In the same way that the fashion pack eagerly awaits the next fashion week, gourmands live for the launches of Pierre Hermé’s macaron collections – spectacular, beautiful and chic. The king of French patisserie was in London last week to launch his 2013 collection, Les Jardins (The Gardens), and lucky me, I was invited to taste the legendary macarons and talk to the culinary master about his career.
Hermé has, he says: “Pastry in [his] blood.” The fourth generation in a family of Alsace-born bakers and pastry chefs, the macaron master started his career at the age of 14 as an apprentice for the renowned Gaston Lenôtre who Hermé credits as being the greatest influence on his work. Under Lenôtre, Hermé says he: “Learned quality, rigor, organisation and attention to details. This is very important if you want to be good at patisserie.”
Hermé then went on to work for the biggest French names in pastry, including Fauchon and Ladurée. It was at the latter where he discovered macarons and decided to create his own brand. However, this wasn’t for a love of traditional macarons. In fact, Hermé explains: ”We have a very strong culture of macarons in France. They are traditionally made in 12 different regions. I found them quite boring, just a bit of cream between two biscuits and I thought they were far too sugary. I wanted to change that so I decided to create my own version.”
He opened his first shop in Tokyo in 2000 and he now boasts several outposts in Paris and one in London. Most recently, he confessed he plans to open one in Hong Kong shortly. The talented, creative and celebrated pastry chef has built an international empire selling French refinement in colorful mignardises. For a decade, macarons have remained at the forefront of a culinary revolution. However, Hermé does not regard macarons as part of a mere food trend: “[They] are deeply anchored in French patisserie patrimony,” he tells me.
The pastry chef started with classic flavours but has since moved on to provide gourmands with an altogether more exotic culinary adventure. Hermé reminisces about his journey, telling me: ”I started by doing classical flavours such as vanilla, chocolate or rasberry. Then I moved on and imagined pistachio and lemon macarons which at the time was seen as being quite innovative but today are considered as quite simple. Then, I made the bi-goûts [two flavours]. Now I combine more elaborate flavours.”
Hermé’s inspiration is endless, his play with flavours always surprising and unexpected. His latest collection, Les Jardins, epitomises his creativity and sense of play. The collection was beautifully displayed on a centre table covered by roses and ivy. Meanwhile, the macarons sat on a throne in the middle of the press room, protected by glass dome just like delicate flowers.Amazed by the ravishing colour and perfect beauty, not one pair of eyes could be swayed from the 12 precious French biscuits. Each flavour will be released one at a time throughout 2013. The first, Jardin Pamplemousse (grapefruit garden), made with grapefruit, cloves and candied grapefruit, will be released in January; Jardin d’Amrbe, a combination of rose and woody amber notes, will follow in May; Jardin Merveilleux, a mixture of Mandarin orange olive oil and cucumber water, will launch in September.
I tried the soft pink and cream coloured Jardin Sucré (sweet garden – to be released in February) which is a beautiful union of exuberant rose aromas tempered by the sweetness of caramel. Passionate about flavour and aroma, Hermé gets ideas for his creations from any smell and taste that he happens to find himself surrounded by; anything from herbs to fruit, vegetables to flowers, and the most beautiful gardens, all over the world. He can find a potential ingredient anywhere. He divulged that the idea behind Jardin Pamplemousse came to him when he worse a particular cologne: ”I wanted to recreate this citrusy smell that I had and I turned it into a macaron.”
The Jardin Japonais (Japanese garden released in April) is probably the most delicate of the 12. The French chef focused on inventing an imaginary Sakura blossom that he could put into his biscuits. The result is intense. Juxtaposing Morello cherry, lemon and Tonka Bean, he has created a pastry extravaganza that transports you Japan at the height of spring. The macaron unveils intense cherry aromas and floral scents, in the same way as an exquisite flower shares its perfumes in a gentle breeze.
Continuing with the explosive adventure in flavour, the gold and brown Jardin du Maquis (shrubland garden released in March) combines chocolate and traditional honey from Corsica. This one, Hermé explained, came to him while he was travelling there: “When you land in Figari, the smells of the maquis envelop you straight away, it is magical and I wanted to find that again in a macaron.”
The collection also features Jardin Andalou (Andalusian garden released in August), which is a tribute to the south of Spain. It’s a beautiful encounter between Mandarin orange, olive oil and red berries. The talented chef wanted to put the accent on wild strawberries while creating a perfect balance with the acidity of the citrus fruit and the smoothness of the oil.
Hermé works in the same way a painter plays with colour and shapes but his raw ingredients can be anything from cedar wood to rum, vanilla, apple mint or even arugula (rocket lettuce). He even works like an artist, designing his creations on paper first, before testing them in the kitchen. French Vogue calls him the Picasso of pastry, and rightly so, he puts items of utter grace into your vision and elegant flavours in your mouth. He’s a perfectionist too: “Sometimes I can work weeks on just one macaron to reach the perfect taste.” His success appears to be limitless, even establishing Macaron Day which will fall on 20th March in 2013. I’ll celebrate with a box of Jardin du Maquis, or as I like to call it, a little piece of Parisian chic straight from heaven.
Pierre Hermé 13 Lowndes Street London SW1X
Selfridges 400 Oxford Street London W1A