Alexandre Macaud isn’t your average 25-year-old. Sure, the Benoit (60 West 55th Street, 646-943-7373) pastry chef has put in his fair share of internship time and worked his way up the culinary ladder — but an early recognized passion and young start (i.e. teenage years) catapulted the Nantes native into a series of coveted formative year gigs, from Michelin-starred apprenticeships to crafting life-size cacao sculptures at the eminent workshop of Patrick Roger chocolatiers. Here, we chatted with Macaud about sugar-inducing nostalgia, his secret kitchen weapon, and his strong case for chocolate as dessert.
Do you remember the moment you decided you wanted to become a pastry chef?
I was young, only a teenager, when I enrolled in a training patisserie program in Nantes. I have always known that I loved pastry. I grew up making crepes and apple pie alongside my grandmother and appreciate the nostalgia associated with dessert.
How would you describe your culinary style?
At Benoit, we create a pastry menu that reflects Alain Ducasse and executive chef Philippe Bertineau’s dedication to classic technique and artisanal products, transforming seasonal ingredients into sweet delicacies.
What have you learned, so far, in your experience at Benoit?
This is my first position in the United States. I have learned the value of staying true to the classics at Benoit while exploring creative flavor combinations, such as our chestnut and grapefruit tart, which we serve throughout winter.
What was your favorite dessert growing up in France?
I loved my grandmother’s gauffres, or waffles. Comforting sweets like these have inspired many of the dishes on the pastry trolley at Benoit — our patisseries parisiennes, which includes a variety of authentic patisserie that remind me of my childhood.
What is it about chocolate — dark chocolate, in particular — that so deeply interests you?
Chocolate is a magical ingredient that offers the perfect end to a meal. Whether in a soufflé or served alongside our profiteroles, a rich, dark chocolate adds the sweet touch that is always satisfying.
What are the biggest culinary differences you’ve noticed in a French restaurant in America versus a French restaurant in France?
Since I arrived at Benoit, I have employed the classic training I learned in France in a more modern way. Chef Bertineau and I work hand in hand to add contemporary twists to the traditional dishes that we grew up with in France, which is what makes the New York dining scene so special.
Are there any ingredients that are difficult to find here (but easy to source in France) that you miss working with?
I find that my options are boundless here in New York, and as the seasons change I can always find new ingredients to work into the dessert menu, especially the brunch buffet, where we offer unlimited sweets to our guests.
Do you have any secret kitchen weapons — ingredients or tools — that you couldn’t live without?
I can’t live without my molds when making chocolate.
What do you like most about being a pastry chef?
Each day I wake up looking forward to getting into the kitchen. I love that I have the opportunity to transform seasonal flavors and ingredients into pastries that people can enjoy.
What do you like to do in your free time?
In my free time I like to explore the city’s sweet offerings.
At just 25 years old, you’ve accomplished a lot within a short period of time. What advice would you give to young chefs who are looking to do the same?
Listen to the advice you are given throughout the journey. I am thankful for all of the things that I have learned from the pastry chefs that I worked for throughout the years.