One of the best things I enjoy in writing my articles is meeting people and encountering creativity and excellence in sometimes the most unexpected ways. One such case is Calgary-based, multi-awarded Ely Rowen Salar, Head Pastry Chef of the Hotel Arts Group. Pastries are a different level of art. According to Ron Ben-Israel, chef and owner of one of the finest couture cake studios, “Pastry is different from cooking because you have to consider the chemistry, beauty and flavor.”
Born in Bukidnon but raised in Tacloban, Ely’s passion for baking had its roots in his parents’ bakery and catering business, where he insisted on working as a young boy. He then realized it was something he wanted to do as a career. He took up Hotel and Restaurant Management in university, had his internship in Virginia, USA and worked as a culinary operations supervisor. Later on he moved for work to the Fairmont in Dubai, to a French-American restaurant in Singapore, and then to Russell, Manitoba.
Even while working on the management part of the industry, his creative side fueled the desire to become a pastry chef. Fortunately, despite a lack of experience in the field, he was offered a job as pastry cook, where he worked hard to prove himself and got promoted four times in less than three years, to be recognized as a pastry chef.
Ely’s pastry creations are like pieces of jewelry, showing unbelievable artistry and sense of design with shapes, symmetry and colour. They are exquisite to the point that cutting through the pastry might make you feel guilty. And the flavours assault you with both the familiar and unexpected, as he always aims to put a twist to classic flavours. And these are validated by the numerous awards he has garnered. For this year alone, he was the overall Winner of the Pastry Chef Showcase Competition, on top of winning the Best Plated Dessert Category and the Lindt Chocolate Showpiece Category, effectively sweeping all the awards. He also was the Winner of the Lindt Chocolate Showpiece Competition at the Pastry Chef Showcase 2016, and 2nd Place for Contemporary Cake Category and People’s Choice Award at the Calgary Sugarcraft Cake Competition 2015.
In the recent Balik Kultura, a culinary tribute to Philippine culture spearheaded along with three other Filipino chefs, i.e. Rupert Garcia, Jose Battad, and Zac Ardena, Ely’s dessert pieces were in the shapes of Philippine fruits like macopa, mango and guava, which featured ube macapuno flavours with a coconut mousse, purple yam sponge and candied coconut strings. This was accompanied with kalamansi bonbons designed with symbols of the Philippine flag and came with a chocolate coconut shell. Words are not enough to describe his creations. You just have to see and savour them.
Aside from his stint with Hotel Arts Group, Ely is also the Education Board of Director of Philippine Culinary Federation of Canada (PCFC) and a member of SAIT’s Baking and Pastry Arts Advisory Committee. Through these initiatives, he aims to share his skills and knowledge to aspiring pastry chefs and cooks. Recognizing the value of constant learning in honing your craft, Ely himself ceaselessly does research, training on latest trends, learning from the best chefs in the world, and joins competitions to challenge himself. His recent campaign is to “shed light on the true value of Filipino cuisine, build a better stage upon which to celebrate and elevate the Filipino food experience”, and bring it to the forefront of the hospitality industry.
To quote Anthony Bourdain, “Food is everything we are. It's an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It's inseparable from those from the get-go.” Ely Rowen Salar, in pursuing his childhood passion with determination, is doing great things both for his personal career and the Filipino psyche. Once upon a time, chefs were nameless and faceless people toiling in a back room of a restaurant. Today, however, they are conferred celebrity-like status, with their names attached to their creations, whose movements are tracked, and are the reason people go to their restaurants. To fully appreciate Ely’s work, check him out in Instagram @elypatissier, the Hotel Arts website, or better yet, go and have a taste at the Hotel Arts. Not only will it fill your sense of sight and taste, but your sense of pride as well, knowing that the brains and skill behind the plated designer sweets before you, is a Filipino.
This article was published in the July 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.