You can’t succeed unless you try to attain or surpass the level of those who succeeded before you in this profession.
When you look back at your career, what was characteristic?
If I want to sum up my career, it was a lot of work, lot of luck and a lot of coincidences. When I was unemployed I catered for private clients and company events.
I used to cater for Air Liquide’s vice president. One night when we were discussing after dinner, he suggested that I visit his company’s research center.
At the research center they didn’t show me much, but they dipped a metal rectangular plate in azote and told me, “At -165Co you reach the point of non-adherence, nothing will stick to it.
At the time, this new technique was not used in the culinary realm, but it gave me some ideas of future desserts. It’s a food processing that El Bulli made famous. When you dip a ladle in the azote and then take some mousse with it, the mousse won’t stick. When I came here, Eric wanted three stars and I had to create new desserts in order to rise to the challenge.
It’s how I created my “Meringue Snow Lychee, Rose, Pear and Lemon flavor” and my vanilla dessert.
I often hear that being a pastry chef is a hard work. Do you have any advice for young people who pursue this profession?
Surveys show that in France, 80% of the graduates from catering college give up the profession. The reason is simple; you can’t get the same quality of life and leisure in this profession. You can’t go out, take your vacation, or have dinner with everybody else.
But all professions have their difficulties and shortcomings. There is no such thing as an easy job. In every profession you have to acquire knowledge, technique, and experience. Perfecting one’s work takes time.
But you keep on learning to build up your experience. I feel great joy in what I’m expressing and what I’m making. That’s why I put in longer hours at my job than were required. When I was getting ready for a competition, I sometimes slept under the tables.
Because I didn’t study at school, I wanted to do my best to become a good pastry chef. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life earning low wages; I was aiming for a financially comfortable life.
I wanted to attain excellence in the field and I did what it took to get there. And I think I’m not too bad now (laughs).
Once you have total mastery of your trade, you have nothing to fear
What is important to be successful as a pastry chef?
You have to have ambition. It all comes down to “What do you want to become?” First you need ambition, and you have to realize that you are in an amazing profession. There is reason to be happy – you’re in a place with the best tools and raw materials, surrounded by beautiful and delicious ingredients of the best quality. If you don’t realize your good fortune, then I think you should look for another profession. And if you have no ambition, you should do something else.
Who do you like to work with?
People who are passionate, enthusiastic and smart – that’s the kind of people I like! There was a young graduate who came recently – I gave her an assistant chef de partie contract right away. She had graduated with honor, first in her school. So I told another apprentice of mine, “You have to be first in your school”. If I tell her to do so, she can do it. If I tell her this, it’s not for myself. It’s nothing to me whether she is first or tenth. But for young people, it makes a big difference. If I didn’t say it, she might not have the ambition to become first. When I was young I was shy and cautious, introverted and over-sensitive. Sensitivity is useful to grow, but you shouldn’t have too much. That’s why I want to push young people to grow and have confidence.
I’m pushing young people to reach perfection as pastry chefs. It’s when you’re young that you have to move forward and apply yourself, and take the time to reach perfection. Practice takes time. These sacrifices will be harder to make later when you get married, and even harder when you have children.
What does it mean to be comprehensive for a pastry chef?
It is important to develop yourself quickly into a full-scale artisan. Once you master every technique, your knowledge is comprehensive and you have nothing to fear. When you go up the ladder, if you don’t have all the skills and you receive an order you can’t handle, or when you are faced with a challenge, you will panic. That’s because you don’t have confidence in yourself. Whatever the request, I’m never worried. That’s because I have put in the necessary the effort to master the techniques. You have to practice a lot.
I used to say, “I’ve been very lucky”, but that’s not it. What you really need is a lot of work. Work, luck and intelligence are necessary. Everywhere in the world, there is loads of work underlying success.
In private, do you have a lot of activities linked to your profession?
My whole life can’t be summed up by pastry alone; my work isn’t my only passion. I like architecture, looking at beautiful pictures, art, sculptures, and art museums. I don’t have time to fully enjoy anything, but I like a lot of things.
You also enjoy fulfilling weekends, right?
You don’t need to make up a nice story like we read in fancy magazines (laughs).
Five days a week, I wake up at 7 or 8 am, work all day, and often don’t go to sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning. So on the first day of the weekend, I just sleep like a log. Towards evening, I might do a bit of shopping. Even on the second day of the weekend I still need to rest, I don’t have the energy to do much.
After 5 days of work I like to chill out, take time for myself, or be with my partner.