Life is always sweet when you work with pastries, but for Head Pastry Chef Israth Mackie, the sweetest joys come from the act of expressing himself through the culinary arts as well as passing down the love of pastries to the many protégés he has at the Dusit Thani Guam Resort in Tumon.
Sitting in the picturesque Lobby Lounge of the island's newest hotel, Chef Mackie is a ball of energy with a hearty laugh and a smile that stretches all of Tumon Bay. His eyes light up when while describing the lengths he and his staff take to create authentic French pastries.
“Pastry world is like the fashion world in culinary because we are the ones who bring in the color, the finesse, the style,” he tells The Post. “I am given the responsibility of the finish. People only remember the beginning and the end of a meal. To be cutting edge and have the latest trends and styles, I have always challenged myself that way to be the best and up-to-date.”
Authenticity is key
Authenticity is truly what Chef Mackie brings to the table whenever one of his pastries is served, arranging for some ingredients to be brought in from as far away as France itself. But the results are well worth the effort it takes to get the ingredients to Guam.
Visitors and patrons can enjoy dozens of treats that are not only crafted with a high degree of skill, but are also a feast for the eyes as well.
The passionata, for example, is a flame-tree-orange serving of heaven, with caramel, passion fruit filling, and milk chocolate combining to offer flavors and textures that will wow you.
And speaking of heavenly desserts, Chef Mackie also offers a pastry called the caramel religious at the Dusit Gourmet, which is a caramel flavored pastry made to look like an angel. It even comes complete with chocolate wings.
A great dessert to share with a date or anyone special could be the blackberry chandelier, a tart featuring blackberry jam and decadent chocolate stems. The whole thing looks like some kind of glamorous, otherworldly fruit.
These are just a smidgen of the dozens of specialties available at the Dusit Gourmet, the quaint café at the hotel’s entrance. Chef Mackie’s delectable creations serve as the welcoming committee to the hundreds of visitors who walk through the hotel’s door every day, and with all the hard work Chef and crew put into their desserts, we would not be surprised if that number begins increasing.
“Pastry is all about luxury. It’s being luxurious, right? So, in order to attract the customer, you want to give value for money as well as say ‘hey, you’re worth it, indulge yourself.’”
Chef Mackie’s passion is clearly his pastries, and it’s obvious in the way he spells out his life for the Post. A chef with over 30 years of experience in the hotel food and beverage industry, Mackie first began studying to work for hotels at the Claremont Hotel School of Colombo, in his native Sri Lanka.
It was in the South Asian island nation that Mackie first discovered a love of sweets.
“I loved the artistic part of (pastries) I love to draw and I like to paint, so I was able to do everything with food. My medium is chocolate, sugar. I can do all of that artistry with food.”
The big break
In fact, Chef Mackie got his big break working for Hyatt in Dubai by making a candy rose in front of a recruiter. However, he insists a love for pastries was in his heart before he was even born. According to Chef Mackie, while he was still in his mother’s womb, all she craved to eat were cakes.
As for leveraging his passion and skill into a career as a pastry chef, Chef Mackie faced a turning point after that fateful recruitment to work in Dubai, saying his time with Hyatt International was like “university for a chef.” It was in the Arabic country that Chef Mackie gained invaluable experience in the Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Indian and continental kitchens that catered to the world-class guests the hotel served. And still, despite about seven years of extensive training in each kitchen, his passion remained pastries.
“You learned everything from so many chefs. Out of those seven years I went through three chefs, one was Austrian, one was French, and the other was British, so you can just imagine the difference in pastries that we learned from each chef that came in.”
An island boy at heart
Thanks to his time in Dubai, Chef Mackie was able to specialize in French pastries at a school in Great Britain before pursuing further study in France itself. Fast-forward over 20 years of success in Salt Lake City, Utah, as an executive chef in various establishments as well as a jaunt as a business owner, and Chef Mackie found himself an offer as the Executive Pastry Chef of a luxury Asian hotel chain opening a location in a tiny part of Micronesia.
“When they offered me this job in Guam I’m like, what, where is Guam at?”
But unlike other professionals who would balk at the idea of coming here, Chef Mackie’s true island-boy nature revealed itself.
“(Sri Lanka) is the same kind of island life with beaches, barbecues. It’s an island, it’s laid back, but we were highly touristy like here. That was the attraction (for me). I grew up in the coastal area, so I know how to swim like a dolphin.”
When he’s not busy crafting some of the best cakes on Guam, Chef Mackie is busy crafting some of the best culinary minds on island. Because aside from being a talented executive pastry chef, Chef Mackie is also a proud mentor. “When you get to my age – maybe I have another good 5 or 6 years in the industry – it’s all about leaving a legacy behind at the end of your career.”
Becoming a mentor
That legacy could be an improved future for Guam’s entire pastry industry. In fact, one of his protégés, Xela Olivario, an Okkodo alum who graduated from the high school’s ProStart program, recently was part of a delegation sent to Charleston, South Carolina, that won second place overall at the National ProStart Invitationals. For placing so high at the competition, where her team was pitted against over 400 other students from around the world, Olivario received a scholarship to attend college at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky.
“She pushed herself, worked part time, went to school. She’s an amazing story for Guam kids to follow.”
Olivario credits her time under Chef Mackie’s wing as part of what made her successful. “Chef Mackie is always pushing me to do my best. He’s always giving me talks about how to improve myself and that helped me a lot. And the company also helped us with some ingredients and helped us with equipment when we needed.”
“And she did all the work herself,” Chef Mackie says of his star pupil.
Olivario’s success story is just the shining example of Chef Mackie’s mentorship style, but he says he encourages all his staff to give 100 percent every time they don their chef’s hats.
After a long day of mentoring his staff and pulling cakes out of the oven, Chef Mackie proves that culinary art is his life by going straight home to YouTube new recipes to enjoy in his spare time. He’s recently experimented with Cambodian food, getting familiar with the region’s obsession with fish paste.
It’s no surprise to us at The Post after Chef Mackie answers a question about which is more important as a pastry chef (and perhaps life): dedication or skill.
“Without dedication, there’s no skill,” he begins, “and without the skill, you cannot dedicate. It is together. You have to dedicate to the skill, actually submit to the skill. Anything that we do, is an art of expression and you have to dedicate to it so that you will maintain it, you will do it daily, you will not deviate from producing it consistently."