Pastry Chef Jason Licker makes people happy for a living. His desserts, which combine western and Asian influences, have earned him a cult following and have now been immortalised in his stunning book Lickerland: Asian-Accented Desserts.
“I have always had a love affair with food,” says Jason Licker, Iron Chef Thailand winner, renowned Pastry Chef and now, author of his own book, Lickerland: Asian-Accented Desserts.
“Growing up, I was the stereotypical overweight American fat kid. Eventually I became a bit more health conscious, but always had an urge for a sweet snack. When I was 19, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and was placed on a special diet. We began baking together, because of course we couldn’t go without our sweets,” Licker recalls. “It was during this time I fell on love with pastry. Something just clicked and pastry became my obsession. During our cooking disasters we had a great time, and it’s these moments that I think of when I am asked how my path began. Sadly, my mother passed away and never knew I went on to become a Chef.”
Despite working for some of the biggest chefs in the game – including Jean- Georges and Charlie Palmer – Licker has carved a niche for himself with his innovative desserts that fuse together western favorites with exotic Asian ingredients, evoking a feeling of both familiarity and adventure.
“My first experience with Asian ingredients was while working in Miami Beach for Nobu Matsuhisa. I was exposed to incredible ingredients such as shiso, yuzu and miso. I was blown away by the complexity of these flavors that were just pure harmony,” recalls Licker, who moved to Shanghai eleven years ago. He has since lived and worked in cities across Asia, including Macau, Hong Kong and Bangkok, where he won Iron Chef Thailand in 2014.
He adds, “I began experimenting immediately on endless flavor combinations. I loved how the Japanese staples accented or balanced out the sweetness of dessert or a confection. This is when I started to develop my own pastry philosophy by using Asian ingredients to balance your palate with temperature differentials and texture contrasts. As began to travel and immerse myself in other Asia cultures, I began to use those flavors and experiences.”
The results are masterpieces such as lemongrass marinated pineapple gyozas, cherry and yuzu crème brulee with shiso granite, chocolate with Chinese five spice, and of course, his wildly popular fondant-inspired matcha tart, which became a social media star in its own right.
“I love creating whimsical sweets, and working with people that are just as in love with pastry as I am. I feel the kitchen is like family. We all share the pursuit of creating incredible food. The most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing someone enjoy a dessert I have made. When someone tastes something they never had before or simple become enraptured with a dish I have made, it brings me a moment of Zen and fulfillment. There is nothing better then bringing people joy when you’re doing something you love.”
His debut book, Lickerland: Asian-Accented Desserts, reads as more than just a cookbook. It’s also, in some way, a memoir and documentation of the journey that has ultimately shaped and defined his life’s work.
“Travel has always had a tremendous impact on my life and on me as a Chef. I think you need to go outside of your comfort zone to grow. Experiencing different cultures and tasting true local flavors is invaluable.
When I asked how it felt to hold a copy of Lickerland for the first time, he told me it was “surreal - I was excited, happy, freaking out and of course filled with mixed emotions because this was dedicated to my mother. When you put your heart and soul into something and it’s finally in your hands it is a feeling that no words can describe.”
A treat for the eyes, the stunningly vivid photography was shot by Jason Lang – a close friend of Licker’s –whose work has been seen in magazines such as Monocle, GQ Britain and Saveur. And finally, the bold, predominantly black and gold graphic design and layout was created by Pim Pirom and Thidarat Thaiyanon.
“These two brilliant women brought structure, creative genius and true character to this book,” says Licker. “We sought to create something different, something original, and we went against the grain in comparison to what the typical cookbook is in the current market.”
If anything, the book is an embodiment of Licker’s approach to desserts – a little offbeat, full of surprises, and so visually arresting that you can’t help but want to tuck into it straight away.
“You eat with your eyes first and immediately develop and idea of what you are about to eat. If it looks unappealing, you’re either ready for a disappointment or a surprise. If a dessert looks beautiful, then you’re already imaging a decadent dish with delicious flavors that you’re about to devour.”
Currently, Licker is traveling around the United States to promote his book and share the flair and flavour of his spectacular desserts to a brand new audience.
“I hope to continue doing events, meeting incredible people and discovering new cultures. Who knows, perhaps one day open a Lickerland pastry shop. As long as I can do what I love, I have an open mind and open heart.”