A part of this article has been drawn from the curtain-raiser I wrote for the Mail Today dated March 7, 2012.
By Sourish Bhattacharyya
IN THE 13-year history of the India Today Conclave, the only chef who has had anything to do with the country's definitive festival of ideas is a self-effacing man named Rajesh Wadhwa, who presides over the kitchens of the Taj Palace, New Delhi, and ensures that each gala dinner is more memorable than the one before.
A little later today, for the first time in the history of the India Today Conclave and its many copycats, a chef is going to take the centre-stage. France's most celebrated pastry chef and the god of macaroons, Pierre Herme, will showcase his world of flavours, first at a solo session and then at high tea, where the delegates will get to sample the confection that has the world from London to Qatar, Dubai and Tokyo eating out of his hand.
|Pierre Herme is the youngest |
man ever to be named France's
Pastry Chef of the Year. Picture
Copyright: Jean Louis Bloch Laine
Herme, who's on his first visit to India, is being presented by the Embassy of France. The Ambassador of France, Francois Richier, a master of nuclear diplomacy in the mould of our own Rakesh Sood, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, was worried that Herme's macaroons may sideline weightier matters such as nuclear power and the space programme.
It may happen, though, that the Picasso of Pastry, which is how Vogue magazine has described the patissier, wakes up the delegates and get them into the mood to discuss the eclectic range of subjects lined up for Conclave's Day Two -- from psephology to robotics, terror to space exploration, cinema to sanitation, and finally, Salman Khan on 'Being Human'. France is the Conclave's partner country -- and you can't imagine it without good food and wine. Hence Herme.
The youngest person to be named France's Pastry Chef of the Year, and the only member of his profession to be inducted into the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur, the French equivalent of a knighthood, Herme is best-known for his unusual macaroons, his most famous creation being the one with olive oil and vanilla.
Christophe Gillino, a world-travelled Frenchman and Executive Chef of The Leela Palace New Delhi, underlined the importance of Herme when he said that the extraordinarily talented pastry chef was responsible for turning around the fortunes of two old French gourmet institutions -- Fauchon and Laduree. Then he went on to create an international chain of gourmet patisseries. Herme will interact with the city's pastry chefs and gourmet bloggers at Le Cirque, The Leela Palace New Delhi's signature restaurant, on Monday, March 10.
Heir to four generations of an Alsatian bakery and pastry-making tradition, Herme is not a stranger to generous accolades. Paris Match magazine has called Herme the "magician with tastes", The New York Times hailed him as "The Kitchen Emperor" and The Guardian described him as "The King of Modern Pâtisserie".
Herme, 52, started apprenticing with the pastry-making legend, Gaston Lenotre, when he was 14, and then went on to revolutionise his craft with his original philosophy of taste, sensations and pleasure. He was the one, for instance, who promoted the idea of the use of sugar as salt -- "as a seasoning to heighten other shades of flavour".
When Desserts by Pierre Herme was released in 1999, the world therefore wasn't surprised to see him overturning established norms by marrying unusual ingredients, such as black pepper and an optional sliver of habanero in his Warm Chocolate and Banana Tart, or a basil chiffonade as garnishing for his Basmati Rice and Fruits-of-the-Moment Salad.
He is a thinking person's pastry chef and a successful business baron who made the idea of 'Patisserie Haute Couture' an international statement of style, which has powered the growth of his chain of pastry shops from Tokyo in 1998 to France, England, Hong Kong, Qatar and Dubai.
Before he launched his empire of taste, Herme was the pastry chef for 11 years for the French fine food merchant, Fauchon, and in 1997, he was powering the expansion of another French institution, the luxury bakery, Laduree. He brings to New Delhi this vast experience and he will be here to talk about his life's journey with "pleasure as the only guide".