Zen and the Art of Pastry Making

by Rebecca Cohen
Antoinette Bruno
May 2013

Biography

Restaurant

To Andres Lara, Bruce Lee isn’t just a kung-fu superstar—he’s a guru, “a role model in a spiritual sense, to the max.” But what could a martial arts icon have to teach a pastry chef? It’s all about flexibility. “Always have an open mind, not one style, not one religion. Be ready to let go of what you already know so you can take in more.” His Zen approach to culinary appropriation is what makes Lara’s desserts—served at Singapore’s Pollen—so distinctive and engaging.

With experience across three continents, Lara brings to the table a markedly global presence. Make no mistake, this is not homogenized “melting pot” cuisine. Lara, a Chicago native, has a discernibly American sensibility that combines French and modernist techniques with lively Asian flavors. Compositions like his tarte tatin of lightly pickled apples, draped with a transparent verjus gelée, usher old-school standbys into the modern era. “Taking things that these cultures take for granted and using them for something else” is Lara’s idea of the joy of cooking.

Banana Madras Curry Ice Cream, Sudachi Lime Jelly, Frozen Coconut Pearls, Freeze-dried Corn, Rice Pudding, and Marigolds

Banana Madras Curry Ice Cream, Sudachi Lime Jelly, Frozen Coconut Pearls, Freeze-dried Corn, Rice Pudding, and Marigolds

Caramel-Verjus Apples, Caramelized Puff Pastry, Caramel Crème, Caramelized Apple Ice Cream, Crème Fraîche, and Granny Smith Apples

Caramel-Verjus Apples, Caramelized Puff Pastry, Caramel Crème, Caramelized Apple Ice Cream, Crème Fraîche, and Granny Smith Apples

Pastry Chef Andrés Lara of Pollen – Singapore

Pastry Chef Andrés Lara of Pollen – Singapore

Lara’s list of mentors reads like an international culinary “Who’s Who” (Jacquy Pfeiffer, Paco Torreblanca, and Albert Adrià, to name a few) and his work experience ranges from Chicago’s Park Hyatt Hotel to El Bulli, Noma, and beyond. “El Bulli was a glimpse into what creativity is! It taught me what food could be, not just what it is,” says Lara. “At Noma, what stayed with me the most was to respect your food, to understand where it’s coming from and how the guest [will] eat it.”

Though his résumé and technical acumen are formidable, his greatest achievement is “realizing that I’d reached a level of maturity that would allow me to set my creativity free.” For Lara this means combining techniques and flavors with no regard for national borders, using his progressive desserts as a means of paying homage to varied traditions without being a slave to any. A traditional Thai dessert of warm coconut milk with tapioca and corn inspired one of his Pollen creations that, thanks to Lara’s keen intuition, maintains its comfort level despite the additions of Indian madras curry and Japanese sudachi.

“Having always been around different people and cultures has really opened up my mind and made me aware that people all over the world have different tastes, eat differently,” says Lara. His eclectic menu fits seamlessly into tiny Singapore’s outsized food scene. The island nation is a global culinary microcosm, a veritable smörgåsbord in which individuality and interconnectivity are equally important. And in this pandemic setting, Lara showcases his own personal style by inviting diners into his universalist mentality. “We share a bit of our souls with our guests. It’s a very personal experience!” he says.

So, prima donna chefs, check your ego at the kitchen door and take a page from Lara’s book of culinary Zen. Channeling his inner Bruce Lee, Lara is ever-evolving, allowing him to unleash new creative possibilities. “When I arrived in Singapore, I made it a point to not be as stubborn as I always was,” he says. “I can listen, I can change, I can adapt; and I can be better because of it.”