Interview with Master Sugar Decorator Ewald Notter
This fall, ICE's Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS) is thrilled to present a 3-day advanced sugar decoration workshop (Sept 16-18) with Chef Ewald Notter. Renowned as a competitor and teacher, Notter has won numerous awards, including National and World Pastry Team Champion and Pastry Chef of the Year. In 2001, he won the gold medal with the US Team at the Coupe du Monde in Lyon, France, receiving the highest score ever recorded in sugar work.
How did you become interested in pastry and sugar work in particular?
When I had to enter apprenticeship at 15, it was important that the profession I chose involved creativity and hand skills. From the very beginning, seeing people buying and enjoying pastries I had produced filled me with joy and pride. I was in the field for 10 years before I was introduced to sugar decorations, and the fascination for it was instant. Luckily, my teacher gave me the opportunity to assist him, and I had so much respect for him that I was afraid every day not to live up to his expectations.
Is there anything you wish more people understood about the sugar work?
Most important is that people enjoy and respect what we do. Like anything else, however, if you become good at it, it may end up looking easy. Too easy. It used to bother me when people would say, “Oh he has talent, that’s all he does.” Everybody who is good in what he does has worked hard. Talent helps, but there is nobody who gets to that level without putting in many hours of labor, no matter what field or trade.
The biggest challenge is traveling, doing classes and demonstrations in foreign countries. The conditions and ingredients are always different, which makes it hard to achieve the same quality as when at home. This keeps me humble.
Having been awarded numerous prizes in a wide range of competitions, can you speak a bit to the culture of pastry competitions and the awards you have won that are particularly meaningful?
Competing is hard work and requires a lot of support from family, friends and employer [in order to] become successful. I often hear that competing is fun, but [I would say it's] hard work and dedication. You don’t want to disappoint teammates, sponsors, supporters, family and friends. That said, competing has provided me a lot of great memories and friends all over the planet. It's provides a great feeling from learning, exploring and sharing our profession.
[Preparing for] competition for me was like sport. I trained every day and took a lot of criticism. To be successful, you oftentimes have to present what the judges like, not necessarily what you may like—similar to a business when you have to adjust to your customer. Only if you are very good you can influence and set trends. Of course the highlight has been winning the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie in France, and very early on, the Swiss championship.
Have you noticed any specific trends of note in contemporary sugar work?
Yes there are trends in sugar work, like in anything else. The biggest change in sugar decoration was definitely the introduction of Isomalt into sugar work. The pieces became more transparent and lighter in appearance. Today, the design trend is more contemporary, combining geometrical and natural shapes to achieve a more artistic look, whereas years ago we tried to almost copy nature.
In what ways can training in sugar work further a pastry chef's perspective, skill set or career? I believe every good pastry chef needs to have knowledge in sugar decorations. It is a fascinating media which requires a lot of patience, hand skills and good eyes. Blowing, pulling, casting and modeling sugar...you are able to apply many more techniques than in chocolate, bread baking, ice carving or fondant work. This will help you become more creative in three-dimensional showpiece work.
*To register for the Sept 16-18 workshop with Chef Notter, call (888) 971-2433.