Yesterday we spoke with pastry chef François Payard of François Payard Bakery, who told us all about why macarons are superior to cupcakes and how to celebrate Macaron Day on March 20. (Hint: Eat lots of macarons.) Today he explains why it’s important to apprentice in the kitchen and why you must always, always, always flambé a baked Alaska.
What skills are important to have if you want to become a pastry chef?
Two things. Try to go to a school and get a basic foundation, and try to find a place to apprentice for three or six months for knowledge. School provides a foundation, but with a stage you can learn a lot of things. That’s really the best way. In America, people jump too fast. I’d go to school, then see an American bakery and then one place like mine, so I could see different worlds. You have to be open-minded. People come out of schools and they think they know everything, but it’s really a long investment.
What was the first dessert you ever made?
I think truffles. I was working with my grandpa when I was seven or eight years old. My grandpa had a chocolate shop and I’d help him in the afternoon and be covered with chocolate everywhere. When you’re a kid you want to help, but you don’t do much. My grandpa was happy for me to keep myself busy, but the real first dessert I made was when I started with my dad making éclairs. The thing about what we do in pastry is the more you repeat, the better you get. Piping comes with repetition. You want to be incredible, get a lesson and practice. People say, “I can’t do that,” because they don’t want to try. I have a sous chef who wanted to learn to make sugar flowers. So in his free time, he practices.
So what’s your all-time favorite dessert?
I skip dessert because I’m not too skinny. I love ice cream. But if I can skip dessert, I do. Sometimes when I go to restaurants to learn or see different things, I’ll have some. I was in Miami for the Food and Wine Festival and went to Juvia. The pastry chef worked for me and it was very good. And then I went to another place and it was weird, to tell the truth. I had a baked Alaska and it wasn’t flambéed. It’s so sweet and you can’t even eat it. I asked the waiter about the alcohol and he said they don’t do that. It was a simple dessert, but so sweet for me. Why call it something if you can’t deliver? Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but if I’m looking for baked Alaska, I want the show. Crêpes Suzette, I want it flambéed. If I want an apple, I don’t want to get a pear.