...I must agree with Chef Amer..nothing compared to homemade chocolate not even expensive boutique choc!
Source: The Star (Kuali), Wed Oct 10. 2012
Chef Amer and his chocolate inspiration
CHOCOLATE is his passion. The love affair started more than 20 years ago and Chef Amer Hamzah Ahmad has not looked back since.
The 43-year-old chef who is known as a leading chocolate connoisseur in Malaysia was listed as one of the top nine celebrity chefs in the country in Saji magazine last year.
Hence, it comes as no surprise that he has been picked by the Malaysian Cocoa Board (MCB) for the sixth consecutive season to co-host local TV cooking show Inspirasi Kokoalongside newcomer Izatul Akmal Abdullah. The new season started its run last Sunday (Oct 7, 2012). It airs every Sunday on TV2 at 5pm.
“I'm basically a chocolate lover. Even after more than 20 years, I am still exploring the subject. These days, I teach people how to make homemade chocolates and turn it into a business,” says Amer, who was a protege of World Master Chocolatier Jean-Pierre Wybauw.
His experience in chocolate is extensive. Apart from giving lectures, workshops and demonstrations to students, homemakers and aspiring entrepreneurs, he has also been commissioned to produce exclusive chocolate gifts for royalty and dignitaries in Malaysia and abroad.
“Every time I give workshops, I’m often asked this question: Do my homemade chocolates taste as good as imported chocolates?
“It is very sad that the public has a negative perception that homemade chocolates are inferior in taste and texture.
“The advantage of making your own chocolate is that you can do it according to your own personal taste by adding nuts, raisins, fruits, and even herbs and vegetables. You certainly can't find this in the market.
“The other advantage of homemade chocolate is that the chocolate is fresh and you can smell the chocolate aroma. The only challenge with homemade chocolate is the packaging. You have to work a bit to make your chocolates look marketable and commercial if you want to sell them or give them away as gifts,” says Amer, who did his Diploma in Agriculture at UPM (then known as Universiti Pertanian Malaysia) in 1991 before furthering his studies in chocolate and confectionery at ZDS Solingen, The Central College of the German Confectionery Trade.
According to Amer, to determine the main character of chocolate, you must ensure the content of cocoa mass first.
“The higher the content of cocoa mass, the more intense and bitter the taste of the chocolate. The source or origin of the cocoa mass from the respective countries will also determine the strength of a chocolate taste. Generally, the cocoa mass which originates from Malaysia will give a relatively mild chocolate flavour and a little sour taste due to the weather and because our soil is slightly acidic,” explains Chef Amer, who has done on-the-job training in Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Singapore.
According to Amer, good cocoa mass comes from African countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon because the taste of African cocoa mass is quite strong and not acidic.
“But the best cocoa mass comes from countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and Madagascar. Most cocoa grown there is of the 'criollo' type (said to be the most expensive and rare cocoa). A good cocoa clone produces a very strong cocoa mass chocolate flavour which is aromatic, fragrant, soft and delicate.
“Unfortunately, today the best cocoa production can only meet less than 5% of the world cocoa demand. This is due to the shrinking size of the farm and farmers having to switch to other crops because of the soil and air pollution. All these factors have caused the price of criollo cocoa mass to go up and it is also difficult to obtain,” says the affable cook.
His first job in the early 1990s was with the MCB. He was then involved in research and development - from recognising cocoa processing of cocoa beans, cocoa fermentation, drying, grading through to producing chocolate cocoa.
His career in the chocolate industry really took off in 2001 when he was commissioned to develop chocolate with Fidani Inc, which is now the largest producer of hand-crafted chocolates in Malaysia.
Besides creating chocolates for the company's brands - Danson, Farell's and Fidani - Chef Amer has also been entrusted to create chocolates for renowned companies like Van Houten, Famous Amos Malaysia, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) for the export markets in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Middle East.
Apart from his skills with chocolate, Chef Amer is equally adept at producing cakes, pastries and Malay cuisine.
These days, he runs cooking demonstrations at his three-year-old cooking school, Chef Amer, in Klang.
The author of the bestselling book, Terokai Rahsia Coklat(Explore Chocolate Secrets), started cooking at the tender age of 10.
Coming from a family which ran a food business, cooking soon became his profession. His mother was an expert at baking cakes and biscuits and cooking Malay cuisine, while his father’s forte was cooking all kinds of briyani especially briyani gam for the festive season.
“It doesn’t matter which area of cooking is your forte, the most important thing is your passion. If you have passion, the rest is a breeze,” quips Chef Amer.
His latest project is the 3rd Malaysian Cocoa & Chocolate Day, which he is organising with MCB. It is being held from Oct 12-14, at the Viva Home Expo Hall, LG35 Lower Ground Floor, Viva Home Shopping Mall, Jalan Loke Yew, Kuala Lumpur.
The event’s objective is to educate consumers about cocoa and cocoa products, as well as to promote varieties and the uniqueness of cocoa products available in the market. It will feature demonstrations, competitions and even a chance for visitors to try out innovative products.