Meryle Evans - October 2013
Food Arts presents the October 2013 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to pâtissier extraordinaire Pierre Hermé, acclaimed worldwide as a gifted creator of sublime sweets, whose peerless macarons and dazzling desserts heralded the metamorphosis of pastry chefs from supporting player to starring role.
“Since my early days in my father’s bakery in Colmar, the profession has evolved quite a lot,” the modest, soft-spoken Hermé says. “Nowadays, pastry chefs dare to create, imagine, and try new experiences, and I’m happy if part of their decision to become a pastry chef came from me.”
Although his career path may have been predetermined by the DNA of four generations of Alsatian bakers, Hermé observes that “what matters first and foremost is passion. It’s not like learning at school. When I went to class, I never stopped. At night I used to read and practice, and I keep doing that even today. I learn new things every day; it’s what comprises happiness in this trade.”
Hermé’s zest for learning was recognized early on, when, at age 14 in 1975, the reigning Parisian pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre tapped him as an apprentice. Promoted at 19 to head Lenôtre’s prestigious boutique on Avenue Victor Hugo, then hired at 24 to helm the pastry kitchen at the luxury food emporium Fauchon, Hermé was hailed as the wunderkind of the sugar kingdom, turning out 150 different desserts daily, and showcasing eagerly anticipated collections of provocatively flavored macarons.
Leaving Fauchon after 11 years, Hermé—one of the few chefs to be awarded Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur—became a torchbearer for the macaron at the venerable tearoom Ladurée, and then at his own company Pierre Hermé Paris, currently a flourishing business with 450 employees; 30 sales outlets in France, London, Asia, and the Middle East; an online boutique; and a series of stunning cookbooks, including two in English, co-authored with Dorie Greenspan.
“Since 1984,” he notes, “I’ve been continuously experimenting with new flavors and techniques regarding the macaron. For instance, that’s how lime and basil, hazelnut and white truffle, and olive oil and vanilla came about. I also like to combine flavors with contrasting textures, especially by adding elements. For instance, in the olive oil macaron, I add tiny pieces of olive so that the flavor is released a little at a time and not uniformly as it would be if you blended it into the cream.”
“Pierre has the most refined palate of his generation,” notes Bill Yosses, pastry chef to the White House (see Silver Spoon, September 2012). “His performance on an international stage with provocative, sensual, and textural effects is based on a harmonious blend of seemingly unrelated flavors.”
Hermé’s signature sensation, the ravishing rose/raspberry/lychee Ispahan, signaled his enthusiasm for floral flavors. The latest collection, entitled Les Jardins 2014, promises “another exciting year full of surprises,” he says. “Jardin du Sultan, Jardin d’Iris, Jardin sur la Baie d’Ha Long…” However, he stresses, “my ideas come from within. It’s rare I get an idea from tasting something, but rather from conversations, emotions, reading, meeting. I write my ideas down in diagram form first, then recipes, and give these to the pastry chefs I work with. I have what I call a scenario of taste—I imagine this in a sequence as you bite into the cake—what happens first, what happens second, what may provide a surprise in the middle. And because only taste matters, I avoid embellishments that bring no contributions to the flavors, nor add anything to the combinations.”