Each month we feature an International Chef of Chef Works. If you’re a fan of Chef Works gear and are interested in being featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Pictured above is our October International CoCW, Chef Hilda Villarroel, photographed in her Springfield Chef Coat.
Hilda Villarroel is relieved that she finally has a career where she can be herself. You see, in her old line of work as a private investigator, she could be one person one week and an entirely different person the next.
“I would infiltrate companies to investigate claims of fraud, sexual harassment and racism,” she said. “It was fun and adventurous and I’d work undercover. My name and appearance were constantly changing all of the time. It was fun, crazy, but also risky.”
These days, she’s happy being Chef Hilda Villarroel. And instead of dishing up surveillance reports, she’s serving up sweet treats as a consultant pastry chef chocolatier and as the head pastry chef at Hotel Jakarta in Amsterdam.
Born in Venezuela and raised in the former Netherland Antilles, Villarroel, 38, grew up in a multicultural environment.
“We had a big family and growing up in the Caribbean for my childhood was really nice,” she said. “Every weekend my parents would prepare a family barbecue or picnic at the beach. Cooking is also in my blood. My grandmother had a restaurant and she was known for her sauces and breads. My grandfather had a catering business and I remember waking up at 5 a.m. to see him making donuts.”
It was a 2010 trip to Paris where she became, as she describes it, enchanted with the Parisian patisseries and boutique bakeries.
“I tasted and ate many pastries,” she said. “I knew I was immediately hooked into that world and I immediately began my training in France and Belgium where I developed my skills in pastries and chocolate.”
Today she’s inspired by a wide variety of flavors. She likes to incorporate her Caribbean background into her pastries, drawing on flavors such as guava, calamansi, passion fruit and soursop. That also plays well with the flavors at her hotel, which is a French-Indonesian concept.
She also finds inspiration from her late grandmother.
“If she was alive today I would make her Pan de Jamón, a traditional bread for Christmas in Venezuela,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten Pan de Jamón like she made. It was her masterpiece. I still work at trying to replicate her recipe.”
Villarroel also spent time in North America – specifically Canada, where she did her undercover work. It’s on the Western half of the world that she picked up some simple pleasures that she still enjoys.
“When I wake up in the morning, I love making a simple American pancake with a lot of maple syrup from Canada with some bacon,” she said. “After that I do extra Zumba classes!”