Food: Superstar pastry chef’s ‘food porn’ has Instagram drooling

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on July 26, 2018.

Pastry creations by Grolet are pictured at the five-star Le Meurice Hotel in Paris. His creations are not overly sweet. Photo by AFP

Grolet seen during a photo session at Le Meurice Hotel in Paris. Calorie-conscious beautiful people queue everyday outside his mini-boutique. Photo by AFP

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When Cedric Grolet takes out his pastry knife, millions of mouths water. The young Frenchman, named the top patissier on the planet last month by “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list, is an Instagram superstar. Videos of him slicing through the exquisite fake fruit he creates to reveal their tastebud-teasing interiors get millions of views on social media.

Millions more drool over images of his glossy hyperrealistic pears, apricots, lemons, peaches and even tomatoes, with Vogue — a magazine not known for championing high-calorie desserts — saying they “leave you wanting to lick the screen”.

“His fans cry, fall into his arms and demand autographs” and selfies, said the usually sober French daily Le Monde.

His work is pure “food porn”, it declared, with only a select few getting the chance to consummate their desire everyday at the top Paris hotel where he works. With high tea at Le Meurice featuring his cakes sometimes booked weeks in advance, Grolet opened a tiny boutique there in March. Its shelves empty within hours everyday.

His Rubik’s cube cake — which pivots just like the real thing — has become a cult on the fashionable Parisian dinner circuit, although at €170 (RM796.52) for a cake for six, only those with deep pockets can afford it.

Grolet has even made a blue, white and red version to celebrate France’s World Cup win earlier this month. Like the French football team members, he is something of a working-class hero.  

 

Eating with our eyes

The son of a hairdresser and truck driver from a small town near Saint-Etienne in central France, his moment of revelation came when he was only 13. “A farmer gave me a basket of strawberries for helping him pick his crop and I made a strawberry tart with them for my grandfather”, who ran a small hotel nearby, he told AFP.

It went down so well, Grolet left school early to apprentice himself to the village baker. “I would make breads all night so that I would be allowed to make the desserts at 11 in the morning. My reward was to be able to slice the apples and cover the tarts in strawberries.”

He later studied fine patisserie and began winning prizes before leaving to make his name in Paris aged 20. There, he worked for French gourmet food and delicatessen chain Fauchon, which eventually sent him to Beijing to help train its staff there.

It was also at Fauchon that he worked alongside Christophe Adam in its research laboratory, developing new recipes. “It was every patissier’s dream,” he said, “trying new things everyday.”

Like Adam, who has since founded L’Eclair de Genie, a chain in France and Japan, Grolet has been crowned French patissier of the year and hailed by macaroon guru Pierre Herme as “one of the most talented patissiers of his generation”.

 

‘Naked patisserie’

Grolet followed Adam to the exclusive Le Meurice, owned by the Sultan of Brunei. He now works there as pastry chef under celebrity cook Alain Ducasse, who urged him to “work even more on taste”. “Visual beauty attracts the customer, but it is the taste that makes them come back,” said Grolet, who as a millennial himself knows that Generation Y eats with its eyes.

His creations, not overly sweet, have also endeared him to the calorie-conscious beautiful people queueing everyday outside his mini-boutique, the first of what Grolet hopes will be a handful across the world.

He began perfecting his extraordinarily delicate fruit six years ago, with their highly worked lifelike skins made from chocolate, with a mousse or marmalade interior made from the real fruit.

“The idea was to do away with the biscuit, the eggs, all the things whose taste doesn’t really do anything and to concentrate on the taste of the fruit,” Grolet told AFP.

It is what he calls “naked patisserie”. His tarts have a similar hyper-natural edge, with fruit as finely cut as flower petals.

With more than a million followers on Instagram alone, Grolet is almost as savvy with his smartphone as he is with his blowtorch. “Making cakes is one thing but you have to know how to communicate. You cannot imagine how many photos I take before posting one,” he told AFP.  

Also, not being in the country does not stop him from creating. He keeps in constant contact with his laboratory at Le Meurice through WhatsApp.

“I draw and work even when I am on the plane, sending back everything that is in my head, and pictures of everything that I loved eating,” said the self-confessed “hyperactive” globetrotter. — AFP