Chef Erik Van Der Veken is the Belgium executive chef of Le Concheur and together with Saudi pastry chef Mohammed Kabli they are heading their teams at Le Concheur to bring the finest of what the world of chocolate and pastry has to offer.
Le Concheur is Jeddah’s finest chocolate café and the place to turn to for European style sweets, chocolates and cakes in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
We had a chance to ask both chefs a few questions, and here is what they had to say:
- How long have you been working with chocolate and pastry?
Erik: I started culinary school in 1998 when I was 12 years old. Along the way I specialized in pastry and later on in chocolate, after I got my degree I took a break from the industry for a few years to get a bachelors degree in marketing. After that I decided to devote myself completely to chocolate work.
I have worked for Michelin star restaurants in Belgium and London and I also worked for about a year at a Luxury London-based hotel “Café Royal” before I joined Le Concheur in Saudi Arabia.
I don’t like crazy colors and wrappings, I prefer to keep things elegant
Mohammed: I started culinary school in 2012 at Le Cordon Blue in Canada and since then I have been I worked in New York with French chef Francois Payard and now at Le Concheur in Jeddah.
Small bite sized pastries are in high demand, we do a selection of small bite sized tartlets
- What are the trends for chocolate and pastries in weddings and how do you fit in?
Erik: As far as chocolate goes, people seem to spend more attention to the decoration of the trays than the chocolate itself, I hope to change people’s view and start caring about the quality and the taste equally.
Other than that I strive to have a strong identity by providing custom made trays where everything is made out of chocolate, from the tray itself to the flowers that decorate it.
My personal style is always a minimalistic one; I don’t like crazy colors and wrappings, I prefer to keep things elegant. If people have special requests, however, I’m more than happy to work with it to the best of my abilities.
Mohammed: Small bite sized pastries are in high demand, we do a selection of small bite sized tartlets ranging from delicate Valrhona chocolate mousse to fruity green apple mousse, they look very classy and colorful.
One of my favorite chocolates has to be the one with the local rose and mint; it’s very delicate and complex
- How do you come up with flavor combinations or designs for your pastries & chocolates? Where does your inspiration come from?
Erik: Inspiration can come from literally anywhere, sometimes walking through the farmers market will get my creativity going, or trying local sweets, teas, dishes…, anything.
I try to keep my flavors close to the culture I’m living in; traveling is also always one of the best ways to get my creativity going. When I reach a creative block, that’s a signal for me that it’s time to take a few days off and travel to reset my mind.
Right now I’m working on a collection with dates for Ramadan; it’s always fun to challenge yourself as a chef and work with local produce.
I’m a big fan of minimalism which you can find throughout every facet of my life, I love minimalistic architecture, art, fashion… and you can see that in my chocolate work, from bonbons to artistic pieces.
Mohammed: I like to keep my products seasonal so that I can keep my job interesting. Each season I start looking for local ingredients so I can get the best flavor and good price. I like the European design; my cakes are always minimalistic and clean though elegant and chic - just like a woman shouldn’t wear too much make up; less is more.
- What is your favorite chocolate flavor or combination product that you make?
Erik: One of my favorite chocolates has to be the one with the local rose and mint; it’s very delicate and complex. After people served me local tea with that rose and mint, I immediately wanted to create something with that.
Mohammed: I made a cake using local rose from Madina/Taif with lychee and a touch of lemon, it’s a very feminine and delicate flavor and definitely one of my favorites.
- How do you work with a couple once they come to you for their engagement party or wedding?
Erik: We need to discuss the budget, their wishes and the theme, and then we start to work within all of these factors to satisfy the happy couple to the best of our abilities. We really do care about that special day and we want to make it even more memorable.