mouth left behind.
Your eyes close as you gently bite down into the most heavenly Zumboron ever known to man. Or Taurean.
My family is Italian. My parents migrated here from Calabria, Southern Italy in the 1960’s and my two sisters and I were raised in Coonamble NSW.
It’s a great culture of generosity, fresh foods, a simple life and a family focused existence. My mum cooks amazing Italian food and pretty much every special occasion she would cook up a mad feast that was always special. My parents were hard workers and this taught me a lot about life, business and career.
The Lucky Peg.
My lucky peg is something that I’ve been wearing for about 8 years now. It started when one day I locked the back doors in my house and found 2 pegs lying on the kitchen floor. I picked them up and clipped them to my pants thinking that I’d take them back outside later when I got home because I couldn’t be bothered to unlock everything again.
I had a really successful day in many ways and it was a funny conversation starter and there this tradition began! I do change the pegs from time to time and I’ve always got one on me somewhere. People are always saying, “Hey, do you know that you’ve got a peg on your pants?” or “Were you sorting your washing this morning?”
I did my apprenticeships here in Australia and then completed various stages in France. l’Ecole Lenôtre, Belleouet Conseil, Pierre Hermé, and with Michael Damiano.
The chefs that I admire are Ramon Morato, Chase Kojima, Johan Martin, Christophe Michalak and Francisco Migoya.
The Challenges of Zumbo
Definitely growing my confidence in the public eye and always the business side of things.
Creativity, Passions and Colour
Life’s inspirations firstly come from how I grew up, how my mindset was determined. The imagination that you create over the years, then to watch it develop with the changes and progression in life. I think all of life is inspiring and from that, I draw on colours from all aspects of it… matching colours to the food, season and mood when creating new ideas.
I love music, it keeps me going, it keeps me focused and energised. I love to listen to Hip Hop and Electro when I cook. I do like most creative experiences, art, all kinds of performances. I also love to travel, it’s so enlightening to see different parts of the world and draw inspiration from a variety of countries and cultures. I love cars too, fast and grunty cars. I like to see them, drive them and maybe one day own one!
Unwinding is a little alien to me and has been for years now. I just haven’t had a chance to do it much as my business has commanded one thing after another. My choice if I could get away though would be to go to a beautiful island resort with no phone or internet, with people I love and care about. Pretty simple really!
Favourite Countries & Cultures
Japan & Italy
What you love to cook.
Anything chocolate or some Zumbarons.
As a kid, I wanted to be a truck driver or Rugby League player but as an adult, I would be a designer with a part-time DJ gig.
The Last Supper
I would invite Johnny Cash for his music and life story, the CEO of Lego.. what a great brand of imagination and creativity! Mark Wahlberg, I’m a big fan of his movies and empire and, of course, my girlfriend Belinda Roberts.
The Biggest Cock-Ups
There were 2 huge ones. The first one was breaking the Croquembouche on the way to the MasterChef studio on the day of filming and having to go back and make another one, holding up a whole day of filming. The second was making a giant chocolate heart 1m x1m for a wedding and on the way to the venue it broke in two and there was no time to make another one!
I would have to say every day..being able to do what I love to do, work with the people and teams that I do, and achieve the things that I am able to achieve with the support of my loved ones.
Community and Charity.
I like to work with young, up and coming designers and chefs on community projects. The South Yarra store was designed by a group of design students. I like to contribute to causes helping disadvantaged kids and anti-violence campaigns, I’ve worked with a fair few over the years.
How will you spend Christmas this year?
In Hawke’s Nest with my family. A huge Italian lunch followed by a sleep then maybe a walk along the beach or maybe just more sleeping!
The legacy I want to leave is one of imagination, fun and creativity. I want to keep growing an amazing industry and push the boundaries, to get people to realize their passion and chase their dreams …. and ultimately to Eat Sweet!
I’m writing this episode right now. It will be a fun Rom/Com adventure with lots of action and dessert madness.
Photography Graham Jepson
Thanks to Winston Willows, Adriano Zumbo and Graham Jepson