How would you define the pastry of Ernst Knam?
It’s impossible to define: I’m always looking for new ideas, new projects, and new challenges to be undertaken. My creations have always been based on excellent raw materials – which can make the difference – on clean lines and concepts of elegance, refinement, and harmony. The seasonality of the ingredients also plays a major role: to celebrate the 25 years of my pastry shop in Milan in 2017, I developed a new line of sweet single portions and savoury quiches, both inspired by the four seasons.
When did Ernst Knam become a prestigious international pastry chef?
From a very young age I oriented my career towards an international context. After an apprenticeship in Germany, I worked in Scotland, Great Britain, Switzerland, and then landed in Italy with Gualtiero Marchesi, but I also spent some time in Asia, in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan. With all this experience in such different contexts and with important results, prestige arrived on its own…
What’s the future of pastry?
It’s a future in which we must think a lot about innovation, always proposing new creations to the customer alongside more traditional recipes, with that extra touch that makes a difference. The classics obviously represent a solid base on which to build, but at this point it’s also necessary to go further.
What was the most important professional insight of your career?
Luckily I have had many (and I continue to have them, despite more than 30 years of career in the world of pastry). I really couldn’t say which of them was my favourite. Surely having focused on chocolate and all its forms was one of the best decisions I have made, which I have never regretted, and that I continue to carry on, always trying to improve my creations with this material that – not by chance – is called “the food of the gods.”
Knam, the king of chocolate! How much has this public “coronation” influenced your work?
Not particularly, I continue to work with the same passion, dedication, and attention to quality and raw materials. Of course the fact of always being in the public eye has changed the pace of work and obviously you are more subject to the scrutiny of people and professionals: at this point perfection is expected of me at all times and every new project is therefore a stimulus to continuously improve in both presentation and taste.
Knam, of German birth and of Italian adoption. What do you find exciting and negative in this new homeland that has welcomed and acclaimed you?
I love Italy, it’s a country that has given me so much and now I consider it my home. It’s the home of good food, of quality. And the Italians, with their affection and appreciation for my creations and my products, will forever be in my heart. Milan has become my home and I don’t think I could live anywhere else. Of course, there are also problems, Italy has many beauties, especially in the fields of art, food, and lifestyle, but many times they are wasted or not considered seriously enough. The potential is great, perhaps it would need a little more German pragmatism to be able to develop it and exploit it fully.
It is said that you have a bad temper, but that you are always frank and direct. How do you see Knam?
In reality I see myself as being very sweet inside, hence the title of one of my last recipe books (published in January 2017 by Mondadori, ed). Of course I expect a lot from my colleagues, my students, and also from the competitors of Bake Off Italia, where I try, before expressing my opinions, to offer advice and suggestions based on 30-plus years of commitment to pastry production. Pastry is a craft and an exact art, much more mathematical and rigorous than cooking in some ways, as the slightest variation can completely ruin a recipe: it takes precision, consistency, and a lot of study to tackle this work and this is not always clear to young people today. A little bit of severity and discipline are indispensable.
You were gelato world champion some years ago, what struck you most about that event?
Yes, in 2012 I was captain of the Italian team and we won the top spot on the podium. It was an extraordinary experience to work closely with other professionals, whom I appreciated for their work, and to all be focused on a common goal to be achieved as representatives of Italy. Winning that cup and earning such an important recognition was an emotion I will never forget.
This year Ernst Knam will collaborate with our publishing house, both for the Italian magazine puntoIT and for the new adventure SweetMood – puntoItaly which will concentrate on international pastry. A new challenge, for which we are all proud to have such an “ace” on our team. After all… when the King is also an Ace, that means you have a winning hand. You can’t lose! Do you agree?
Of course, I am very pleased to be part of this new project. My pastry shop has an international and cosmopolitan spirit and I am always looking for new challenges…. This will certainly be a new adventure that will offer new stimuli and give me the opportunity to experiment with new recipes that are able to surprise readers.