Culinary Alchemy: Chef Nouel's Regal Ube Madeleines - Fusion of Filipino Delicacy and French Elegance

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Chef Nouel Omamalin, a culinary virtuoso, has carved a unique niche in the Middle East with his fusion of Eastern and Western pastry styles and blends heritage and innovation with a sprinkle of utopian flair. His journey from humble beginnings to a celebrated patissier is a testament to his passion for redefining Filipino cuisine. His philosophy of balancing structure with instinctual artistry with each dish, invites us into a world where tradition waltzes with avant-garde, crafting a gastronomic paradise that tantalizes the senses and honors his roots. Join us as we explore the sweet symphony of Chef Nouel’s edible artistry.

Early Inspirations: Can you share who or what first inspired you to pursue a career in the culinary arts, and how has that influence evolved over time?

“From an early age, I discovered my mother’s talents in cooking and baking, and I soon began assisting her in the kitchen. Though I aspired to study culinary arts after high school, financial constraints led me to pursue a degree in hotel and restaurant management instead. Yet, the passion instilled in me during those formative years continues to drive everything I do today.”

Initial Challenges: Reflecting on the early days of your career, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

“From the outset, my competitive nature drove me to excel in all my endeavors, sometimes leading me to over promise my capabilities to employers. This often raised expectations, bringing challenges along the way. Over time, I strategically saved funds to attend top culinary schools in the US and Europe, aiming to enhance my skills and meet those heightened expectations.”

Mentorship: You’ve mentioned the lack of mentorship in your early career. How did this shape your learning process and your approach to culinary arts?

“Reflecting on my journey, I realize the extent of my independence in all my endeavors. Rarely relying on others, I prefer to research and master new skills through persistent effort until I achieve satisfaction. Although I pursued professional courses as an executive pastry chef, I primarily consider myself self-taught, a testament to my lifelong commitment to self-mentoring.”

Signature Style: How would you describe your signature style in pastry making, and what led you to this particular style?

“My father, an architect, instilled in me a deep appreciation for balance and structure from an early age, as I watched him meticulously perfect angles and drawings to ensure stability in his creations. This influence is evident in my own work, where I strive for balance and structure in every creation. Living in the Gulf region and collaborating with home-grown entrepreneurs has introduced me to the rustic charm of trusting one’s instincts and emotions when garnishing or plating a dessert. This fusion of structured precision and instinctual artistry not only satisfies the palate but also meets the modern demand for visually appealing, ‘Instagrammable’ presentations.”

Culinary Philosophy: What is your philosophy when it comes to creating new dishes, and how do you think this reflects your personal growth as a chef?

“As a consultant, I design dishes with a focus on cost-effectiveness, replicability, scalability, and aesthetic appeal—challenges that are intellectually strenuous. Conversely, as a chef, I discard these constraints and indulge in my preferred flavors, colors, and visuals. This dual role has taught me that owning a business transcends financial gain; it is a profound journey of self-discovery through every challenge, fostering personal growth. For me, it signifies a lifelong quest and evolution.”

Book Writing: What motivated you to write ‘Nouel’s Nifty Chic Baking’ and co-author ‘The New Filipino Kitchen’? What do you hope your readers take away from these books?

“Firmly embracing the old saying that one should father a child, plant a tree, or write a book before dying, I vividly recall my university days when writing a book seemed the most interesting of these. This aspiration wasn’t just about fulfilling a personal milestone; it was deeply rooted in a desire to make my parents proud. Surprisingly, publishing my book opened numerous doors, including an invitation to co-author “The New Filipino Kitchen.” This experience taught me that writing a book is not only a form of self-expression but also a conduit for life’s unexpected opportunities. If there’s one insight I hope readers take away, it’s that preparing a recipe—like life—can vary immensely based on one’s personal experiences.”

Promoting Filipino Cuisine: You’ve been a strong advocate for Filipino cuisine. What challenges have you faced in promoting it globally, and what successes have you enjoyed?

“Our cuisine, often criticized by our diaspora compared to our Asian neighbors like Thailand, Indonesia, or Malaysia, who seldom critique adaptations of their native dishes, faces significant barriers from within. I believe these critiques largely stem from our own mindset. Here in Dubai, Chef Jaypee, despite mixed reviews of his Kooya restaurant, perseveres in promoting our Filipino identity through his culinary interpretations. His efforts demonstrate how the international community can embrace our cuisine, celebrating the unique influences each chef brings to traditional recipes. 

In Dubai, my role as a consultant has shown me that promoting our cuisine isn’t just about direct exposure in the Gulf; it’s about recognizing the unique capability of Filipino chefs to blend their understanding of various cultures and cuisines. This is a true accomplishment.”

Professional Growth: Can you discuss a pivotal moment in your career that significantly impacted your professional development?

“I realized that to truly become the chef I aspired to be, I had to stop following the paths of other iconic chefs. This epiphany struck while writing my first book, “Nifty Chef Baking,” marking my journey to forge my own culinary path.”

Learning from Setbacks: You’ve experienced setbacks, such as realizing some staff were more skilled than you. How have these moments contributed to your growth?

“It was about humility, recognizing the gaps in my abilities, and taking steps to fill them. Embracing our weaknesses and understanding that we cannot master everything teaches us honesty with ourselves and liberates us from unnecessary burdens.”

Culinary Education: What was your experience studying culinary arts in New York, and how has this education influenced your career?

“I found that phase in my life quite “entertaining” as I mingled with celebrity chefs. Initially, they were hesitant to accept me, doubting what more I could learn given my extensive experience. However, I was eager to adopt the role of a student once again.

From this experience, my greatest takeaway was understanding how celebrity chefs craft their public personas and ascend to stardom. Indeed, I aspire to shine in my own right. Building a career is akin to creating a personal brand: consistency and authenticity are key to becoming recognizable and respected in your field.”

Entrepreneurial Ventures: Can you tell us about the journey of starting your own company, Nifty Chef LLC, and what inspired you to take that step?

“I believe in destiny’s role in guiding us through life’s multiple paths. Every event, good or bad, leads us to crucial crossroads. Here, the choices we make define our journey’s significance, whether in personal growth or entrepreneurial ventures.

My solo culinary venture was fulfilling, but everything changed when a student from the Culinary Institute of America interned in my kitchen. His perspective and encouragement opened my eyes to the potential of scaling up. This wasn’t just about transitioning to a corporate framework; it was about growth and expansion, leading me to establish not one, but two companies.

When others see potential in your abilities, their investment can be transformative. The key lesson from this expansion has been learning to delegate and trust others, a challenging but essential skill for any leader.”

Consultancy Projects: As a consultant, you’ve worked on various projects. Could you share one project that was particularly rewarding and why?

“This project came my way while I was an Inflight Chef with Etihad Airways, and it became the catalyst for my departure after five years. I recognized a regional niche I was uniquely positioned to fill.

For those who caught my 2019 TEDx talk, the journey will resonate more deeply. There, I unwittingly crafted what would become the client’s brand’s signature dessert, “baby dynamite,” which went viral across the GCC. This success not only expanded the brand but also made it a target for local entrepreneurs seeking to replicate the success I brought to that dessert. As I shared in my TEDx speech, fully embracing the culinary heritage of your adoptive country can indeed earn widespread acceptance and acclaim.

My consulting company, now operating under the brand Chef Nouel Catis as part of Nifty Chef Consultancy, owes its current success to a defining EUREKA moment.”

Creative Process: How do you approach the creative process when designing new desserts, and how do you balance tradition and innovation?

“Understanding the market essentially means tapping into the collective nostalgia—what childhood memories linger with your audience? What evokes nostalgia for them? It’s this nostalgia that can elevate a dessert to iconic status, as it resonates deeply with traditions and customs. When innovating, I focus on delivering flavors that are both vivid and precise, aiming to evoke profound memories similar to how a single bite transported Anton Ego back to his deepest memories.”

Advice to Aspiring Chefs: What advice would you give to young chefs who are just starting out and aspire to reach the levels of success you have achieved?

“Remain authentic and true to your core values; never resort to pretense, especially when establishing your presence in the industry. Embrace humility, seize every chance to learn and grow, and follow in the footsteps of successful chefs who have walked the path before you. Despite the temptation, avoid rushing your career progression by demanding top or middle positions prematurely. Take the necessary time to refine your skills. Remember, graduating from culinary school, regardless of its prestige, does not automatically make you a chef—it’s a title that must be earned through dedication and experience.”

Legacy: In hindsight, what passion project or workmanship can you remember that created the greatest impact in the industry and deeply in your soul?

“To trace the origin of my career’s explosion, I’d point to the moment my ‘baby dynamite’ dessert began causing a stir. When people started inquiring about the chef behind it, it sent waves through the region. From my current vantage point, it’s clear that this culinary creation ignited a transformative blast in both my career and business that resonates to this day.”

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Ube Madeleine

Adopted from Flavel Monteiro’s Come Together

“My Madeleine in ube tone is a tribute to the Filipino delicacy, blending it with French elegance. This is more than just a celebration of purple; it’s an homage to the exquisite taste of purple yam with each bite. Many who are new to ube might find themselves captivated by its deep, royal hue and its unique flavor, which is earthy and subtly sweet with a buttery aroma. The addition of dairy elevates its taste, bringing its richness to the forefront. These madeleines are then luxuriously dipped in two of my favorite Filipino chocolates, 64% Auro Dark Chocolate and 32% Auro White Chocolate, adding a sophisticated chocolate finish.”

Ingredients:

  • 20g Dehydrated Ube Powder*
  • 120g Coconut milk, 17% 
    ————
  • 80g Coconut oil, cold-pressed, melted
    ————
  • 120g Eggs, whole
  • 120g Sugar, raw
  • 5g Vanilla paste, pure
  • 50g Wildflower honey
  • 1g Ube essence, oil-based**
  • Purple color
    ————
  • 100g All purpose flour (10.3%), bleached
  • 10g Baking powder
  • 2g Salt, non-iodized

Process:

  1. Prepare the ube paste by mixing together the dehydrated ube powder with the coconut milk in a pot and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until it thickens and the moisture is reduced as much as possible. Cool down to 30° C.
  2. Add the melted coconut oil but do not mix.
  3. In a mixing bowl, whisk the third batch of ingredients at high speed until very thick and stiff.
  4. Sift together the dry ingredients and fold in batches into the egg mixture.
  5. Take 25% of the batter and mix with the melted coconut oil and ube paste until well combined and smooth.
  6. Fold it back into the batter mix carefully until well combined.
  7. Chill for at least an hour before baking at 180° C for about 12-15 minutes or until very puffy.
  8. Allow to cool completely before dipping the cakes in tempered Auro dark and white chocolates as pictured.

Prepare to embark on a sensory journey that celebrates the harmonious melding of cultures, where the regal purple tones of ube meet the refined elegance of French pastry artistry. Chef Nouel’s Ube Madeleines are a testament to his culinary wizardry, inviting you to indulge in a utopian fusion of flavors that will leave you spellbound.

Bon Appétit!

The Chef Nouel Catis Brand

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