Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My first day of Pierre Hermé class in Chicago -- Part 1

*** Before I start writing anything, I just want to say that Chef Pierre Hermé is one of the nicest and down-to-earth people I've ever met. Even though he is a very well known pastry chef and is very successful in what he does, he is not arrogant at all. I admire him a lot and feel very lucky to be able to meet and learn from him. ***

It has been 1 week since I came home from Chicago, but I haven't got a chance to post my experience until now since I've been very busy with orders as well as trying out some of the recipes from the class. Finally, here's the full story of the class...

So my day began, I finally got up from bed at 6 am that morning, after not being able to sleep the entire night. I guessed even though I was very tired, I was too excited to sleep. Who wouldn't if your dream came true, which in my case was that I would meet and learn from one of the best in my business (food industry, pastry to be specific) -- Chef Pierre Hermé. He is called "the Picasso of Pastry" because of his amazing creations, you can read more about him in his official website or here.

After I was ready in my full chef uniform, we went down to the lobby, but unfortunately we had to wait for more than 10 minutes for our car even though we had called ahead of time. We stopped by at Fox & Obel first before dropping me off at French Pastry School for my class. We passed the school since we didn't see any sign (and our GPS was showing the address off by a block), so I had to walk back one block since the street is a one-way street.

Pierre Hermé: French Pastry School - entranceAs soon as I entered the building, I was greeted by Lindsay. She was the one who told me that I got the seat in the class and I'd never met her before. She asked me to sign some paperworks, take the name tag and told me to go to the 2nd floor for breakfast as well as to get my chef jacket from the school. Then came Anne who I'd exchanged emails with a lot but had never met either. Both Lindsay and Anne were very friendly. After talking a little bit with them, I headed towards the elevator to go to the 2nd floor.

On the 2nd floor, there were a lot of people since it was almost 8 am. I tried to find my chef jacket that was provided by the school on the rack and I saw my name on one of the hangers. Then I asked a lady if she knew where the restroom was and luckily she did. After changing, I left my bag on the rack and walked towards the U-shaped tables. Then Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, one of the founder of the French Pastry School, greeted me and said that he saw me at Everest the night before. I told him I didn't go to his table since I didn't want to bother them -- apparently he was one of the gentlemen dining with PH. He joked telling me that they were talking about me.

When I reached one of the seats on the table, there was the lady who showed me the restroom. Her name is Patricia, a very nice and sweet lady. After sitting down, I finally saw PH who was sitting in the center of the table. Before I got a chance to say hi to him, everyone was asked to sit down for the breakfast. I thought of having my camera with me at the table but I was not sure if it's polite since no one seemed to have their camera in hand. So, I neither took the picture of PH nor the breakfast (black truffle scrambled egg with shaved black truffle and parmesan on top, bread and ispahan jam) -- which I now regretted. By the way, the egg was very good -- moist and very fragrant, I love black truffle, however I didn't try the bread nor the jam.

Then suddenly I noticed that PH was walking towards our seats, I was so nervous. He greeted everybody and shook our hands. When he was in front of me, he said "bonjour" and gave me a firm hand shake. All I could say was "bonjour", can you believe it? I totally forgot all French words and conversations that I've learnt from Rosetta Stone because I was going to meet him, what a disappointment :-( I guessed so far I only learned to listen and to read from that software without speaking to a real person, or I was just too nervous.

After the breakfast concluded around 9 am, we went to the classroom. Unfortunately I didn't go fast enough so the front seats were already full and I got the seat on the 2nd row. I tried to take the best pictures possible from my seat and I think I got most of it.

Before the class officially started, PH introduced his assistant who has worked with him for 15 years, his name is Mickaël Marsollier -- I think he is PH's right-hand man. Then PH wanted us to introduce ourselves. There were 25 lucky people (that were selected from about 2,000 entries) who came from all over the US and even 1 lady came from Macau only for this class. Some of us were pastry chefs who work for restaurants or their own bakeries (L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Payard, Spago, David Burke, Vanille Patisserie, Petites Bouchees, Lana's Desserts, just to name a few), some were chocolatiers (Patricia's Chocolate, Fran's Chocolates) and some were foodies. Surprisingly, during the break I found out one of the bloggers that her blog I love to read was there too, I was happy to meet her. Her name is Veronica from Veronica's Test Kitchen, she was a very friendly lady. By the way, when I introduced myself I mentioned that I just started my business and the name is Itzy Bitzy Patisserie, everyone was laughing. Later they told me that it is a cute and catchy name, thanks!

PH spoke English during the demonstration, but when he got into technical stuffs he preferred to explain it in French. In that case, Jacquy was there ready to translate it. Luckily in the past several months I've been learning French from Rosetta Stone, as well as reading PH10 and La Pâtisserie de Pierre Hermé, so that I understood a little bit.

In the beginning of the class, PH gave a power point presentation about his concepts for his company -- Un univers de goûts, de sensations et de plaisirs (Universal of taste, sensation and pleasure):
1. Quality: in ingredients, in the way products are made and in the service to customers
2. Creativity: in the way to create the product, starting with an idea on the paper, translating to the product (this is Mickaël's responsibility, but in the end PH is the one who decides and approves it), then finishing with the packaging
3. Attention to detail: PH loves detail, but hates perfection. Detail is something that you can achieve, while perfection is something that you cannot achieve and will make you never be satisfied. He likes to give a "little touch" to surprise the customer
4. Precision information about the product: to the employees (on how to make it), to the customers (on how to consume it) as well as to the company
5. Always constantly trying to do better: what does well and what can be improved

Pierre Hermé: Power point presentation - Satine
Power point presentation - Satine

He talked about the milestones of the company, if you want to know more about it you can read here or here. In 2007 he opened 4 new shops in Japan (bringing total of 7 shops in Japan). Soon he will open 2 new shops in Paris (1 only for chocolates and 1 only for macarons) and 1 new shop in Dubai. So when is he going to open a shop in the US? That was one of the questions I asked him during dinner at Chef Art Smith's house and his answer was maybe in several years because it's not easy to open a shop in a different country -- he has to learn the culture of that country first. That's smart business 101 -- I know some larger companies that failed internationally because they didn't do their due diligence.

Then he talked about his products that are categorized in to:
1. Classic: tarts, millefeuilles
2. Fetish: created and developed by PH, there are 11 flavors -- Carrément chocolat, Celeste, Mosaic, Plenitude, Satine, Montebello, Mogador, Eden, Sarah, Ispahan, Vanille
3. Creations: new items of the moment -- Emotion, Miss Gla'Gla

Pierre Hermé: Power point presentation - 2008 new products
Power point presentation - 2008 new products

He said that he always creates new thing that doesn't stick long enough, just like fashion and trend. He wants to create brand that has element that people will recognize. Every months he releases new products part of the Fetish line, except in Christmas time -- there is no time because they are very busy. All of his stores carries the same flavor at the same time but not the same products. For him the product comes first, then the marketing afterwards. He usually does the press release 6 months before the new products come out. He follows the season but he doesn't have the exact time when he will have a new product available.

Then the demonstration began, he would make 11 creations:
Pierre Hermé: The results after the 2-day class1. Black truffle macaron
2. Emotion Depayse
3. Emotion Ispahan
4. Ispahan Entremet
5. Chocolate and Foie Gras Macaron
6. Macaron Ispahan
7. Macaron Satine
8. Miss Gla'Gla Ispahan Glace
9. Revelation
10. Tarte Ispahan
11. Vanilla tart

Each of his creations have more than one components. He made most of the components from all the creations on that day (day 1) and would do the assembling and finishing touch on each creation the following day (day 2). I could not wait to taste every single one of them!

The first thing made in his demonstration was sugar candy for Emotion Depayse. This candy is not only used as a decoration. He said that he only puts something on his creations if it will improve either texture or flavor of the product.

Pierre Hermé: Making sugar candy for Emotion Depayse Pierre Hermé: Showing the sugar candy for Emotion Depayse
Making sugar candy for Emotion Depayse

After this he jumped from one recipe to another, so we had to give him our full attention (like we wouldn't).

When he finished showing us how to make sugar dough and litchi gelée for Tarte Ispahan, we went for the morning break.

Pierre Hermé: Making sugar dough for Tarte Ispahan Pierre Hermé: Making litchi gelée for Tarte Ispahan
Making sugar dough and litchi gelée for Tarte Ispahan

We had Chloé Chocolat (one of his new products that he brought for us to sample) and flowery earl grey tea. The cookies tasted very good, it has a crunch that came from dried raspberry on it.

Pierre Hermé: Chloé Chocolat Pierre Hermé: Flowery earl grey tea
Chloé Chocolat and Flowery Earl Grey tea

I will continue the story on my next post, happy reading!


Pierre Hermé Paris

French Pastry School
226 West Jackson Boulevard
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 726-2419


ParisBreakfasts said...

THIA is sooo amazing!
I have to come back and read every word!

Scout said...

What a wonderful blog. I am curious if Chef Pierre Herme mentioned anything about publishing a book that included recipes from his Infiniment Vanille fetish. I've purchased nearly his complete catalog and would love to learn about his vanilla tart.

Anonymous said...

you seem like kind of a bitch