Pierre Hermé’s first boutique in London opened its doors just ten years ago. It’s been a decade of success for the man who was voted the best pastry chef in the world in 2016, who opened his first boutique some 20 years ago. Already with creations like the Ispahan macaron and tarte infiniment vanille that are widely known and praised, the pâtissier is only just getting started.
“When the maison opened here in 2009, there were very few pastry chefs based in London. Today, there are many more of them, which leads me to believe that the English appreciate our savoir-faire more,” assesses Hermé. The famous French pastry chef opened his first shop in the English capital in the Belgravia district. For him, it was an obvious choice to cross the Channel to share his passion and talents. “London on the whole is one of the major capitals of fashion, art, haute cuisine and luxury. It was therefore natural for Maison Pierre Hermé Paris to set up shop there,” he summarizes.
The success came quickly and a second store opened in Covent Garden. But this year, the pâtissier has decided to bring a little something new to Londoners. “Recently, many of our pastries have become available in our shops,“ explains Hermé. (His pastries are able to be ordered online but until recently haven’t all been in stores.) “We hope to be able to expand this offer further. Some projects are in the pipeline, but we can’t say more… for now.”
However, if the pastry chef has new ideas in his head, they are not dictated — he swears to this — by any trend: “I let my inspiration guide me and listen to my instincts.”
He listened to this instinct very early on, since he already knew by age nine that he wanted to be a pastry chef. “I consider pastry an art in the sense that it is a true means of expression of awareness, in the same way as music, painting and sculpture. The possibilities are unlimited in terms of both flavors and textures,” says Hermé. What interests him above all, “it is to create flavors.”
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The liberties he has taken during his career are multiple, he confides. “I started by eliminating the excessive decorations that encumbered pastries, by using sugar like salt as a seasoning to enhance nuances, by exploring all the flavors, by taming new ingredients and by revisiting my own recipes,” because, Hermé explains, “creativity is about building on traditions, freeing yourself from limits, digging into your mental repertoire, giving way to your desires to create with pleasure as the only guide. Whether it’s for macarons, pastries, chocolates or ice creams — there are so many areas of taste to explore, so many combinations of flavors to create and textures to experiment with again!”
His inspiration comes from the ingredients he discovers during conversations, readings, travels… “It can have various origins. It’s very intuitive. After that, it’s imagination, audacity, the ability to create flavor scenarios, flavor architectures. There are no rules or limits because the most important thing for me is the taste. I always say that I don’t look for inspiration, I find it,” says the Frenchman.
Audacity appeals to him. Undoubtably it helped him to earn the title of World’s Best Pastry Chef in 2016. But Hermé swears that he didn’t expect it. “It was a surprise! This reward was totally unexpected! It’s an encouragement for my work but also for the work of all the teams at Maison Pierre Hermé Paris. It is a kind of collective recognition of our savoir-faire.”
When it comes to sharing his savoir-faire, he has no hesitation, because for him, “in our profession, transferring knowledge is a duty.” This subject is close to his heart, as evidenced by his commitment to the Relais Desserts association, which for more than 30 years has brought together the world’s elite in the field of French pastry. “I also always work with certain values in mind such as attention to detail, rigor, choice of ingredients and in-depth knowledge of the products, and pass them on to the people who work with me. It’s something very meaningful in my life,” he admits
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Never, he says, does he ever get tired of baking. What he likes about his job is seeing how it evolves over the years in many ways, such as with the use of sugar: “The job of a pastry chef is to please, to evoke emotions in those who taste our pastries. Certainly, there is a percentage of sugar that cannot be left out to make a macaron, but today we are trying to use it in a very limited way,” explains Hermé, before adding, “there is nothing worse than eating a dessert where nothing happens. It’s sugar for nothing. And on the contrary, in some restaurants, you are sometimes told that there is no sugar added to the dessert. But the choice is very often made in error. If too much sugar is a mistake, its absence can ruin a dessert. You can’t forget that sugar is also a flavor enhancer, like the salt that some people abuse. In baking, I am interested in salt but as a gustatory punctuation. In some of my macarons, I use it, not as a flavor but rather to magnify the overall taste of the product.”
The pastry chef says today he uses 50% less sugar and much less fat when he cooks. “I also pay particular attention to pare down the decorations, I try to make my creations desirable without artifice or superfluous decorative effects. As for equipment, of course, new technologies only push the limits of creativity.”
If he had a message to pass on to the younger generation, Hermé would tell them that “for this profession, passion is of the utmost importance. You have to have a curious mind, experiment continuously, not be afraid to work hard and never get tired of learning.”