Reynold Poernomo may not have won the seventh season of MasterChef Australia in 2015, but he was easily the year’s most memorable contestant. The Sydney-based chef’s inventive, incredibly intricate desserts had viewers comparing him to Heston Blumenthal. So it’s not surprising that the dessert bar he opened with his family a year after appearing on the show has been a roaring success.
Koi Dessert Bar and Dining is a joint venture between Reynold, his brothers Ronald and Arnold, and their mother, Ike Malada. Before Reynold appeared on MasterChef, his mother was selling macarons and cakes made in her garage to local cafes. Now the family is feeding hundreds of people a week at Koi, where it’s possible to enjoy a quick drink or dessert, linger over a full degustation dinner, or grab a dazzling cake to take home.
Surprisingly, none of the Poernomos have any formal training; all are self-taught. Reynold does remember being fascinated by his mum’s cookbooks when growing up. “They were not your typical Donna Hay or Taste magazines,” he says. “My mother collected El Bulli and Fat Duck and Alinea cookbooks. I was exposed to that at a really young age. It taught me to understand how they [chefs] think and how food can be a little bit different.”
Poernomo will often choose a particular theme, idea or colour as a guiding principle when conceptualising his sweet treats. “The way I think about desserts is I try to find a guideline,” he says. “Whether it’s inspiration from a memory, visual, or something that has an interesting background I can work with.”
Poernomo says his desserts aren’t as sugary as they appear. “We don’t like things that are too sweet,” he says. “We don’t like it to be heavy and rich like in other patisseries or cafes – they tend to be overloaded with sugar. We like fruity flavours.”
He also says they aren’t as hard to create as you might think, despite their elaborate presentation. “These are actually quite simple elements we can all learn,” he says. “It looks intricate but it’s not overly complicated if you dig down and break it all apart. That’s something I want people to be able to understand.”
Poernomo is gearing up to give dessert aficionados first-hand insight into his process with a series of masterclasses and tastings at Koi. First off, he’ll show participants how to make one of his most famous desserts, as seen on MasterChef: Moss. “It’s made up of nine different components and revolves around the colour green,” says Poernomo, who names matcha crumble, pistachio mousse with caramel gel, matcha white chocolate, pistachio sponge and green apple sorbet as key elements.
For those daunted by the prospect of recreating Moss, Poernomo says he’ll be teaching a simplified version of the recipe, too. “If they want to replicate it fully, it’s up to them,” he says. “But if they’re having a big party or something they can also replicate it in an easy and home-friendly way.”
While Poernomo is best-known for his desserts, he’s just as focused on savoury dishes these days. At another special event at Koi, diners will sample a broad chef’s tasting menu.
“Lately I’ve been trying to push myself to learn more avant-garde cuisine,” says Poernomo of the dishes, which include Mosaic of Purple (foie gras parfait with toasted grains, blood plum, purple wood sorrel, cassis and blackberry) and Game of Char Siu (14-day dry-aged duck breast, beetroot, smoked blueberries and blackberry gel). “I like to challenge myself.”
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