Chef Alain Roby, owner of All Chocolate Kitchen in Geneva, has a flair for breaking world records and creating beautiful pastries. But the Paris native is driven not by his love of chocolate and cooking, but from a traumatic experience. While serving as private pastry chef to the shah of Iran in the late 1970s, he was captured during the revolution and held hostage for a week.
Having a gun pointed at your head, while chaos erupts all around, yet you still survive, can make you want to celebrate and enjoy life to the fullest, Roby said.
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"Because of that event, it has made me see life so totally different," he added.
Roby was a young French-trained chef, eager to do well in the culinary world. So he took the job as private pastry chef for the shah of Iran in the late 1970s, aiming to do well with an international staff. But when political turmoil turned into a revolution, the uprising took him and a few other chefs as prisoners. The shah's other employees were shot to death. They watched as the embassies were surround with armed men. And guns were pointed at them as they were corralled into a holding place for about a week.
"As a young man you're thinking you could live forever, and what happens in the movies isn't what you expect in real life," Roby said.
But that's what happened. The unthinkable. He watched as turmoil flooded the streets and people were shot. And somehow after that week, his captors released him and two other chefs and even took them on a bus to the airport. Roby fought through the pandemonium in the airport, found a flight to Paris and returned to his family.
He lost all of his belongings, which were left behind in Iran. But his family helped him and the next few months allowed him time for reflection about his future.
"It's times like those that make you later grab life and take it and never wait for anything," Roby said.
And if it wasn't for that experience, and survival, Roby wouldn't have met his future wife a few years later. Again he was in an airport, but this time for a flight to New York for a job interview. While he was waiting, he struck up a conversation with Esther, who was waiting for a flight back to her native Rome. They remained in touch and Roby later visited her in Rome. They continued their long-distance relationship and married.
Those years shaped his future, said Roby, who vowed to make his own niche in the culinary world. He has since worked in London, Tokyo, New York and later Chicago. He's also won awards, worked with other top chefs including Julia Childs, and served as the head pastry chef at the NFL Commissioner's Super Bowl party for about 20 years. He's even earned the Guinness Book of World Records for the world's tallest cooked sugar building and world's tallest chocolate sculpture.
Now that his All Chocolate Kitchen in Geneva has marked its first anniversary, he aims to break more world's records.
"I truly believe life is a chain of events that triggers how you and your mind reacts and how you change in life," Roby said.
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