Pierre Hermé is a big bear of a
man with a thick shock of black hair, a delicious,
infectious laugh and a shy charm. Described in the international
press as the "Picasso of Pastries," it's his attention to
fine detail and consummate professionalism that sets him apart
in this age of celebrity chefs and media created sensation.
His passion for technical precision has redefined the art
"Some chefs base all their research on the ingredients," said
Chef Hermé, "They don't talk about the transformation, the
savoir faire of the chef. Where is the spirit, the technique,
the inspiration? Ingredients are inspiring but it doesn't
give you a finished food."
We were sitting in his office talking about his kitchen philosophy
when Chef Hermé asked a deceptively simple question. "Would
you like to taste a macaroon?" Placed in front of me was a
simple white plate, ringed with silver dollar sized macaroons
ranging from rose pink to pistachio green and luminescent
bronze. I bit into his white truffle cream, toasted hazelnut
macaroon. It was extraordinary.
"It's a matter of knowing your ingredients, not just that
they are good quality," Chef Hermé explained. "Ingredients
are just one part of the work. You set your standards with
the ingredients but taste is a permanent research. The white
truffle is never cooked; it's shaved raw over other things
as an enhancer. I love this flavor combined with Piemonte
Twice a year in September and March, with a side wink to haute-couture,
Chef Hermé presents his new three-part menu Collection. The
themed Collection features his latest inspirations; the Classics
are finely reworked versions of traditional French pastries
and the Signatures highlight the favorites from past Collections.
Ispahan, his top selling cake, developed for Spring-Summer
1997, is an inspired combination of rose petal cream, fresh
raspberries and litchi nuts neatly cushioned between two rose
Kawaii, the 2003 Autumn-Winter Collection theme, means cute
or lovely in Japanese. Cute reflects the humor in his round,
individually wrapped, pH3 line, a trio of desserts with a
playful, fruity acidity and in his whimsical rub-off tattoos
which are sold by the sheet.
Lovely is the chestnut and Japanese Matcha green tea flavors
featured in different incarnations. The chestnut macaroon
filled with cream of candied chestnuts and smooth cream with
Matcha green tea melts in your mouth. Émotion Velours, a striped
parfait, has the added acidity of passion fruit. The presentation
is clean and clever, not super-structured or fussy.
"I hate perfection," said Chef Hermé. "I prefer the sense
of detail better than perfection. Perfection is something
you do just for perfection, it's alienating. With little details,
there is more freedom and surprise." A single rose petal adds
movement to the top of the Ispahan while a bright red candied
cherry accents a cartoon high chocolate cake slice. Instead
of working on decoration, he prefers working on taste. His
desserts are designed to be eaten in full bites for the flavor
impact. The eye is amused while the palate sings.
Yan D. Pennor designed the Pierre Herme Boutique, 72, rue
Bonaparte, to resemble a jewelry box filled with pastry gems.
The effect when the electric door glides open is dazzling.
Discreetly facing the pastries are Pierre Herme's chocolates,
ranked four bars out of five in the Parisian Guide des Croqueurs
de Chocolat. This season's feature is the Barbade, a simple
square of Tonka bean and vanilla flavored ganache enrobed
in dark chocolate and dusted with gold leaf. A pinch of salt
is added to waken the nuances in the chocolate. In one small
bite, you can taste what Pierre Herme is all about.
Below the jewel box façade, in the three split-level kitchens
he calls the laboratory is where Chef Herme melds art and
science. The entry doorway is low and if you're over 5'7 and
don't duck, the yellow Styrofoam bumpers will cushion the
blow. The chocolate kitchen is the coolest room, located on
the bottom level under the finishing kitchen where the cakes
and pastries are assembled and decorated. A few steps up is
the baking kitchen where the morning pastries, Mille Feuilles
and his signature 2000 Feuilles are baked off in one very
efficient, compact, Arpin oven.
In a second kitchen located nearby on rue de Vaugirard, his
team of chefs make the base components - the cream fillings,
cakes, glazes and ice creams - that are assembled into the
pastries and cakes at rue Bonaparte. Tucked into the rue de
Vaugirard location is a specially equipped kitchen where Pierre
Hermé and his assistant work year round experimenting with
flavors, textures, temperatures and techniques to create the
next collection for his Paris and two Japanese locations.
Pierre Hermé believes that the only way to work is with heart
and passion and with that, everything is possible. He teaches
this philosophy to his staff through technique, spirit and
"My chef in Japan, he knows the spirit as well as myself,"
Chef Hermé begins to laugh, "In Paris, my chef team knows
my spirit better than myself."
Pierre Hermé, 72, rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris
Phone: +33 1 43 54 47 77
Fax: +33 1 43 54 94 90
B lack & white "Jean-Louis Bloch-Lainé"
Color Shot "Grant Symon"
Written By: Mari Coyne
Mari Coyne wanders the culinary alleys and fields looking
for curious people and stuff to photograph and write about.
After a nearly 5 year run, she sold her interest in Three
Tarts Bakery, to pursue her original interests in journalism,
agriculture, documentary photography, culinary history and
FBI Most Wanted posters. She's single, cute (occasionally,
but rarely, cranky), willing to move and refuses to work retail