Food & Drink

How the Japanese Influence Has Revamped French Pâtisserie

By May 18, 2017 No Comments
Matcha éclairs by Aki Boulanger in Paris by Isabel Best

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Just a short stroll from the Hotel Indigo Paris – Opera, you will find a typical bakery on a corner of rue Saint Anne. Step inside Aki Boulanger, however, and you enter the strange world of Franco-Japanese pastry, where the éclairs are filled with yuzu-flavoured cream and the brioche is marbled with red bean paste and matcha.

Japanese-infused renewal at Aki Boulanger

The creations of Aki Boulanger in Paris by Isabel Best

The creations of Aki Boulanger in Paris by Isabel Best

A Parisian would tell you this is the norm in the rue Saint Anne neighbourhood, which is renowned for its Japanese restaurants and supermarkets. But these boutiques are part of a much wider trend in which Japanese chefs are breathing new life into Parisian pâtisserie traditions and their French counterparts are being inspired in return.

“Japanese culture is about being meticulous; they work almost to the milligram.”

Tokyo-born Sadaharu Aoki is the award-winning chocolatier and pastry chef who pioneered the Japanese presence in Paris. He now has five boutiques in the city, including a concession in the Galeries Lafayette Food Hall. Aoki has earned his place in the pantheon of Parisian pâtisserie stars as the offbeat, cool alternative to Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. Aoki hasn’t just mastered the classics. He’s given them a fresh twist, going the extra mile with exquisite presentations.

Aoki also has a refreshing tendency—shared by many of his compatriots—to reduce the sugar content of his cakes to create more delicate flavours.

Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki - by Isabel Best

Selected pastries from Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki

What explains this influx of Japanese chefs in Paris? The Japanese love French pastry. Even though they have very distinctive cake traditions,“I would say 80 percent of bakeries in Japan are in the French tradition,” says Olivier Haustraete, an up-and-coming French baker who worked at Alain Ducasse’s Beige for two years..

Almost every famous French pâtissier has a lucrative outpost in Japan. Meanwhile, for many Japanese chefs, it’s become an essential rite of passage to travel to Paris and train with the best.

Boulangerie du Nil & TOMO in Paris

“They have a greater respect for French tradition than us,” Haustraete remarks. They also bring a Japanese work ethic that is well suited to the exacting standards of French pâtisserie. “Japanese culture is about being meticulous; they work almost to the milligram.”

Shinya Inagaki of Boulangerie du Nil offers a range of French classics, from naturally leavened country loaves to buttery croissants, and they’re exceptional. To achieve this quality, he travelled across the country in search of the best suppliers working to slow-food principles.

But the love affair cuts both ways. TOMO is the brainchild of French pastry chef and Japanophile Romain Gaia and his partner in crime Murata Takanori. Their minimalist Japanese tearoom specialises in dorayaki, a classic Japanese snack featuring sweet red bean paste sandwiched between cloud-like pancakes. Only here, you’ll also find some decidedly off-piste versions like the Paris-Kyoto, with a praline cream filling that calls to mind the classic French Paris-Brest.

Boulangerie BO celebrates Japanese traditions from a French point of view

Likewise, Haustraete fuses French tradition with Japanese seasonal ingredients at Boulangerie BO. In the spring you’ll find his celebrated Mont Azuki, a play on the classic French Mont Blanc. He replaces the emblematic ‘noodles’ of sweet chestnut puree with a pale pink azuki bean purée, delicately scented with Japanese cherry blossom.

Mont Azuki from Boulangerie BO - Photo by Isabel Best

Mont Azuki from Boulangerie BO – Photo by Isabel Best

And even the best French chefs enjoy the work of their Japanese peers. Mori Yoshida‘s sleek, minimalist bakery is a favourite among layman and Michelin-starred chef alike.You know you’ve arrived as a pastry chef when your customers include the Michelin-starred Thierry Marx, Pierre Hermé—the god of all things pastry—and Julien Alvarez of Café Pouchkine.

“You can find all of French history and culture in its pâtisserie,” says Yoshida

Yoshida’s creations are Japanese only in their aesthetics. He is not interested in fusion cuisine. Trained by Jacques Genin, Yoshida loves pure French ingredients and traditions. And, like his role models, Pierre Hermé and Angelo Musa, he wants to contribute to the evolution of pâtisserie.

Pastry Chef Mori Yoshida is a favourite of Paris Michelin-star Chefs

Pastry Chef Mori Yoshida is a favourite of Paris Michelin-star Chefs

With Yoshida, it’s all about the balance of flavour and texture. His signature creations include his celebrated M cake, featuring chocolate mousse, caramelised maple syrup, mandarin jam, and hazelnut nougatine—the perfect expression contemporary French pâtisserie.

“For me, it’s about respecting French heritage and culture,” Yoshida concludes. “You can find all of French history and culture in its pâtisserie.”

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