There was macaron overload at the Qatar Eating HQ earlier this month when Master Patissier Pierre Herme came to Doha. The ‘Picasso of Pastry’ visited his Lagoona Mall ‘Pierre Herme Qatar’ boutique, and attended a book-signing for his latest ‘Macarons’ book.
Of course we sent Miss QE along to interview the legend, and to learn more about his culinary journey and the creative process. Oh…and to find out how to bake the perfect macarons – you’re welcome!
Pierre Herme Interview
Q1. Why did you want to be a pastry chef? Who are your inspirations?
I am an heir to four generations of Alsatian bakery and pastry-making tradition. When I was a child, in order to spend time with my father, I had to go into his kitchen. I spent lots of time watching him working. He was the first person to really transmit this passion to me.
Then I left Alsace and became an apprentice to Gaston Lenôtre, I will always work with these values in mind and transmit them to people who work with me. It is something very meaningful in my life.
Q2.What is your first baking memory?
It is not necessarily my first memory, but certainly one of the most impacting. It was the first day that I arrived in Paris to start my apprenticeship. It was very impressive. A complete change for me, coming from my native region of Alsace. I was 14 when I started with Gaston Lenôtre.
It was a difficult but extremely exciting period: true happiness to learn, discover the craft. It was a period full of joy – so many memories to pick just one! It was during this time I learnt from Gaston Lenôtre the bases of pastry, the deep knowledge and the values which I have built on ever since: the attention to detail, work well done and transmission.
Q3. If you hadn’t become a patissier, what do you think you would be?
I have known I wanted to be a pastry chef since the age of 9! I have always been interested in architecture, perhaps I would have become an architect…but in a way I am an architect of taste now!
Pierre’s Creative Process & Flavours
Q4. Why macarons out of all the items you could choose from the patisserie world? Why do you think macarons have such popularity?
At Pierre Hermé Paris, we do not only sell macarons – in Qatar we also have chocolates, cakes, jams, other confectionery like caramels, nougats and more. In Paris and some other markets we also offer pastries, ice cream, viennoiseries, shortbread, biscuits… Of course, on an international level, the brand is most well-known for macarons.
When I started out as a pastry chef, the macaron was quite plain and simple – two biscuits stuck together with very little filling – so over the last 20 years I have worked on this filling and experimented their flavours, as well as the thickness of the filling.
What I find fascinating with macarons are the unlimited possibilities in the assortment of tastes, textures and flavours. My work is all about taste…and pleasure. There are so many possibilities of different flavours that could be associated into a single bite and I think this is what makes so interesting.
Q5. Can you explain your creative process – how do you come up with the flavour combinations?
The first step is of course the idea, the inspiration. I sketch my ideas down first, in diagram form and write the precise recipe underneath. I always envisage what I call the architecture of taste – the sequence as you bite into the macaron, cake, chocolate… what happens first, what happens second, what may provide a surprise in the middle. I listen only to my own creative instinct and my only preoccupation is taste!
I then pass onto to my team of Research and Development pastry chefs – they run tests and we taste together and I make any adjustments necessary before sharing with all the Pierre Hermé Paris pastry chefs. I guess what is important in my creative process it that I’m quenching my passion. I am lucky to be able to create as I please, with total freedom.
Q6. You use some rather unusual ingredients such as the Finger Lime for your macaron creations. How do you research ingredients and then experiment with them in the kitchen?
I never set out to create something unusual – The only challenge that interests me is making something exceptional. There are infinite possibilities when it comes to baking and pastries – it is what makes it interesting and challenging. I don’t necessarily research ingredients, it happens naturally as I am very curious and always open to discovery and inspiration.
I have a team of Research & Development Pastry chefs and Supply Team who will then investigate the possibilities. For example, the Macaron Infiniment Citron Caviar, with the Finger lime, I created over 5 years ago – but we only just managed to find a suitable supplier with the high quality and quantity of finger limes that were required for our pastry chefs to create the macarons for all the boutiques – even for the limited time period!
Q7. Do you have any favourite flavours amongst your range of macarons?
Quite simply, the next one!
Q8. Could you explain the journey you take when creating your chocolate flavours?
My creative process is always the same, whether for a chocolate, a macaron, a dessert… The only time the process differs is when I am creating a “Haute Couture” piece. This is a made-to-measure service that we offer – it is a very special service, where the client can have their own creation made especially for them.
It involves several meetings between myself and the client, tasting and finalising. It is a process that can take around 6-8months. The recipe then belongs to the client and they can re-order whenever they like!
Pierre & Qatar
Q9. Why did you choose to open a Pierre Herme store here in Qatar?
Qatar is a very interesting market with a lot of potential and a discerning clientele that recognises quality and attention to detail. However, our opening in Qatar is also due to the relations we have created here with our partners, the Al Darwish family.
We are extremely happy with the partnership, the relationship we have built and the care and attention that our local partners pay to the brand. It is extremely important for me.
Q10. Have you had the time to go out and see other places in Qatar?
We visited the Museum of Islamic Art – an incredible museum that I was very glad to have the time to see. I also had the time to visit the souks and some other areas of Doha – I look forward to coming back to visit more!
Q11. What are your top tips for creating the perfect macaron at home?
Firstly, use only the highest quality ingredients when making any recipes at home. For example with macarons, the almonds should be top quality.
Another tip, once you have piped your macaron shells on to the baking trays, lift up the trays one by one and rap them lightly on the work surface covered with a kitchen towel to flatten out the points and allow for even cooking and allow the shells to stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes until a skin forms on the surface before placing in the oven.
Once assembled with the filling, place the macarons in the fridge for 24 hours before serving and always serve at room temperature. And always follow the recipe carefully!
Q12. What advice would you give to anyone interested in pursuing the craft of patisserie as a career?
It is important to have passion. Pursuing the craft of patisserie is not like learning at school. It is all about practise, learning, reading, tasting, educating…When I was training to be a pastry chef, I never stopped.
Even now, I learn new things every day and that is what it so great about the craft of patisserie.