Executive Pastry Chef
Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2018
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Current
- Thomas Hass Chocolates, Vancouver, British Columbia; Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, Vancouver; La Maison Wittamer, Brussels, Belgium; Café Boulud, New York; Patisserie Arnaud Larher M.O.F., Paris; Patisserie Le Pommier, Tokyo; Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire, UK; Harthouse Restaurant, Vancouver
- Vancouver, Canada
- Diploma in Baking and Pastry Arts, Vancouver Community College; Diploma in Culinary Arts, Dubrulle Culinary Institute of Vancouver
- English, French, Cantonese, Japanese
“If something is too easy, then it isn’t interesting,” says Steven Tran, Executive Pastry Chef of Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, on the main challenge he has faced in his career. A pinch-of-this-dash-of-that kind of cook by nature, he was drawn to pastry because it required the opposite. “What excites me is the artistry as well as the discipline of pastry. I love to be spontaneous in the kitchen, so I really had to train myself to be precise and exact.”
Recruited to join the company’s Yorkville address in summer 2018, Tran oversees a team of 15 chefs working in two pastry kitchens to craft sweet finishes and house-made baked goods for the Hotel’s signature dining experience Café Boulud, its sibling d|bar by Daniel Boulud, as well as for banqueting and in-room dining and amenities.
And work the team does, putting in long hours to stay ahead of demand that rarely slows. “When it’s low season for the Hotel, it’s high season for the restaurants, with a lot of large parties celebrating the holidays,” Tran explains. “This is the first time I’ve been in charge of pastry for an entire hotel operation. I get to see all the ebbs and flows.”
One thing the ebbing and flowing has taught Tran is that the Hotel’s pastry operation functions as smooth as buttercream even when he’s not in kitchen. “What I bring is leadership, creativity, and a different point of view toward elevating our offerings,” he says, noting initiatives such as upgrading the hotel’s croissant selection and creating lip-smacking desserts of his own, such as salted caramel cremeux with Valrhona Dulcey chocolate, spice speculoos cookie, pumpkin spiced cake, caramelised pecans, butterscotch sauce and maple-scented whiskey ice cream.
Culinary has always interested Tran: As a kid growing up in Vancouver, his parents threw large dinner parties and he was glued to the original Iron Chef on TV. Then one day, just as a lark, he entered a teen cooking competition and ended up winning a scholarship to a local culinary program. His winning dish was the French classic chicken chasseur. “I’d never even thought about cooking as a serious career. But the program was paid for, so I gave it a try.”
Tran started out on the savoury side of the menu, but a work-study trip to France nudged him to the sweet side. “That was where I realised how interesting pastry can be. I met a chef who showed me so many cool things and promised that if I wanted to learn, he’d teach me.”
After his return to Vancouver and study at another culinary academy, Tran headed off again to England, Toronto, Tokyo and Paris, working at Michelin-starred restaurants and with at least one chef honoured with a Meilleur Ouvrier de France along the way. Finally, he landed in New York – “I’d always dreamed of working there at some point” – crashing on a friend’s couch and knocking on restaurant doors in hopes of proving himself with a short-term internship.
Nothing went his way, however. “Things weren’t working out, and I was pretty depressed.” Then, on his last day in NYC, Tran got a call from Dinex, the restaurant group of Chef Daniel Boulud. A pastry sous chef position had opened at Café Boulud on the Upper East Side – might he be interested in doing a tasting?
“I was super nervous,” he recalls. “They asked me to prepare a chocolate dessert and a fruit dessert. I visited the kitchens, picked up ingredients, and went for it.” His talent carried the day, as did good word Dinex had gotten about Tran from pastry chefs he had worked with in Tokyo and Paris.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life!” he says of the two years he spent at one of New York’s most renowned dining destinations. “It’s what brought me here to this Hotel.”
Away from the pastry kitchens of Four Seasons, Tran enjoys a relaxed lifestyle in Toronto. There is little opportunity for him to snowboard or hike, as he enjoys doing when he’s back home in Vancouver, but he likes spending time in the gym. “It’s a good way to gather my thoughts.”
He still keeps his eyes on culinary competitions and participates when he can. “I don’t really watch sports. Watching the World Chocolate Masters is my sport.” He is really passionate about chocolate and the new technologies that can turn it into art, he says. “One day, I hope to start a chocolate program here at the Hotel.”