About Time You Met: Pierre HerméBy Angelica Malin
Dubbed ‘the Picasso of Pastry’ by Vogue, Pierre Hermé has racked up a mantlepiece worth of awards during his career. He was the youngest person to be named France’s Pastry Chef of the Year, and is the only pastry chef to have been decorated as a Chevalier of Arts and Letters. And recently, he was awarded Best Pastry Chef 2016. We sat down with Pierre to talk starting out, food trends and macarons:
What’s your first memory of food?
I’m not sure if it’s my first memory, but my real “madeleine de Proust” has to be my father’s Tarte aux Quetsches. Just pastry, plums from Alsace and cinnamon sugar – a real delight that takes me back.
Have you always known you’ve wanted to be a chef?
From the age of 9 years old, yes! I’m heir to four generations of Alsatian bakery and pastry-making tradition. When I was a child, I spent a lot of time observing my father working, and he was the first one to give me the passion for pastry. I left Alsace at the age of 14 to become an apprentice to Gaston Lenotre, and it was during this apprenticeship that I learnt the basics and the values which I have built on ever since; attention to detail, the importance of the transmission of savoir-faire and quality. I am very lucky to get up every day and not feel like I’m going to work!
What do you think of the food scene in London?
The food scene in London is great – so many things happening and lots of great chefs that have trained and worked all around the world. One of my favourite restaurants has to be Hélène Darroze at the Connaught. Hélène is a dear friend of mine and I absolutely adore her culinary style.
How do you keep up with food trends?
I don’t follow trends – I prefer to create them! I’m naturally very curious so I’m always discovering new ingredients, new techniques, new cultures – this is what inspires me.
What’s the secret to making the perfect macaron?
For me, the perfect macaron is all about taste and texture. A good macaron is the successful sum of many small details; high-quality almonds, respect for the recipe and process, and ensuring the correct resting and drying times. At Pierre Hermé Paris, what makes the difference is the filling and how generously they are filled. Of course, some of the taste comes from the macaron shell, but mostly it comes from the filling. I work on what I call the scenario of taste – what happens first when you bite into a macaron, what flavour comes through next, the surprise in the middle and the lasting finish. It’s all part of the architecture of taste that makes the difference.
What’s your favourite pastry to make?
It’s always the next one – the one that I am yet to create! When I first start working on a new creation, I draw a sketch. I write down the fine details of the recipe, and draw the creation in the fine details. This sketch is then passed on to my R&D pastry team who investigate the ingredients, seek out the highest quality from our trusted suppliers and carry out the tests following the recipes to the letter. I then taste and make any adjustments if necessary and finalise the recipe.
How did it feel when you were awarded the title of World’s Best Pastry Chef in 2016?
It was such an honour and a great pleasure, and I’m very proud to have received this award. Not only is it great recognition for French savoir-faire in pastry on an international level, but it is a great honor to all pastry chefs, starting with my teams, the pastry chefs working at the Maison Pierre Hermé Paris, and preparing my recipes every day all around the world. It is an encouragement to keep creating, keep surprising.
You’ve opened shops all across the world – where are you planning to open next?
We have a lot of very exciting projects coming up – we are opening a boutique in La Mamounia hotel in Marrakech and the Maison Pierre Hermé Paris will take over the entire sweet offer at the hotel as of December 2017. We are also planning some very exciting partnerships and openings in Paris and London – but that is all I can say for now.
What advice would you give to anyone who’s starting a career in food?
I would say that what matters first and foremost is passion. When I was training to be a pastry chef, I never stopped. Be curious and work hard in an area that you are passionate about.
Where do you like to visit when you’re in London?
Of course, I always make a stop to visit our three boutiques. I love wandering around Belgravia after a visit to our Lowndes Street store – there are so many great shops in the area. I always like to visit the latest exhibitions if I have time, during my last visit I caught the Balenciaga exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum – simply stunning.
Why do you think us Brits enjoy French patisserie so much?
What’s not to like?! French pastry is an integral part of French culture – we have a true “sweet culture” and our leadership in the domain is well known thanks to an extremely diversified know-how. Traditional techniques and recipes that have lasted for centuries; whether they have been reinterpreted, modernised or completely transformed – the know-how remains the same and has been passed on from generation to generation. That is something quite rare and that is very important to me!