Christy Tania – Against All Odds

by Rachel Saputro
19th July 2014
We talk to Melbourne-based pastry chef Christy Tania of Master Chef Australia fame, where she shares her thoughts on fear and why it is stupid to simply follow your gut feeling.

“Most chefs are pretty crazy. But Christy – oh you’ll love Christy. She’s an absolute great character to have around. She’ll be here in just a few minutes,” says the man behind the bar at Adelphi Hotel. Tucked away in a narrow Melbourne avenue and hidden within Adelphi Hotel, OmNom dessert bar calls the trendy hotel its home. The dessert bar is the first of its kind in Australia and has already attracted several celebrities and foodies alike. It is also where our interview with Christy Tania, the pastry chef who is on a meteoric rise, takes place.

The gloomy Melbourne morning stood in stark contrast with Christy Tania’s demeanor as she breezes into OmNom and greets us warmly. Only after we briefly exchange dialogue, one could already tell that Christy Tania possess a strong personality – her words firm, and her tone passionate.

“Following your gut feeling is stupid.”

At the start of it all, Christy Tania simply wanted to become a problem solver – which is why she became International Business Machines’ (IBM) youngest project manager at the age of 23. Fresh out of Nanyang Business School in Singapore, Christy Tania well epitomised the narrow Asian stereotype of success. Although while at IBM, she also ran her own cake business on the side – it was something that she loved doing. In five years’ time, however, she was on a completely different career path; one that involved a MasterChef stint, whipping up sweets for foreign dignitaries and celebrities, and being dubbed as ‘the next Adriano Zumbo’ of the dessert world.

“I had this nagging feeling, that I was meant to be somewhere else, meant to do something else,” Tania recalls. “I didn’t know where it was. I didn’t know what it was supposed to be.” That gut feeling led her to make a bold decision – she quit her position at IBM and headed to Paris to study the French art of pastry at L’Ecole Nationale Superieure de la Patisserie.

Tania tells her story in steady pace, with little hesitation. She corrects herself briefly regarding a previous remark, “Following your gut feeling is stupid. You need to have a plan. As a consultant, I was a problem solver. I went and found the best pastry school in France for me to attend. You don’t just follow your gut feeling, then get there and simply dip your toes in it! You give it your three hundred percent.”

“Pastry is so precise.”

Tania went on to gain experience in kitchens that aspiring chefs can only dream of stepping into – The Ritz, Vue De Monde, Jacques Raymond, and Sake to name a few. “Life brings you places. Follow what you love, although it can be stupid at times.” Tania is referring to the romantic relationship that originally brought Tania to Australia, which unfortunately did not result in a happy ending . Soon, Tania was appointed as the head chef of Melbourne’s OmNom.

“People ask me how I got here, to this point in my career, so fast. All this wasn’t in my goal. I mean, shoot high. But not that high. I always make it a point to be the best at where I’m currently in. Somehow once I hit that goal, a next target always opens up. Opportunity is always there. When ideas come, position yourself.”

And that’s exactly what Christy Tania did when MasterChef Australia producers came knocking unexpectedly. She barely had time to settle in her new position as OmNom’s Head Chef, when she had been featured as a guest judge on the widely acclaimed television programme, MasterChef.

During the show, contestants were faced with the challenge of recreating Tania’s signature dish, the Mango Alfonso. “Pastry is so precise. If you can’t rectify pastry – I’m sorry darling. I want to help you, I really do. But do it again?”

The pastry chef admits that she is “a creative person by nature, but control freak by birth.” Tania is clear on why she chose to specialise in desserts as opposed to savory. “Pastry allows you to present colors, height, form,” she explains with hand gestures and an increasing tone of excitement in her voice. “If I wanted to make the dish a square, I can do so. If it’s a triangle that I want, then a triangle it is.” Again, she asserts the amalgamation of creativity and control – “Pastry is so precise”.

“Fear is not real.”

Considering all the odds against her, it’s remarkable that Christy Tania is where she is today. The F&B industry, in some sense, is not unlike the previous industry where Tania was once in – both are male-dominated industries. This all the more casts a striking and compelling testament to Tania’s astonishing achievements at only 28 years young.

It is evident that Christy Tania has a very strong work ethic, complemented by a set of morals that she uncompromisingly lives by. Without flinching the slightest bit, she looks me in the eyes and states an obvious, yet too often disregarded truth: “Fear is not real.”

“Was it fear that I felt back then when I left IBM? Yes, absolute fear. Fear is always there, but fear isn’t real. What you fear, it hasn’t happened – it’s only in your head.” Her words and tone carry so much ruminative weight. “Fear is short, it’s temporary. If the fear stays permanently, then that means there’s something wrong with you,” she says as a matter of factly.

When asked about her plans for the future, Tania’s response didn’t stray too far from the habits she practiced to get her here in the first place. “I don’t have any goal that goes beyond three months. It’s tiring to keep chasing the carrot that’s so far away – it’s bloody tiring. I’ll take whatever comes and give my absolute best.”

With a stern and firm tone, but light-hearted all at once, Tania gives an illuminating analogy, “Don’t aim for the top of the Eiffel Tower. Just aim for level three. Once you’re there you’ll see ‘Oh, I can definitely go three more!’ – then three more – then three more, before you know it you’re at the top.”

We can, however, look forward to more appearance by Tania on Master Chef Australia in the coming weeks, as well as a possible book that details her remarkable success. In addition, Tania is currently working on a collaboration with Arnold Poernomo of Master Chef Indonesia, to modernise and put a fresh twist to Indonesian food. “Indonesian ‘Pepes’ is simply the French dish ‘Papillote’. Rendang is basically ‘Beef Bourginon’ but instead of red wine, we use Kecap Manis (sweet soya sauce).”

“Love like nobody’s business.”

Despite her honorable achievements, Tania remains notably humble. “Christy Tania is not Christy Tania without OmNom,” she says of herself. “If there’s anything I need to say, I want to tell people don’t forget where they come from. I spent the majority of my life outside of Indonesia. Two days ago, I was sitting with a glass of wine, really upset over the fact that I didn’t get to cast my vote for the presidential elections. I thought to myself – ‘Fuck, I love my country.’ There’s just so much color, culture, and flavors.”

Even with the stern, iron-lady like reputation that Tania is often associated with, at the core of it all she’s a remarkably talented Indonesian who is making our country proud on an international stage, while doing what she loves and believes in.

“Love like nobody’s business. Wear your hearts on your sleeves and stay proud of whom you are,” she says as a big genuine grin wipes across her face.