For some international students, the biggest hurdle to overcome – before choosing appropriate accommodation, applying to universities overseas, or even picking a country to study in – is receiving parental approval. For Gunawan, award-winning pastry maestro and head chef at upmarket Adelaide restaurant 2nd & 6th, convincing his parents to let him move to Australia from his home in Indonesia was the first step in following his passion for patisserie – but it wasn’t easy.

“My parents would ask, ‘Why don’t you go to the local school to make cakes?’ In their mind, patisserie is just baking normal cakes. Why would I want to go abroad?”

After researching various schools, Gunawan decided on Le Cordon Bleu Adelaide. He realised it would be the best education institute for him to develop his passion for food, and was determined for his parents to understand and support his move.

“When I found Le Cordon Bleu, I thought, ‘This is different,’” he says. “This is next-level patisserie that I want to learn. I showed my parents some of the students’ work and expressed, ‘These are no ordinary cakes!’ They were finally convinced, and in 2013, I started my new life in Adelaide.”

The art and science of cooking

Initially, Gunawan actually wanted to pursue a career in IT. When he finished high school, he was keen to expand his artistic side and study multimedia design. In the end – and somewhat fortunately – he decided to use his creative flair and apply it to cooking.

“[At first] I chose hospitality because … I thought that’s something where I can easily find a job in the future,” he says. “But as soon as I got into pastry, I felt like that’s where the art is. I can put art onto a plate. I still do what I like, but in a different field, where it’s still art.”

Gunawan had already gained qualifications in science after studying in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but decided to make the switch to the culinary arts. It was then that he undertook a one-year Diplôme de Commis Pâtissier (Certificate III in Patisserie), followed by a one-year Diplôme Avancé de Gestion Culinaire (Advanced Diploma of Hospitality Management, which includes a Certificate IV in Patisserie) at Le Cordon Bleu Adelaide.

Now, this background in science, as well as his passion for artistry and love of pastry, is a unique blend that has benefitted Gunawan in his professional career, particularly when he’s teaching others.

“The science has helped me with pastry because everything makes sense,” he says. “Whenever I do a cooking demo, I always explain the science behind it, and students are more interested. Not just, ‘Oh, mix the sugar and the egg whites and it becomes meringue.’ We discuss the protein that makes it meringue.”

© photographer Richard Weinstein, 2016, http://www.richardweinstein.com.au

Studying at Le Cordon Bleu

Upon commencing his studies at Le Cordon Bleu, Gunawan was immediately impressed with the diversity of students, with a mixture of local and international students studying at the institution. He quickly made friends from across the world.

“Everyone was very friendly to me as an international student,” says Gunawan. “We’d always hang out together. People would [say], ‘Oh, let’s go out for nachos night on Melbourne Street.’ There was a togetherness with the whole class.”

In class, Gunawan felt constant support from his tutors and lecturers. He said the staff truly encouraged students to be ambitious and independent. “The Le Cordon Bleu team see potential in students and always offer a helping hand – they’re very open and approachable,” he says.

In particular, Gunawan appreciated how much his teachers encouraged him to pursue his unique approach to pastry.

“The staff would always help me when I would say, ‘Hey, I want to be different and make a Tom Yum [a savoury Thai soup] macaron,’” he says. “Macarons are always salted caramel or passionfruit. I had a crazy idea to make a Tom Yum macaron and Le Cordon Bleu supported me all the way through to competition with that idea.”

The competition in question was the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge, an international cooking tournament where Gunawan was pitted against executive chefs from highly esteemed hotels such as the Hilton and Stamford Grand. Despite the tough competition, Gunawan won bronze.

“Le Cordon Bleu was my biggest support,” he says. “The head at the time said to me that to him, I’d won gold because I was a student while every other competitor had years of experience. He said that although I didn’t have experience in the industry, I’d shown the whole world that I could do this.”

Living in Australia

Australia has been Gunawan’s home for the last five years. He is completely in love with his adopted city, Adelaide, and the ease of living in Australia after graduation.

“At first, I wanted to go to France, but I didn’t want to have to learn French,” he says. “I was so eager to go into the industry – to get hands-on – and I felt I would need to know French to work. I also wasn’t sure about France’s migration policies. Coming to Australia, there are lots of options for you to stay after graduation.”

For students looking to move to Adelaide, Gunawan emphasises how safe he feels and how friendly the multicultural population is. “You get to know a lot of international people, so you learn about different cultures,” he says. “It changes your mindset.”

In particular, he has found himself learning different languages, which has also been a benefit in his professional career.

“I learned Italian, Spanish, and Mandarin – just from my friends,” Gunawan says. “To me, knowing another language is respectful, and is also an ice-breaker when you get to know international people. When I meet a customer from Italy, I can greet them in Italian and they feel welcome.”

Gunawan also believes Adelaide as the perfect city for students from overseas, thanks to its relaxed atmosphere and easygoing lifestyle.

“Adelaide is a lot less packed than Sydney or Melbourne,” he says. “For international students, it’s a great destination because there’s less distraction, which is good when you have to focus on study.”

le cordon bleu patisserie

Career Highlights and Looking to the Future

For someone relatively new to the industry, Gunawan has gained an impressive amount of experience, working at highly regarded restaurants across Adelaide. These include Andre’s Cucina & Polenta Bar, Hill of Grace, and Jolleys Boathouse. But it’s his current position at 2nd & 6th in the city centre that he holds most dear.

“Being a head chef – from starting just as a pastry chef – is my career highlight at the moment,” he states. “It’s a new challenge for me – managing staff, costing – but I have a very good team. We all support each other.”

Gunawan also presents culinary demonstrations to current students, but in the future, he is keen to pursue education more seriously and share his skills and understanding as a lecturer.

“For me, it’s a waste when you have knowledge and skill and you keep it to yourself,” he says. “I like to share this knowledge with students. I’m still doing what I like, and I enjoy seeing students doing well.”

One thing’s for sure, though: Gunawan is unlikely to leave Adelaide’s sunny shores anytime soon.

“As soon as I came to Australia, I said, ‘I’m in love.’ I won’t move anywhere else.”

Advice for budding pastry chefs

For students looking to pursue patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu, Gunawan encourages them to take the leap and get out of their comfort zone by pursuing their dream.

“If you really want to, if it’s your passion, then just do it!” he says. “Even if you find out that it’s not your passion, at least then you know what is, rather than being unsure. In life, you don’t want to have regrets.”

And if students are facing similar hurdles to those he had to overcome, he believes persistency is key. “You have to stick it out and convince your parents that this is your passion,” he says. “Show them, don’t just talk.”