What was it like starting your career as a pastry chef at the age of 14? Do you think it’s given you a head start in becoming the celebrated pastry chef that you are today?
I knew from the age of 9 that I wanted to be a pastry chef and I started working as an apprentice for Gaston Lenôtre at the age of 14. It wasn’t easy being so far away from my family or getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning but I received such great training. No doubt the best… I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to learning and discover the trade within Lenôtre.
What was it like working with the great Gaston Lenôtre?
I have a curious nature and have always wanted to know everything. Thanks to Gaston Lenôtre, I was able to learn the importance of the quality of ingredients, attention to detail, rigour, a sense of organisation… Having those references, those solid foundations, is essential! Gaston’s been one of the most important people in my life.
What’s the philosophy behind your world-renowned pastries?
At Pierre Hermé Paris, our mission is to offer connoisseurs a unique experience in terms of taste, sensations and pleasure. High quality pastries involve several key factors, like selecting the best ingredients and materials, attention to detail and a mastery of techniques. My philosophy and aim has always been to bring happiness. Taste and pleasure will always be at the heart of my work.
Describe your culinary style in three words…
Architecture of Taste. My challenge is contentment. Whatever the dessert, the technique, the product, my experiment always ends with the same question: is it good enough? Does it illustrate exactly the architecture of taste I have in mind?
You’ve taken your pastries all over the world, from Paris to Tokyo, Asia and the Middle East. Where in the world would you say has the most interesting pastry culture?
Japan has always been a huge source of inspiration for me, whether it is the Japanese dining culture or their use of ingredients. It is also the country, outside of France, in which the French pastry culture is the most developed, making it very interesting.
Where or who do you get most of the inspiration from for your work?
My sources of inspiration are very diverse. Inspiration can come from a book, a conversation, a product, a new ingredient… Many different things can trigger an idea, and inspiration is intuitive. If I don’t have that trigger, though, I do not force myself but prefer to let ideas mature naturally. For example, it was by listening to a Lebanese friend of mine speak about ice loukoum [Turkish delight] that I had the idea of making a loukoum-strawberry tart. Another example is that for the Jardin Potager macaron I launched last year, I had the idea of creating a cocktail, so I used some apple, lime juice, cucumber, mint and rocket.
Tell us a little about your “Les Jardins” collection?
We launched the first “Les Jardins” collection in 2012 and I have continued this theme since then. For these collections, I approached my work with the association of flavours in the same manner as a perfumer. The “Jardins” (“Garden”) theme seemed obvious as flowers, spices and plants were present in these creations. This month’s Jardin macaron is the Jardin d’Iris and combines smoked tea, saffron, iris, carrot and violet. It arose from my fondness for the scent of iris.
What can we expect to see on offer from Pierre Hermé for the day of love, Valentine’s Day?
We are offering a limited edition macaron for Valentine’s Day: the Orange Blossom, Rose & Ginger macaron which has oriental notes in a pastel-coloured macaron. We have also discretely decorated some of our Signature bonbons de chocolat, such as Ispahan (chocolate and raspberry ganache, rose and litchi fruit paste, enrobed in dark chocolate) and Mogador (milk chocolate and passion fruit ganache, enrobed in milk chocolate) with small hearts. A romantic card illustrated by Soledad Bravi accompanies all gift boxes of macarons and chocolates in London.
If you could take a plane ride anywhere in the world, just for one meal, where would it be and why?
I have already done it! In 1996, I heard about Ferran Adrià from a Spanish journalist and friend of mine. At the time no one knew him but he had a Michelin star and I went to have lunch and dinner there. At the moment, I would really like to taste Magnus Nilsson’s cuisine at Fäviken in Sweden.
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