Interview with Jorg Amsler
Jörg Amsler, Food Network star and internationally recognized pastry chef, is well-known for his carved cakes and exemplary skills in chocolate. His journey began when he attended pastry school in Zurich and completed an apprenticeship at Konditorei Rhor. Upon its completion, he headed to Montreal to work at the Beaver Club Restaurant in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Multiple awards for his pastry genius led to a teaching position at the Culinary Institute of Quebec.
In 1988, he took to the sea when he joined the Royal Viking cruise line as their youngest executive pastry chef. After leaving Royal Viking, he interned with Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France.
In ’90, he returned to the states to work at the Patina and Brentwood Bar and Grill in California. He then spent two years as actor James Garner's private chef serving stars such as Madonna, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Jackson and Jack Nicholson.
The 1994 earthquake that annihilated the Santa Monica Freeway also took down his home. This turn of events led him to Boston, where he was hired by former President George Bush and Barbara Bush as a pastry chef at their summer home. He spent the following 2 years working in construction.
Following a successful stint at De Pasquale Ventures in Boston, Jörg put his construction skills to work building his own bakery, Truly Jorg’s. In a mere one year’s time span, the bakery outgrew its space and moved from Chelsea to a larger space in Saugus.
I spoke with Jörg about his career and future plans in the pastry world.
Here’s what shared:
What were the challenges you faced in getting your business up and running?
The biggest challenge is taking the first step from turning a dream into a reality. The second was finding the location, money and the equipment. The most difficult part was getting all the licenses. (Here, Jörg is referring to his shop, Truly Jorg's, in Boston).
In Los Angeles, I ran the business out of my house. In 1994, I lost my business in the earthquake. Being from Switzerland, I had never experienced an earthquake. It was the middle of the night and I awoke to my stray cat digging her claws deep into my chest. I sat up to pull the cat’s claws out of my chest and within 40 seconds, I realized what was happening – the earthquake started. The whole house came down with me in it. My bedroom was in the loft area, just under the roof. I crawled out of the vent shaft to escape.
When did you sell your business and why?
My 10 year lease was up and I knew I didn’t want to stay there. The landlord kept cranking up the rent on the lease. I was either going to purchase a building or sell the business. Originally I was going to move to a new location but out of nowhere two people walked into the shop and expressed an interest in buying the business. Having had the business for so long, I decided to sell.
Did you have a plan for what you wanted to do afterwards?
I knew I wanted to travel more and I ended up doing classes and consulting. It was too difficult to consult while owning my business because it can require 2-3 months at a time. As a consultant, I have opened up 3 businesses - opened the kitchen; designed the kitchen, menu development, forecast and staff training.
What are your favorite types of cakes to design?
I like mechanical stuff. The more hardware involved, the happier I am. I’m not about the cute swirly swirl, floral cakes with fru fru. I like things that explode, spit fire and are grungy and hard core.
What would you still like to accomplish?
I have a dream that I would one day, at least part of my time, weld sculptures. I do sculptures using stainless steel bowls, cutlery, spoons, ladles, you name it. I’d like to do crazy sculptures for the buffet table. I would weld a little fork to hold things people pick up. I’d love to design some really cool display pieces that a hotel could put on a buffet or use as a wedding cake stand. My welding would remain in the culinary field, offering something practical for display.
What do few people know about you that you would like to share?
Not a lot of people know that my first job was as a musician. I traveled Europe with a band and played the guitar and saxophone. I won a big contest and the prize was to put out a record. I don’t think anyone knows I have a record out there.
People also don’t know that I’m Brazilian. I was born in Brazil. My dad worked for a Swiss company, Knorr, in Brazil and that’s when I was born. I have dual citizenship.
I am a huge animal lover. I grew up on a farm and was always around animals. I would have liked to have become a vet.
What has been the most difficult challenge to overcome?
I think the most difficult challenge to overcome is finding good people to work with. In my business, that’s the hardest. I’m very committed and spend a lot of time there. I can only do that with people I enjoy. Finding good people, not only because of what they can do, but to be able to spend 12 hours a day with is difficult. Once you have those people, it’s great to have friendships, but you still have to maintain the authority to be a boss. I worked with really great people who I respected and they respected me in return.
What is your best tip for cake decorators?
Follow your passion. Do it and educate yourself in it. Do what it takes. Don’t give up on it. You don’t want to wish you had. Go for it.
How many times were you on Food Network and how many times did you win?
I did 10 shows and I won 4 of them. I did the 2nd season of Last Cake Standing and made it to the 6th episode. I’ve also been on a children’s show on PBS called Design Squads, which was an engineering show. Another show called Ruff Ruffman was part animated and part real. A cat played the host and we had a cake-off with 2 groups of kids for a bride’s wedding. The wedding party chose the winner. Our job was to coach the kids to make the cake themselves.
What are your favorite cakes?
On the Food Network, my favorite cake was the Grim Reaper for Halloween. I really liked the Frankenstein cake for Design Squad. It had a lot of engineering stuff on it.
Jörg currently spends his time traveling internationally to teach classes and consult new businesses.
Here is a fish pond cake tutorial by Jörg.
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