Q&A Pierre Herme

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Pierre Herme, chef patissiere, the ‘Picasso of pastry’

The cookbook that has most influenced your cooking

Praline Passe-Partout – my father’s bible! It is a professional chocolate maker’s manual, published in Zurich in the 1950s, I borrowed it from my father, never to return it! It was from this book that I learnt the history of the fabrication of chocolate and gained my first real knowledge of the craft. It was the beginning of my chocolate story

The food of love… What would you cook to impress a potential date

The most important – choose the best ingredients and create something simple but with plenty of taste – to make the most of the date and not spend all the time in the kitchen

Your top five dinner guests, dead or alive

Dalai Lama – I would love to meet him. I have read his book and listened to recordings of his, I have been fascinated by him for many years.

Irving Penn – a photographer famous for his still life paintings and his portraits. I was lucky enough to meet him once, but I would have loved to invite him to dinner.

Winston Churchill – a fascinating character. I would have liked to ask him to tell stories of all he lived through and experienced.

Alain Ducasse – to share his passion for ingredients over dinner

Valérié – my wife…

Fast food –  your top snack tip

Chocolate. There are many different occasions for chocolate.  I love chocolate as a snack.  I created a range of chocolate snacking for that reason! Chocolate covered fruit, chocolate mendiants or our Absoluments – fingers of chocolate coverage flavoured pralinés for example, the perfect snack – easy to carry around and snack on at anytime. It is the more fun side of chocolate that I wanted to explore in creating this range

Most memorable meal in film/literature/painting

The noodle soup in the film ‘Tampopo’ – a Japanese film about a young widow who runs a noodle shop in Tokyo and ends up learning the art of making the perfect soup by Goro a cow-boy truck driver…

Your worst kitchen disaster

I don’t like to think of any experiences as disaster. Every experience is a learning curve and the opportunity to reinterpret or rework an original idea

What would you like your final meal to be?

A traditional French Blanquette de veau – I am a big fan, it has to be one of my favourite dishes

What is your secret talent [in or out of the kitchen]?

I have my own personal taste library in my head. I elaborate the flavours in my mind and then adjust via tasting. I imagine the entire taste experience in my head – what you will taste first and how, the second flavour to appear, the different textures… this is what I call the architecture of taste

What did you eat for breakfast today?

Fresh fruit salad. It has become quite the ritual for me. Every morning I prepare a different seasoning, different fruit – it is a great start to the day

Most over-rated/ under-rated food/seasoning/gadget

For me, one of the most underrated ingredients is flour. I have been studying flour and the origins of its taste over the past couple of years. It is an essential ingredient that sometimes is overlooked as simply that, but I have found that it has some very interesting facets to be explored.

And an overrated gadget – smoking food! There is a trend of smoking absolutely everything at the minute. Delicate vanilla, delicious chocolate, subtle almonds or perfumed hazelnuts…everything is being smoked. In reality – when you smoke such flavours, the only thing that is happening is the taste going up in smoke!

Your inheritance recipes – the one you inherited (and from whom)

Firstly, the tarte aux quetsches from my father – just pastry, plums from Alsace and cinnamon sugar. I am always working on reinterpreting it myself

Otherwise, the combination of pear and chestnut in an ice cream that I discovered during my apprenticeship with Gaston Lenôtre. I moved to Paris at the age of 14 to begin working alongside him and that is where I learnt the deep base and values that I have built on ever since. The pear and chestnut ice cream remained on my taste memory ever since – just recently, I finalised a new collection of creations that I named ‘Hommage’ – a selection of pastries, macarons, chocolats, cakes with the association of pear and chestnut as a tribute to Gaston Lenôtre, my mentor – available in the Pierre Hermé Paris boutiques

Chocolate by Pierre Herme is published by Flammarion, £40, pierreherme.com