You’re a man of many accomplishments. In 2006, you built the world’s tallest sugar skyscraper at a Food Network competition. In 2007, you were named Pastry Chef of the Year and later awarded the Most Influential Pastry Chef title by the Black Culinary Association. What was it like to achieve those accomplishments? Did you expect the accolades when they came? And what was your process like in building the tallest sugar skyscraper?
Well, it felt great—to be very honest with you. I set forth some small goals for myself and other major goals that I wanted to pursue in the near future. Building the largest skyscraper in world out of sugar—that was a major accomplishment for me because it had never been attempted. From the planning with my partner, Regis Courivaud, to the tireless hours of making pressed sugar columns for the interior structure, to using a cold sugar dough (called pastillage) that became the outer walls of the building—this was just a small taste of what we actually did. Becoming Pastry Chef of the Year in 2007 was a major milestone for me on many levels. During that time, there were not many people of color in the field of pastry and confectionery arts. I wanted to show the nation that we can compete on that same stage (and be very successful at that). I was the first person of color to ever win that competition, and that was a major accomplishment and also helped propel my career from that point on.
“I was the first person of color to ever win that competition, and that was a major accomplishment and also helped propel my career from that point on.”
Excellence is a virtue many of us seldom achieve. What advice would you give anyone trying to reach the top of his or her craft? How do you reach the virtue of excellence?
I don’t believe we can ever reach a virtue of excellence because—if you reach that level—does that mean we stop learning or striving for more? I believe we will always continue to strive to better ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually—even if we were at a level where we feel we have made it.
The advice that I love to share with people that are striving to better their craft is this: there are four things that were taught to me when I was a runner back in high school that I basically live by called “the four D’s.” I was very fortunate to have these instilled in me from youth, and now I adapt them to everyday life experiences.
The first D stands for DESIRE. You want to be able to have a vision or a goal that is realistic and achievable with hard work. The second D stands for DETERMINATION. With the vision or the goal that you have set forth for yourself, you have to be determined to do the necessary things in order to get there. It doesn’t magically happen unless you put in the work. The third D stands for DEDICATION. This is very important because we will go through life with major obstacles that will sometimes deter us from our goals. We may feel like giving up.
This is where maintaining the focus is needed the most. The last D stands for DISCIPLINE. When you think you have made it and achieved all possible goals you have set forth for yourself, you must always humble yourself and remember how you got to this point. Many people have the mindset of “I made it” and forget about the obstacles, the educators, mentors, peers and—most of all—family that helped them on their path to success.
Of all the businesses in the world, why food? We all love food, but how and when did you decide to make it your craft?
Why Not? You have to eat. It’s one of those industries that you know is a necessity for people. I honestly did not plan for this to be the avenue for my career.
It is said that things happen for a reason. Once I entered high school, I was placed into a travel and tourism program and was introduced to the hospitality industry. I started working with my first hotel chain, Doral, which we know as W Hotel today. I realized working behind a desk wasn’t my cup of tea, so once I entered college, I looked towards the next best thing that I was good at: cooking. I focused on pastry because culinary was always very technical to me, and I enjoyed the creativity that pastry allowed. I also knew how to bake very well. Once I started to learn the technical aspects of pastry, it became second nature to me.
“When you think you have made it and achieved all possible goals you have set forth for yourself, you must always humble yourself and remember how you got to this point.”
You’ve been known to attribute your passion for the culinary arts to your early days in your grandmother’s kitchen. What was it about those days that left such a mark on you? How much has your grandmother’s style of cooking and what she cooked influenced you as a chef?
My grandmother practically raised me in the kitchen. I love this woman so much, and I continue to thank her for making me the person I am today. My grandmother’s favorite lines to me while in the kitchen were, “Never make a woman make style on you.” Her explanation for this statement was pretty simple for me: if you have a wife or significant other, on the day she doesn’t feel like cooking you a meal, you can still get up and throw it down in the kitchen. Being from the Caribbean, I was raised using tropical flavors, but I also have a West African background. I try to incorporate these roots into my art, which is why I am so imaginative and versatile with flavor profiles.
You’re known mostly for your pastries. What is your personal favorite baked good?
I’ll be very honest. I’ve had many influences and have tasted many pastries from around the world, but I would have to say my Uncle Yusuf’s “24 Karat” Cake. I can remember him making this cake from his kitchen, and it always stayed in my mind as one of the staple pastries (and the best I’ve ever had). I think I can definitely compete with him now, though.
What advice can you give that would inspire others to be more creative in their own kitchens?
My advice would be this: continue to stay engaged in the craft and understand that the industry we work in is constantly changing. If you truly believe you have a product that will make a serious impact in the pastry world, continue to work on it so it is perfected. That same product may just be your retirement plan one day.
My grandmother practically raised me in the kitchen. I love this woman so much, and I continue to thank her for making me the person I am today. My grandmother’s favorite lines to me while in the kitchen were “Never make a woman make style on you.”
You’ve won many awards, taught many students and cooked in the finest establishments. What’s next for Ebow Dadzie?
My next move, God willing, will be to be finishing my career in the classroom (full-time) and continuing to develop the minds of our future aspiring pastry chefs. It’s most rewarding to watch my students graduate and come back to thank me for helping them get to that next level in their lives.