After several decades of culinary creation, some might think that a successful chef would be looking for an easier life. Think again. The pastry chef Pierre Hermé is a tireless creator of flavour combinations, balancing traditional French pastry with Japanese inspirations. This summer, the chef has sought culinary inspiration in herbs, plants and flowers for his "Par Nature" collection. And while still delighting the gourmets of this world, the chef is also responding to new demands by cutting calories without compromising pleasure. We caught up with the pastry chef at his Beaupassage café in Paris's 7th arrondissement.
This summer, you've launched a new "Par Nature" collection with new flavours such as açai and blackcurrant bud—surprising choices for sweet treats. What led you to choose these flavours?
Pierre Hermé (PH) Initially, I started getting interested in superfoods. There's açai, but also pecan and blackcurrant. Then I said to myself that I would try to go a little further by working with both herbs and flowers. Some real work around plants has gone into the cakes, with pine needles and buds, sage, lovage, mint and coriander.
How about bergamot? Are you thinking about using that in one of your future creations?
PH I already do! A combination of rose and bergamot in a macaron. This approach around the use of herbs and bringing out of the taste of them—like with sweet vernal grass, for example, in "Par Nature"—works really well!
Sweet vernal grass? What is that?
PH It's hay! We also used it in macarons. I worked a lot with lovage and tarragon. It's so good! I'm thinking about it precisely because I tasted it yesterday. I also tasted the blackcurrant and blackcurrant pepper macaron, it's very subtle. These are dried blackcurrant buds that we're using as a kind of seasoning. The blackcurrant isn't subtle, it's quite sharp and tannic. There is a side to this fruit that we don't manage to perceive, which is its aromatic quality. But when we use blackcurrant pepper, we have all the facets of its tastes, in 360°. It seasons, it enhances. It is an incredible aroma. In these cases, the work of a pastry chef is really akin to the work of a perfume designer. Intellectually, it's the same process.