Nicknamed the ‘Picasso of Pastry’ by Jeffrey Steingarten inVogueand awarded the title of World’s Best Pastry Chef in June this year, master pâtissier Pierre Hermé has revolutionized traditional pastry-making. His empire of pastry boutiques now spans the globe: from France and the UK to Japan, Hong Kong and to South Korea.
In his book ‘Chocolate’, Pierre Hermé will be retracing his longstanding love affair with the versatile cacao bean.This unique new book reveals daring creations that display the celebrated pastry chef’s signature chocolate recipes and innovative style, which have transformed the realm of patisserie.
What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?
I am heir to four generations of pastry-baking tradition in Alsace. When I was young, to spend time with my father, I would go to the kitchen. I remember him at Easter making chocolate rabbits. The image of the excess chocolate dripping down the cooling racks is a very vivid memory because it was my first taste of milk chocolate!
What, or who, would you say has inspired your cooking the most?
My master of apprenticeship, Gaston Lenotre. I am incredibly lucky to have learnt at his side when I first came to Paris at the age of 14. I was so keen and eager to learn when I arrived in Paris that after 6 months at Lenôtre, everyone knew who I was! Working at Lenôtre I learned the basis of the craft which I was then able to master and lean on to create my own style. Another important mark and inspiration, has to be meeting Michel Chaudun, one of the starting points on my chocolate journey! He passed on his uncompromising standards and passion to me. I realised the importance of knowing how cocoa beans have been processed and what treatments chocolate has received at each stage of production, how to evaluate the physical aspects of a chocolate bonbon at each step of fabrication and observe how a ganache reacts and watch it come alive. It takes many years to acquire knowledge, know-how and experimentation when it comes to chocolate. For me, it was a quest. No compromise was possible!
Describe your design style when it comes to your creations…
My style is taste. Never-ending curiosity and a thirst for exploring new taste territories and revisiting my own recipes has determined my style over the years. When I create, the only thing that matters to me is taste. The only question I ask myself is “Does it taste good?”
What do you think has made your style of patisserie so successful, in your opinion?
People come to the Maison Pierre Hermé Paris for an experience, a taste experience. My sole aim is to create something exceptional – my focus is always on taste. For me, that is what people come and come back for.
What are your most indispensable ingredients?
There is a list of 10 that are just indispensable in pâtisserie in my opinion: vanilla, eggs, flour, butter, milk, cream, sugar, chocolate, almonds and salt.
What would you say is the main focus/concept in the book, ‘Chocolate’, you recently launched?
Quite simply – chocolate! This book is the result of a collaboration with Brazilian photographer Sergio Coimbra. It is really a book of art more than a recipe book, of course there is a wonderful selection of chocolate recipes, from cocktails to ice cream to cakes or eclairs, but there are also over 200 stunning photographs presenting chocolate and all its facets.
What kind of experience do you aim to give readers?
I am to give readers an entirely different way to look at chocolate. An insight behind the camera lens of Sergio. He is an extraordinary talent, he travels the world researching taste and beauty and under his gaze, every ingredient, every dish seems to come alive! We came up with the idea of the book after working together on a calendar – “365 ways to love chocolate” and I am very pleased with the result. It is totally different to any of the other books I have created and continues to tell my story and relationship with chocolate in a new way.
Can you give us any hints at your favourite pieces from the book?
I have a few favourite recipes from the book, for example the wonderful Instant Chocolate Mousse – it is a simple recipe but one that also showcases the taste of chocolate perfectly. Of course, the Tarte Mogador is a favourite – Mogador being one of the signature flavour combinations of the Maison – combining milk chocolate and passion fruit – reinterpreted here in the form of a tart…iconic! I love the surprise of theEclair Azur, it looks like just a chocolate eclair, but when you bite into it you get the surprise of the combination of chocolate with yuzu! I also have a few favourite photographs in the book – of course, I love the images of the final creations but my weakness is for the photos of the raw material, capturing the marvellous textures of chocolate – the close ups, the chocolate powder or the sublime curves of chocolate…
What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?
There have been so many – but I would have to say the creation of the Maison Pierre Hermé Paris in 1997 with my friend and associate Charles Znaty. Our aim was to create a luxury brand in the domain of patisserie, we created the concept of “haute pâtisserie” and I am very proud today of the evolution and the journey we have travelled so far and very excited about what is still to come!
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self, starting out a career in the world of food?
I would have to say – I wouldn’t change a thing!
What is your guilty pleasure?
I have to admit a guilty pleasure of snacking on a Mars bar or a Bounty from time to time!
What other events or projects have you got lined up?
Actually for the launch of the book in France, we are opening a unique pop up experience in Paris – L’Expérience Chocolat by Pierre Hermé. It is a 100% sensory chocolate experience, visitors – beginners or chocolate experts alike – will go through a multi-sensory experience, participate in activities and contemplate Sergio Coimbra’s photos from the book in an exhibition. L’Expérience Chocolat will also be the opportunity to discover ‘Ultime’ en avant-première, my latest creation – a combination of chocolate and vanilla.
What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?
Definitely always on the top of my list – Helene Darroze and the Connaught and Dinner by Heston!
Find out more about Pierre Hermé and his culinary creations here |pierreherme.co.uk