Tart Temptress at Damansara Perdana: When Malaysian balik apam meets artisanal French pastries

PETALING JAYA, September 27 – The range of artisanal French pastries is enticing. One has ribbons of ripe mango forming a rose; another has a zesty lemon cream anointed with heady incense. There is elderflower goo and pear poached in white wine, roasted hazelnut praline and whipped cream.

You imagine it was at the display counter of a Parisian pastry shop but each delicate little tart comes from a home-baking business in Damansara Perdana called Tart Temptress (the name itself is a triumph of witty seduction).

Tart Temptress is run by Alvan Then, a pastry chef who previously worked at the restaurants of Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon in Singapore and Macau respectively. Growing up in Teluk Intan, the 35-year-old never imagined he would be making desserts in Michelin-starred establishments.

Far from it: Alvan remembers a modest childhood and a less risky career path. He says, “My parents arranged for me to study programming. I quit halfway through and used the loan money to pay for my studies in culinary arts and baking at Taylor’s College.”

The sudden change was not without reason; Alvan was motivated by his own parents who were bakers and owned a copitiam in Teluk Intan (before closing it and moving to KL).

Alvan says: “My parents baked traditional Chinese pastries such as egg tarts, siu bao, almond cookies, etc. They had hoped that I wouldn’t have to work hard in sweat and tears like them. So they were really upset when I changed classes, but they’re happy now.

Pastry chef Alvan Then with Guy Savoy in 2012 (left).  Pies galore (right).

Pastry chef Alvan Then with Guy Savoy in 2012 (left). Pies galore (right).

This potential parental approval could stem from Alvan’s storied career as a pastry chef or pastry chef. First at the Singaporean outpost of Guy Savoy’s eponymous restaurant (since closed) in Marina Bay Sands just after graduating. Then he traveled to Macau to work at Robuchon au Dôme (formerly Robuchon a Galera) at the Grand Lisboa Hotel.

A pastry chefs the job is far from easy but Alvan has never lost sight of his love for French desserts and fine pastries.

He says: “I got my passion for cooking and baking from my mother. I read her cookbooks in my free time since elementary school. One day, she bought French cooking equipment from Robot Coupe. It was 20 years ago and it was very modern in a small town.

The Robot Coupe arrived with a book of French recipes that the young Alvan went through at every opportunity. He says, “I was very drawn to beautiful cuisine because I had never seen anything like it before. Recipes included delicious pies full of berries and chocolates, artisan pies and terrines that were spectacular to look at.

“Desserts” are a type of multi-tiered French dessert (left).  Finishing (right).

“Desserts” are a type of multi-tiered French dessert (left). Finishing (right).

Fast forward to a few years ago when Alvan was the Senior Sous Chef at Mangala Resort & Spa. He shares: “The lockdown has started and the tourism industry has suffered a lot. I started selling desserts online and decided to continue even after the lockdown ended thanks to the positive feedback and support from customers.

Alvan’s artisan pies and tarts are a far cry from their mass-produced cookie-cutter cousins. Beyond a good recipe, quality ingredients, a trained sense of taste, professional skills and experience are needed.

He shares: “My pies are deeply inspired by my experience in previous jobs in French restaurants as well as as a master pastry chefs like Cedric Grolet.

Grolet, the executive pastry chef at Le Meurice in Paris, is known for his fruity French desserts. Often these fine pastries resemble the very fruits that are used in their making.

Alvan showcases this influence in its own creations such as its Citrus Pie Platter, featuring tangy flavors such as Lime Mango, Burnt Lemongrass, Keylime Lemongrass and Frankincense Lemon.

Unusual flavor pairings also present themselves: from a deconstructed “Apam Balik” corn peanut butter pie with cheddar tuile and popcorn pie to a fruity-floral pie with elderflower honey and cognac. Alvan even makes little rustic tarts. patties.

'Apam Balik' Corn Peanut Butter with Cheddar Tile Popcorn Pie (left) and Pear Cognac Elderberry Honey Pie (right).

‘Apam Balik’ Corn Peanut Butter with Cheddar Tile Popcorn Pie (left) and Pear Cognac Elderberry Honey Pie (right).

Many Tart Temptress offerings come in the form of dessert, which are a type of French dessert. Beautiful, delicate cakes, often mousse-based and multi-layered.

Typically there will be a variety of different flavors and textures; the thrill of the passionate pastry chef comes from deciphering the mystery of assembling everything. If the pastry chef is a conductor, then the dessert is a sublime symphony.

With so many unique pies and pies, it can be hard to single out a favorite creation. The pie chosen by Alvan is his Valrhona Jivara whiskey coffee; he enjoys the puzzle of finding the best balance between disparate ingredients so that they develop compatible notes and become a well-balanced whole.

Alvan's favorite is his Valrhona Jivara whiskey coffee tart.

Alvan’s favorite is his Valrhona Jivara whiskey coffee tart.

He explains, “The nutty, toasty flavor of the Nicaraguan coffee complements the woody notes of the whisky. Valhrona Jivara milk chocolate is used as a medium to harmonize all the flavors to create a well-balanced, savory and delicious tart.

Research and development (R&D) is essential to keep the offers innovative and attractive. Alvan likes to come up with new recipes and looks forward to seasonal celebrations for ideas: “There will definitely be new festive desserts for Deepavali, Halloween, Winter Solstice and Christmas. I would also like to develop tastier artisanal pies.

These salty treats include Chicken pithiver with mustard & fresh cream, an upside-down pie from the Loire Valley in central France. Made from an artisanal puff pastry, the pie is garnished with shredded chicken roasted with mustard and bacon simmered in chicken broth, mushrooms, parsnips, carrots, chestnuts and quail eggs with a dash of cognac , sour cream and Herbs.

'Pithivier', an inverted pie from the Loire Valley, (front) and smaller 'galettes' (back).

‘Pithivier’, an inverted pie from the Loire Valley, (front) and smaller ‘galettes’ (back).

With such a varied menu, it’s no wonder that Tart Temptress’s current operations run on such a busy daily schedule. Alvan shares, “Sometimes there are even orders to deliver late at night!”

He adds, “Being a home-based business means I don’t have to spend on hiring and hiring staff, so I can spend more on buying quality ingredients.”

Entrepreneurship pastry chef then passes on the savings to his customers: “I sell every piece of dessert dessert below RM100. I don’t think there is dessert dessert which uses Valhrona and Callebaut chocolate which is cheaper than me in KL.”

Alvan is clear-headed about the challenges a freelance pastry chef faces, whether it’s depending on delivery services or maintaining a strong social media presence. Finances, especially with the current economic climate, are a constant concern.

He says: “There have been a lot of ups and downs. You have to stay positive, develop problem-solving skills and be equanimous all the time.”

The young business owner has come a long way from reading French cookbooks in Teluk Intan to working in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Macau. Now he’s making his way, chasing his dreams… and tempting pies.

Tempting Pie

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