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interview: muma kapapa, pastry chef at essen restaurant and beer cafe

After salivating over the strudels at Essen Restaurant and Beer Cafe, it was a no-brainer ‘YES YES YES’ when I was contacted and asked to interview one of the chefs, Muma Kapapa, and also attend a tasting night filled with desserts which may find their way onto the Essen Menu (or at least, as a blackboard special).  I found that as well making desserts that I could quite happily eat all day long if an expanding waistline wasn’t a problem, Muma is an incredibly fascinating and lovely person. Read more below to find out about her, and just how delectable her desserts are.

Tell us a little about your career – how did you start?
Cooking has always been a part of my culture. We had to know how to cook, but I wasn’t allowed to touch the stove until I was 13 and its always the things that we are restricted from that we find the most intriguing. So when I turned 13 I went crazy with trying to copy all the things I’d seen my Ma do over the years. The other side of me was interested in legal dramas and anything law related.

My initial plan was to open a restaurant either here or in Zambia, work there part time while studying law full time. So I got my diploma in Hospitality Management in 2010 from Carrick Institute of Education of which one year was strictly on commercial cookery. I came to Essen for work experience in 2010 and I guess I’m loving this more than anticipated… became I”m still here!

Buchteln with Vanilla Sauce: This reminded me of a tastier, more sophisticated version of a jam doughnut. The pastry was warm and bready, and the plum compote inside was just tart enough so you weren’t overwhelmed with sweetness.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a professional mentor?
Patience is something I have battled with my whole life and this is the most important thing this industry requires you to have. An incident in the kitchen got my blood boiling a while back and just as I was about to explode, my head chef (also my friend, Mr Ashok Kapur) walks up behind me and says in a low and calm voice “Choose your battles, there will be many in your life so save your breath and energy for the ones you consider worth it. I’m sure this is not one of them.” To this day those words calm me down in similar situations.

Lemon Tart with Sour Cream: Lemon tarts are definitely one of my favourite desserts, and this one delivered. I savoured every single spoonful – it was zesty without being too intense, and it was also perfectly creamy.

What do you find the challenges are working in your industry?
Patience and adaptability. Over the years, people with different personalities, opinions and working methods have walked into this kitchen and I’ve had to find ways of syncing my skills with theirs in order for us to remain or become more productive and also learn from each other.

Iced Apple Soup with Crepe Fritters: You know when you were little and you snuck into the fridge to taste the jelly before it set the entire way, and it was like this delicious cool and thick sweet soup? This is like a grown-up version. You can really taste the freshness of the apple, and the crepe fritters and slices of apple add texture.

Where do you get your inspiration and ideas for your desserts?
The first thing I knew is that I wanted a mash up of desserts and took the advice of both Ashok and Geert on how to go about it. These are all desserts that I’ve wanted to, but never had the chance to make before so this Sweet night with me was the opportunity I needed.

Pistachio creme and chocolate crepe tart with vanilla sauce: a dessert we used to have on the menu that I have never fallen out of love with… I was the new kid in the kitchen at the time.

Rum Babas with drunken raisins and grapes: I wanted something that would go well with grapes and raisins marinated in Rum (inspired by my aunt) like a slightly sweet bread to suck it all up and voila! Babas!

Lemon tart with Sour cream: Geert brought this in from his home for us to taste and sell… I tried it, I was sold! Enough said.

Butter milk hang up with Caramel sauce: I told Geert I wanted to do something with buttermilk. I said Panna Cottas, he made a face and went away for 5 minutes. He came back with this… I liked it better.

Iced apple soup with crepe fritter: This one was between Ashok and I. It originally started out as Strawberry soup but that just seemed too boring. On one of my breaks, I decided to kill time by flipping through one of Geert’s cookbooks when I saw a picture of it. It looked amazing! I immediately ran to Geert and demanded he tell me how it is made… IT WAS ALL IN GERMAN!!!

Buchteln with Vanilla sauce: I also wanted something traditional European, simple and nice.

Blood Orange Jelly with Double cream: Childhood memories. Nobody has jelly as much anymore. I’m walking down memory lane with this one! Besides, Blood Oranges are in season

Pistachio Cream and Chocolate Crepe Tart with Vanilla Sauce: An incredibly layered design of chocolate, pistachio cream, and crepes, this dessert was definitely a favourite and was incredibly divine and comforting. However, due to the complexity of making it, this will only be featured as a special.

What’s your favourite thing to make for your loved ones?
I like to take us back home to Zambia when I’m with my loved ones. Our traditional food has become more of a treat for us because we never have it as much anymore. Nshima (Ubwali) made from ground maize served with any meat and vegetable. We like to have it with Sweet Potato leaves (Kalembula), beans and oxtail. There is no need for entrees or desserts because this is something that is too filling.

Blood Orange Jelly with Double Cream: The urge to shot this was pretty strong, but the flavour was so gorgeous and rich it needed to be savoured with slow dips with a spoon!

What’s your favourite ingredient to use?
CHOCOLATE!!! Im sure I will get a guzillion Amens when I say that every woman on the planet knows chocolate makes everything better. For those of you that don’t know this, consider yourselves schooled!

You can try Muma’s desserts at Essen Restaurant & Beer Cafe. If you’re lucky enough the crepes might just be the special!

133-135 Broadway, Ultimo

(02) 9211 3805

Mon – Sun: Dinner from 5pm

Thurs – Fri: Lunch from 12pm to 2:30pm

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