Workshop in one apartment with Pierre Hermé
I recall pressing on the intercom button of LA MAISON HERME. “It’s me, Sharon” I said assertively, my heart pounding to burst just like a fragile crispy sweet macaron. The entrance door opened and I walked into the most impressive atelier in the patisserie world. It was just like entering a Louis Vuitton, Dior or Chanel’s design studio. One of the employees led me to the maestro creative workshop and I remained waiting there, in his inspirational library, for one of the leading chefs- pâtissiers in the world. Pierre Hermé arrived with his Press attaché: Hermé seemed then an introvert person, with a serious expression on his face, his eyes avoiding to be met, as he was briefly and quietly answering questions. My first encounter with Hermé was a very crucial step for me: as a foreigner in Paris speaking basic French taught in school, I felt, for the first time, the thrill to be in the most important location of the Patisserie world. After my interview with him, many doors opened: if the best of all accepted to talk to me, who could then refuse? It was a kind of confirmation I got.
Many years have passed since then, and a lot of water has flowed in the Seine. Over time, I gained so many friends and contacts in the Patisserie world whether in France and abroad and my ties with Pierre Hermé have turned closer. Hermé has also undergone a major change. He opened up greatly to the media and social networking, and proved to be more accessible and easy going. I have no way to explain how we happened to befriend, but I tend to think that is the Patisserie passion. Hermé understood me; he realized that I was working from the heart, that I was doing what I really loved to do and that I was truly devoted to this field and to the people who were involved in this same passion. Every now and then, he sends me personal messages on Instagram, he follows our daily stories and votes for the morning bakery choices (go to Instagram, you can choose which pastry to eat with your coffee every morning) and, most important, he calls us LES AMIES, which means his lady friends.
It was only natural for our day to come and organize a joint event with Hermé – an event that would enable him to connect with his fans with our help. We teamed up with the “Fou de Patisserie” girls who organize baking workshop days with the best chef- pâtissiers in the world and, together, we started setting up an event designed for my followers and theirs, from all over the world, the basic idea being to allow Israeli fans to sign up first. It was clear to me that there were two chefs- pâtissiers that I really wanted to be with me on this day – Carl Marletti, our good friend who is blessed with the best Patisserie energies, and of course Hermé, who is for me a spiritual mentor in my quest for perfection, daily learning and uncompromising professionalism. Marletti cleared up his schedule and immediately said yes. Hermé, actually at the top of international recognition and traveling all over the globe, looked over our proposal and gave his consent, to our great joy. Our event was taking shape. For an even better experience, we also embraced the “Ritz” legendary hotel with Francois Perret, the Ritz hotel chef- pâtissier for this special dream event, and here we had a colorful team with some unique stars that any patisserie amateur lover yearns to meet, if only for a moment.
On Tuesday morning, July 10th , 2018, we arrived to the magical apartment at the foot of the Sacré-Coeur Church: unbelievable to see in which apartments people live in Paris! I found myself standing on Mathilde’s balcony wondering who was sitting down there on the Church steps. Could he see us too? Did he know what kind of event was going to take place in this apartment with the balcony I was standing on? Did he understand that stars were about to shine on the ground and not only in the sky? The clear spaces were flooded with a caressing light, even the weather adjusted to the desserts that would come out from the fully equipped kitchen. Not too hot, not too cold, Paris at its best.
Carl Marletti arrives first, early- he is the chef- pâtissier that would open the day. He is escorted by one of his assistants. Together, they set up the kitchen for the workshop; they organize the equipment and raw materials while preparing breakfast trays soon to be served. French tend to have a very light breakfast which usually includes a morning pastry or a tartine (a baguette with butter and jam) and coffee. Of course, Marletti fills the table with a wide choice of pastries and cookies, but no desserts: these are reserved for lunchtime and afterwards.
The participants are arriving, one by one, a smile on their faces. They are happy, excited and also a tiny embarrassed. These people have always dreamed to meet their stars, just for a moment, the stars they admire so deeply, the stars they follow on social networks and of course, whose desserts they joyfully taste in the patisserie boutiques and in Paris luxury hotels. Marletti joins the group and the lively chat encourages the participants to open up. The atmosphere is magic. I wonder if any of the neighbors understands what is going on in this apartment filled with sweetness and human warmth.
We move to the kitchen, where Marletti delivers an intimate and pleasant master class as the participants learn to prepare his flagship dessert, the famous Lily Valley. This dessert was created by Marletti for his charming wife, Laure, who owns a flower boutique. He chose to convert the classic Saint Honoré into a Saint Honoré filled with violet cream so to connect it to the world of his beloved wife. I watch the scene and I am excited by the sight of the smiling people coming from Israel, from the United States, Venezuela, France, just like William, a 17-years-old boy from Alsace, accompanied by his father who came to this Dream event and can, now, touch his stars. Everyone comes from a different world, a different profession but they are all united with a same passion for the French dessert world and its creativity. After a light (and salty!) lunch, the participants are invited to taste the Lily Valley dessert served to them in one of the apartment’s rooms. Just before meal, I share with them some of my tips about how to take photos of desserts before publishing them on the social network. Our model is the Lily Valley and the participant take picture of this dessert with all kind of accessories I brought with me. We talk about the light, reflections, photo angles, styling and everything that can help them reveal the patisserie charm on social networks.
Not only does the Lily Valley look beautiful on a photo, it is also greatly delicious. It is just the first bite of a long series of desserts that would be offered on that day. At 2:30 pm, precisely, cars are waiting outside to take us all to the Ritz legendary hotel. I remember one of the first times, I arrived to Paris, I saw a bunch of paparazzi photographers standing by the hotel, I stood there too and after a few minutes, I could see the famous Dustin Hoffman coming out to his car. Such are the luxury hotels of French capital, hosting the famous and the wealthy, world leaders, actors, singers, and if only the walls of the rooms could speak… The hotel staff leads us along the guest rooms to a large balcony overlooking the hotel courtyard. A long, preciously set table is awaiting us as we are greeted by the hotel’s chef- pâtissier, François Perret.
A long series of serving plates flows in, offering us a huge variety of desserts, cookies, cakes and patisserie creations. “It’s a pity you only have an hour and a half left,” Perret tells us, “we have prepared so many things for you.” Time is short and there is a lot to do, we have to taste all the creations the chef and his brigade have shared with us. Champagne is poured into Ritz branded glasses, we raise them high and here we go. “The pastry stand you see here is the one we serve at the Proust Salon at tea time,” Perret explains while inviting us to taste the whole collection. A variety of exceptional pastries, including excellent chocolate coated marble cake, delicate palmiers, puff pastry with rhubarb compote and more. Desserts we were offered to taste included strawberry & basil tarte served with the French so called crème fraiche just like an innovated classical recipe. Perret’s famous Madeleine pastry- actually a tribute to Marcel Proust’s Madeleine from his book “A la recherche du temps perdu” – is a spectacular dessert that looks like a great Madeleine pastry but when sliced, it turns out to be a wonderful layers dessert. But for me, the most delicious dessert is the “Marble Cake” that, just like the Madeleine, seems to be at first a dry cake, but when you cut it, you get an amazing vanilla chocolate and caramel dessert made of delicate layers of bliss.
Our visit at the Ritz ends with Perret’s VIP invitation to see his patisserie lab. I love to visit the backstage of luxury hotels, watch the preparation of patisserie artworks, the room service trolleys loaded with silverware, wondering who is about to taste the muffins now. Perret takes us to his lab, showing us, on the way, the kitchen and revealing us the tiny secrets of big services. The scene of Princess Diana leaving this luxury hotel to her death or thinking about the presidential suite that costs about 28,000 Euros becomes unavoidable. By the way, if you can’t reserve a room at the hotel, Tea Time hour is very recommended, or visiting the hotel bar for one of Perret’s desserts, a big dream at a very very reasonable price.
Overloaded with magic and calories, we regretfully left the hotel, but soon the goodbye blues turned into new excitement. We went back to the cars and returned to the apartment where the Pierre Hermé patisserie team was already waiting for us. There are no words to describe the moment: in just a few minutes the best chef- pâtissier in the world would enter the apartment, the very source of inspiration of every amateur, professional, beginner and experienced pâtissier. Hermé is the mentor of almost every chef- pâtissier. He is the one who turned modern patisserie into a fashionable mediated trend. He was the first chef- pâtissier whose work was based on collections, he innovated the macaron, invented new desserts that became French patisserie classics, he has spread the French patisserie word all around the world. In a few minutes, the dream of our participant will come true, in this small apartment under the Sacré-Cœur Church, a one-in-a- lifetime meeting between Hermé and his fans, so much excitement and joy in one place.
Then he comes in. Wearing plain clothes and holding a bag with the chef’s jacket, so humble, so quiet. He puts on his jacket and joins the guests in the room as if he was one of them. In an open and intimate conversation, he tells us about his work, his sources of inspiration, his taste combinations and what he thinks about the Vanilla crisis. They all ask questions they have dreamed to ask, some are so excited, they hardly talk. In response to one of the questions, Hermé says “On one of the occasions while I visited a Facebook branch, I saw a sign on the wall with the words: “What would we do in a world without fear “. This sentence is one of the most powerful engines for doing, striving for perfection, dealing with failures, or success. I chose to make you a special dessert of strawberry pie, lemon cream, basil and roses marmalade. I think this combination of flavors is very special and I want to share it with you,” he explains modestly. We enter the kitchen, where Manon, the chef-patissière who has been working with Hermé for years, is waiting for us, acting together like a synchronized duo. Hermé conducts the orchestra and they altogether create the perfect tart. The basil lemon cream is sprinkled on the crispy pie basis, the strawberries are placed on it in a spiral form, over which is set a Royal Icing disc and roses marmalade.
I watch the scene, the activities taking place in this home kitchen and I recall my first encounter with Hermé. From the trembling finger pressing on the button of Hermé’s entrance door leading to his apartment, up to this joint production together with the “Fou de Patisserie” team setting up this dream event, each stage being another magic in the patisserie dream. While sitting in the armchair in his kingdom, then, trying to organize my thoughts and ask the right questions, I did not believe I would have this joy to host him myself. This day is not just another day, it is the proof that more and more dreams can be become reality, provided we dream, work passionately, and strive to fulfill our deep wishes. We end the day with a joint cocktail with Pierre Hermé, a smiling atmosphere and stars in the heart. The participants are leaving one by one with souvenirs from this so special day and feeling one of their dreams has come true, their hearts beating with joy.