He's been called the Picasso of pastry-making and the Dior of desserts, but something along the lines of the macaron master might be more apt. There are many more strings to this fourth-generation Alsatian pâtissier's bow, certainly, but it's these feather-light, chewy discs of almond pastry in sublime hues that keep the queues at Pierre Hermé's Paris and Tokyo stores constant. But enough from us. We thought it might be interesting to have an Australian pâtissier ask the questions, so we'll hand over now to Sydney's Adriano Zumbo.
Adriano Zumbo: What's so magical about macarons, Pierre? Why do they capture the imagination of so many pâtissiers?
Pierre Hermé: It's the never-ending possibilities. For pâtissiers, they are a pastry that must be mastered. I like to work on all different types of pastry, but the macaron in particular is a very large field of exploration for me.
What makes a really good macaron?
A crunchy shell and then the sensation you get from the combination of flavours such as olive oil and vanilla.
What's the most crucial step in making them to your specifications?
It's a secret! A good recipe helps, and in my book [Macaron] you can find many.
Do you have a favourite macaron flavour? It's always the newest. Today it is crème brûlée. Tomorrow it will be something new. Wasabi and strawberry, carrot, orange and cinnamon are all new, as well as crème brûlée.
Have you ever made a flavour that people just didn't like?
I only make what I feel is right; many of these flavours become favourites with our customers.
How do you describe your work and your shop to people who haven't seen them? The Pierre Hermé shops are quite different from each other, but the experience of my work is not. Take the macaron, for example: to describe the experience of this is not possible. I can, however, explain how to experience it: take a classic flavour first, vanilla or chocolate, find a quiet place, bite in, experience the crunchy shell and savour the creamy filling… enjoy the pleasure.
What makes a great pâtissier? Passion and love.
How do you manage to stay a step ahead of the competition?
I am not so concerned with others; I make pâtisserie to my taste.
Your Ispahan [an early Hermé signature combining rose, lychee and raspberry in layers of macaron and buttercream] might be the most copied petit gâteau in the world - what do you make of this?
I am happy that it has brought happiness to so many.
If you could eat only one pastry for the rest of your life, what would it be? Tarte aux quetsches [a traditional plum tart from the Alsace] made by my father.
What's the best way to store macarons at home? If you are patient, you can store them in plastic in the fridge. But I recommend you just eat them, and get some more for another day.
Who are your favourite customers?
I have no favourites. Or maybe [my favourites are] those who share my love for the tastes and flavours of my newest creations.
Where's the best place for pâtisserie outside Paris? Tokyo.
Do you have any advice for aspiring young pâtissiers here in Australia?
Learn all you can, be thorough in everything you do, and when you have mastered the traditional, be brave.