KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 19 – These little golden treats are a delight to look at as they are, one imagines, to taste and devour. Orito, a popular patisserie in Sri Hartamas, is famous for their choux pastries.
The flavours themselves are inviting and intriguing: So Matcha, Very Vanilla, Dark Chocolate & Salted Caramel, Yuzu-lemon-lime.
In Spanish, orito could be interpreted as precisely this – “little golden treats” – from oro (“gold”) and -ito (“little ones”). But this isn’t where Orito gets its name (more on this later).
Orito is spearheaded by Justin Tang, who didn’t originally hail from the world of baking. The 36-year-old explains, “I studied chemical engineering in Monash, Clayton. I wasn't interested in baking until I went to Paris in 2012 to study Grand Diplôme in French cuisine and pastry at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris.”
It was in Paris that Tang met Fredéric Culerier, with whom he had the idea to create Orito together. Tang recalls, “We clicked instantly and wanted to do something together. We are both gourmands and are willing to travel great distances just to eat good food.”
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, Culerier wasn’t able to join Tang in this project – Culerier is currently working on another project in France, Tang shares – though his influence on Orito is unmistakable.
Tang explains, “Orito was a nickname given to Fred when he was little. We are using it as our brand name simply because we wanted to introduce something French, something authentic from Fred’s childhood perspective with an Asian twist. Orito does sound like Japanese, and it happens that the Japanese community in our area is quite strong.”
Still, given the plethora of bakeries and patisseries around town, Orito has to go further to stand out. Tang is convinced the way forward is by making every single product from scratch “with only ingredients that are crème de la crème.”
Indeed, Orito’s official mantra is “Everything we make is hand-crafted with heart” which Tang offers as a contrast to what is otherwise prevalent in the market.
He says, “We noticed more than 75 per cent of the pastry shops in KL aren't doing faites maison or ‘homemade.’ In fact they just buy and resell. We would call it ‘industrial food.’ Having a good balance in terms of taste and aesthetic is another difficult task we have tried to master since opening Orito.”
This carefully curated aesthetic can be sampled in the shop’s petit fours: a rum infused canelé, delicately caramelised and the very picture of a little golden treat; a shell-shaped madeleine, the classic pastry so beloved by French author Marcel Proust that he included it in his seminal novel In Search of Lost Time; a financier filled with strawberry compote; and Orito’s “naughty cookie” which dares you to succumb to its triple chocolate (for triple the fun, one would hazard).
When Orito first started, Tang had to be very hands on. He not only developed the recipes but also designed the concept of the store. The interior is a winsome mix of mercurial metal, bare concrete and green plants.
To smoothen the process, Tang hired experienced staff in the F&B (food and beverage) industry for the day-to-day operations in the kitchen and front-of-house.
He recalls, “To be honest, I had no experience working in a professional kitchen before the opening of Orito. What I had was some ideas and realistic goals so we focused on finding ways to get to our destination. Throughout the process, people came and went. Like it or not, we learn from every mistake we make.”
Currently Tang heads up the kitchen as the chef. He shares, “I’ve refined every single product since I stepped in and took charge. I’m even the trainer of the new kitchen crew, the content creator for our social media, the barista (a newly learned skill), the cashier and so on.”
This scenario is one that will sound familiar to any entrepreneur starting their first business, trying to keep their operations lean and agile.
Tang adds, “I am living in the age of multitasking; the biggest transformation ever since is from a boss to a leader. I’ve also learned that having a small menu that best represents your brand is way better than having a big menu which tries to please everyone (but ultimately pleases no one).”
Minimalism is one of Orito’s core values and nowhere is this better exemplified than in their signature pastry, the Paris-Brest. The almond encrusted pâte à choux is filled with a nutty praline crème mousseline and has proven an immediate bestseller.
Created in 1910 by Maisons-Laffitte’s renowned pâtissier Louis Durand, its iconic round shape is supposed to mimic a wheel. All the better to commemorate the Paris–Brest–Paris bicycle race from which it derives its name.
Tang says, “It is a French classic. Basically it is something that can be found in almost every boulangerie or patisserie in France. So simple yet so delicious.”
Simple yet every step of the baking process matters. Take the aforementioned canelés. Tang opts for pure copper moulds to obtain quick and even heat transfer. This is crucial to achieve a crisp exterior and a moist interior. Even a tiny adjustment like preheating the oven helps with a clean unmoulding after baking.
But sometimes you want it a little messy, especially where plenty of chocolate is involved. Orito’s babka, a sweet braided bread that is made by hand, comes to mind.
The yeast-leavened dough is rolled out and spread with decadent chocolate and crunchy hazelnuts before being rolled back and braided. A less heavy version comes with cinnamon, which evokes the scent of autumn.
Doughnuts are another fan-favourite. These straightforward filled doughnuts come in pleasing flavours such as matcha, dark chocolate, passion fruit with chocolate and raspberry. A light dusting of sugar completes each one.
While other F&B eateries have struggled during the pandemic – many are dependent on dine-in business – Orito has escaped relatively unscathed. Tang shares, “Honestly we sold more pastries during this recent lockdown. We managed to increase our online sales by 250 per cent thanks to today’s technology, especially food delivery services and social media.”
But surely other food businesses had the same access to delivery apps; the latter having grown in number to meet the rise in demand for convenient and speedy food deliveries. What made the difference?
Attention to detail helped. Rather than leaving his products to the whims of delivery people and platforms, Tang went one step further to fine tune the process.
He reveals that Orito adapted their delivery strategy “to make sure our products arrive at their destination in one piece, looking good and fresh. In this case, we deliver our pastries only by car and we seal our packaging boxes tightly and neatly.”
Impression clearly counts and Orito has been excelling on that front. Which has made diehard fans and regular customers eager for what Tang has planned for the future. Another outlet, a collaboration, perhaps?
He shares, “It’s ‘Orito, Bread & Patisserie’. So far we have only delivered the patisserie part. As we are turning one year old by the end of October, we are looking forward to introducing viennoiseries by the end of this year.”
So lovers of Orito’s canelés and choux pastries might be able to taste Tang’s take on croissants and pain au chocolat before long. Though these are but a hopeful guess on my part (given my fondness for buttery and chocolatey baked goods); only time will tell what Orito will conjure up next.
B.0.5, Plaza Damas 3, Jalan Sri Hartamas 1, Sri Hartamas, KL
Open daily (except Mon closed) 10am-6pm