The next time you bite into one of Pierre Herme’s macarons, remember that it is a creation of the world’s Best Pastry Chef, a title bestowed on him by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Born into a family of master bakers from the Alsace region of eastern France, Herme’s dedication to macarons has elevated it into an art form. It is very surprising then that he started out not being a fan of the French dessert because they were too sweet. “What prompted me to work on macarons was that before there were just coffee, chocolate and vanilla flavors,” he added. “So it gave me great latitude for creativity.”
His inventiveness and creativity made his signature macarons a household name. Steering away from typical flavors, he married ingredients such as olive oil and vanilla, wild rose hip, fig and foie gras to his menu, using sugar “as a seasoning and not a principal ingredient.” Some of his most sought-after flavors include “Ispahan” – a refreshing mix of raspberries, lychee and rosewater – and “Mogador” – a decadent combination of passion fruit and milk chocolate.
It wasn’t an overnight success story; Herme had to undergo constant experimentation and a decade of apprenticeship with Parisian patissier Gaston Lenotre before his debut in 1997. He obtains inspiration from everywhere – “something I have tasted, something I have read or maybe an image,” he said. But with success also comes failure. “We worked on a pear and chestnut macaron. But after three attempts, we had to admit that we were never going to make one that had both the true taste of pear and of chestnut at the same time,” Herme reflected.
Now 54, Herme still keeps his experimental notes safely archived. His patisserie has expanded to include tarts, cakes, chocolates and jams, though the core of his business still revolves around macarons. Collaborations with artists such as Nicolas Buffe, who designed his chocolate boxes, and perfumier Jean-Michel Duriez has helped spread the word about his desserts internationally. “There are more and more talented patissiers out there opening shops and doing great things in hotels and restaurants. The profession is very much alive and there are lots of people eager to learn, which is wonderful,” he said.