May 31, 2009
Pastry chef Gregoire Michaud's loves using fresh seasonal fruit in his sweet creations
By Fiona Low
A side from creating scrumptious desserts, pastry chef Gregoire Michaud has another talent: The Swiss native can also speak Cantonese.
After joining Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong in 1999, the 33-year-old who was born in Entremont, a district in southern Switzerland, found himself lost. Few of his kitchen staff had a good grasp of the English language, much less French, his native tongue.
'I needed to assimilate quickly in order to communicate,' says the jovial man who now has a fairly sturdy grasp of the dialect, albeit with a halting accent.
In Singapore to present his newest dessert creations in the Afternoon Tea promotion at The Bar and Alfresco, Four Seasons Hotel, from now till June 30, he tells LifeStyle about his passion for the craft.
'I did an apprenticeship in a pastry shop, Patisserie du Pont, in Switzerland when I was 15 and I loved it. It quickly became clear to me that this was my future path.'
After completing his stint there four years later, he has worked in hotels all over the world, including the Broadmoor Hotel, a five-star luxury hotel in Colorado and the Beau-Rivage in Biloxi, United States, among others.
He has also written a cookbook, Artisan Bread, which was launched in 2008. The book, which features more than 50 recipes, is specifically tailored for the Asian cook as the recipes take into account the effects of humidity levels on bread-rising in this part of the world.
He is currently writing a new book, to be launched in July, and has plans to open his own business in future.
'I have had a love for food and business ever since I tried selling french fries to my neighbours when I was 12,' he says with a laugh. 'I'm not sure what it will be yet, but I want a business that is related to pastries and desserts.'
The chef is married to a Hong Konger, whom he met while working in the country. They have a son Clement who, at the tender age of three, is already fluent in Cantonese, English and French.
'He is very energetic and full of life,' gushes the proud dad, who is also teaching his son to cook.
Who has been the greatest influence in your career?
Mr Fabrice Pravato, whom I worked for at a pastry shop in Martigny, Switzerland, in 1996. He was passionate about the quality of ingredients and precision, and pushed all his staff to pay the same amount of attention to detail.
Why did you decide to specialise in pastries?
When I was a teenager, I tried both cooking and pastry-making but enjoyed the precision, the order and the artistic side needed in pastry-making more. I still enjoy cooking. I cook very often at home and I can make anything from Asian to French and Italian cuisine.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing people enjoying my creations.
Where do you find inspiration?
In everything I see, hear, smell, touch or taste. Music is also a great source of inspiration for me. I listen to anything from classical pieces to slow ballads to rock. I can visualise food when I listen to music.
In your opinion, what makes a good dessert?
The equilibrium between all the elements - flavour, outlook, temperature and texture - are very important. However, the true key to a good dessert lies in the quality of the ingredients.
What is your favourite food from your homeland?
Anything cooked by my mother because it always has her special touch. I am particularly fond of her quince jam, which she makes from a simple recipe of water, sugar and the fruit.
It tastes almost like honey and I love it with a fresh baguette, salted butter and a cup of black coffee in the morning.
Do you like Asian cuisine?
I love all Asian food, especially Indian curry and Sichuan food, for their complex flavours. I also love Singapore noodles, which I believe is a Hong Kong dish. Late at night, there is nothing better.
You create so many sweet treats as a pastry chef. Personally, what is your favourite dessert?
I love ice cream of all sorts. It is best served simply with fruit - either fresh, caramelised or in compote, which is a flavoured syrup.
What is your favourite ingredient to work with?
That is a tough question. I can say that fresh seasonal fruits are my favourite ingredients, but I also appreciate the complex taste of pure chocolates as it allows me to create great flavours.
What is the most important thing to know for first-time bakers?
That you will fail a few times before getting to where you want to be. Perseverance is the key to success in baking. Take no shortcuts, keep trying and you will improve quickly.
What is your signature dish?
I don't really have one, but I am very keen on using breton shortbread, demisel caramel and mangoes. I like to have a bit of a salty taste in my desserts because it always makes the tastebuds more excited.
A fresh, crisp breton shortbread with fresh mangoes (above) and a demi-sel caramel ice cream is one of my popular dishes.
WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?
Cheese, grapes, sourdough bread and wine. It's a simple combination, but simple things are the best.