The devil is in the detail – Phuket’s Les Diables
PHUKET: Walking into Les Diables bakery to interview creator and master pastry chef Peter Webber, I find him hunched over his work bench, meticulously crafting a tiny toilet out of white chocolate.
Curious, I ask him what on earth it is for and he replies matter-of-factly: “It’s for a customer, they were having a trailer-trash party and they wanted the cake to have a drunken barbie doll throwing up into the toilet.
I guess it’s one of the more extreme cakes I’ve done recently,” he says with a laugh.
Creating specialty cakes is Peter’s passion and over the years he has crafted hundreds of cakes of all shapes and sizes, including Formula One cars, helicopters and yachts – all from a simple palette of chocolate, sugar and flour.
He has worked as a pastry chef for more then 20 years, much of that time at high-end hotels such as the Savoy and the Four Seasons in England and for 14 years he was head pastry chef at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok.
“I’ve done some more extreme, weird [cakes] in Bangkok, ones that you couldn’t put in the paper! I became quite an expert on the dirty ones,” he says with a cheeky grin.
After leaving the Oriental, he came to Phuket and co-created Les Anges, a specialty bakery at the Royal Phuket Marina, where he was manager and baker, before leaving for a contract job in Malaysia.
His latest solo venture, Les Diables – a café, bakery and workshop for his specialty cake business – is on a much smaller scale. Located in a small shop-front at the Boat Lagoon complex north of Phuket Town, the café has a treasure trove of delicious baked good on offer including pies, croissants, biscuits, quiches, bagels, sandwiches, and of course, cakes (click here for map).
There are also plenty of drinks on hand including great espresso coffee and smoothies which change regularly depending on what fresh fruit is available; when I was there it was a choice between, banana-berry, mango-chocolate and pineapple-ginger.
It is clear that Peter is happy to be working for himself for a change and he says it allows him the freedom to focus on his passion for specialty cakes.
“I wanted to concentrate on my specialty, which is cakes and wedding cakes, but I also wanted to have more customer contact, somewhere people can come in and have something to eat,” he said.
When he returned from Malaysia, where he had stayed for a year, he came up with the plan to open his own business in Phuket.
“When I finished my contract in Malaysia I was wondering what to do. When I came back to Phuket, I spoke to a lot of my old customers who were event organizers and they told me they couldn’t get their wedding cakes the way they wanted them, so I saw an opportunity for some business here,” he says.
Peter began taking orders for cakes at Les Diables in January this year and opened the café to customers about three months ago. So far business has been booming.
“We got off to a really good start, I think it was because I had my regular customers from my time at Les Anges,” he says.
“I chose boat lagoon because I find it’s an easy address, you can just say I’m at the Boat Lagoon, rather then having to give directions. And I live here as well so that makes it even easier.”
Chalked onto the menu board are the words “If you want something special just ask. We will do our best!” and this pretty much sums up Peter’s approach to both his café and his specialty cake business.
He says he tried to vary the menu often and try new recipes and combinations to keep the food interesting and in his words the food is “simple fare, good fare”.
“We do different pies all the time, now we have chicken and mushroom, pork and garlic, but sometimes we do fish pie, salmon, prawn, sausage and onion… everything,” he says.
Both sides of the business are doing so well that Peter says he’s looking to get someone new on board to help him with cake decorating.
“I started small, because its easy to manage and grow with, but now I’m looking for a pastry chef, or just someone who’s very interested in it and wants to work hard,” he says.
With wedding cakes being his bread and butter, so to speak, I ask Peter about which styles of wedding cake are popular at the moment.
“Some people are very definite about what they want for their wedding cakes. The trend is changing a little bit now and going back to retro, classic looking cakes.
“We also do a lot of cupcake tea parties for kids’ birthdays, where the kids can decorate their cupcakes and they become the birthday cake.
“We can do cakes for any event, whatever people want. Often people give us a picture and we can redo it in chocolate,” he says.
When it comes to type of filling, some things never go out of style. Peter’s chocolate truffle cake remains far and away the crowd favorite.
— Mark Knowles
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