Pierre Hermé, who was awarded best pastry chef in the world by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy in 2016, is a leading figure of contemporary pastry. Called the “Picasso of Pastry” by Vogue USA for having created the modern concept of Haute Patisserie, Hermé elevated pastry into a work of art through his exceptional creations mingling unique and original flavours. And yet behind the titles and successes all over the world, including Japan, Qatar and Paris, Hermé is a modest and discreet man driven by passion and motivated by a desire to share his knowledge.
On the sidelines of Valrhona’s event that aimed at exploring and tasting the future of pastry cooking — illustrating French creativeness — Hermé, along with Frédéric Bau and other best chefs from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region — from Morocco to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) — got together in Dubai. They had a single-point agenda: to solve the impossible equation in the world of gourmet: to mingle good taste, good-looking and healthy pastries, while sharing Valrhona’s creative and sensible vision of gourmet products.
Hermé spoke with Khaleej Times, during his recent visit to Dubai.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
What inspired you to become a professional pastry chef? What do you love about your work?
I was born in a baker’s family. I’m the fourth generation to do this amazing job. My father influenced me when I was only nine years old. I have always wanted to become a pastry chef since then. I started my apprenticeship in the late 1970s and that changed my knowledge of the profession that I got into.
What’s a healthy dessert? What are the challenges of making it?
It’s challenging to make a dessert that is both tasty and delicious and yet has a reduced caloric intake. This requires critical thinking about both the taste and the balance of ingredients being used. It’s a gymnastic of the mind and the process is interesting in the end.
You were awarded the title of World’s Best Pastry Chef in 2016. What do you think was the key to your success?
It’s a great encouragement to continue, to always think ahead and be different, to pursue the desire to do better in an original and creative way which is close to my heart. Valrhona gathered chefs from the Mena region to share their vision of cuisine through innovation in gourmet products to respect people’s health and the planet. I always had the willingness to challenge myself — in my life and in my work as a pastry chef, to break boundaries in our industry — like Frédéric Bau, whom I consider a pioneer in our field. Exploring new ways to offer ever more gourmet pastry, and also being respectful of everyone’s well-being, is important today. It is a new line of work, of which taste remains the main axiom. It is a new way of thinking about the pastry of tomorrow. I’m very happy to have accompanied Bau to Dubai to bring this idea of Reasoned Gourmandise. Like Dubai, which is in perpetual evolution, we had the chance to exchange with chefs from all horizons, who came to understand and participate in this pastry revolution.
Which of your projects are currently underway?
There are several ongoing projects. I’m currently working on the entire Christmas 2022 collection. I’m also working on Easter 2023. Thinking about appearance, taste, it’s very dense. There are no rules because each project is different, and each project requires a different focus.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I work on seasonality (Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day) and then on inspirations that we put in our shops according to the seasons and periods. For example, last year, I made a whole range of cakes that are different in shape from what we offer in stores. I called the selection “Nomadic” cakes and these were available everywhere in France. This idea came at the time of the lockdown. I said to myself that if we could send cakes everywhere in France. We ended up selling more pastries than in normal times.
How do you choose the chefs who will convey your vision in your different boutiques?
Sometimes they are people who have worked in the house and evolved within it. Sometimes they are people we have recruited from outside with interesting backgrounds. In the company, there is someone who works on the coordination of know-how, who supervises all the pastry chefs who are working abroad and who accompanies them when they need training, advice, or when they have technical questions about ingredients and recipes. Daily coaching works either in person or remotely and it gives them the chance to make the best creation possible. There is no room for interpretation, the recipes and processes are extremely precise and clear. When they face a challenge, they straight away know who to get in touch with — they are extremely well-supported. I would usually share with them, recommend without imposing and so it makes it interesting to learn together. It creates a different bond that I am very attached to.
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