Grégoire Michaud, Renaissance man of pâtisserie
If there is such a person as a Renaissance man of pâtisserie, surely he is Grégoire Michaud. The affable Swiss-born pastry chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong refuses to limit himself to just one area of the baking arts.
“During my apprenticeship [in boutique bakeries], I had to learn everything—pastries, breads, chocolate and desserts,” he recalls. “Today, I am as passionate about baking bread, making chocolate bonbons or making ‘macarons.’”
Chef Grégoire leads a team of 18 bakers and “pâtissiers” who work round-the-clock to provide the Four Seasons’ restaurants, bar and banquet services with all manner of baked goods, desserts and confectionery showpieces. It is no mean task. In the only hotel in the world with two Michelin three-star restaurants under its roof, every morsel served must meet the highest expectations.
Collaborating with the restaurants’ acclaimed chefs, the chef pâtissier creates specialty breads and occasional desserts that match their needs and demonstrate his originality. When chef Vincent Thierry of Caprice, the French restaurant, conceptualized a new seafood appetizer based on the classic club sandwich, Grégoire used squid ink and lemon to make a black-tinted bread “that tastes like seaweed.”
For chef Chan Yan Tak, the first Chinese chef to earn the coveted three stars for his Cantonese cuisine at Lung King Heen, he developed a method for infusing crème brûlée with the essence of preserved tangerine skins.
But chef Grégoire’s artistry really takes center stage at The Lounge, the hotel’s elegantly casual dining room, where he brings the traditional English afternoon tea “back to its own right. Other places try to be so different with their offerings that [tea time] is no longer relevant to its origins,” he notes. “We are very classic in style but our creations are always evolving.”
Indeed, afternoon tea at the Four Seasons, considered one of the best in Hong Kong, is a far cry from the white gloves, lace doilies and stuffy chintz-covered parlors of old. The Lounge is a chic, open space accented by brushed silver and honey-hued wood, and boasting floor-to-cathedral-ceiling windows that draw in natural light on even the dreariest day.
The menu is updated quarterly by chef Grégoire, who constantly brainstorms new offerings with his assistant pastry chef Ringo Chan. “We come up with about 15 new kinds of pastries and desserts, then narrow it down and fine-tune each one,” he explained. “We go with the seasons. Inspiration just comes from what’s in the air.”
“Airy” aptly describes one confection of “yuzu” curd enclosed in a delicate sugar shell over Breton shortbread, while each piece of imperfectly shaped honeycomb and dried blueberry candies, hand-dipped in dark chocolate and gilded with edible gold spray, is as unique as a gemstone.
Seasonal flavors shine in chef Grégoire’s playful take on autumn pastries. There are brown sugar-crusted profiteroles filled with creamed pumpkin pie, alongside chestnut bars made with slivers of puff pastry and chocolate genoise cushioning chestnuts made three ways: curd, mousse and candied.
The stars of teatime, however, are scrumptious scones with their crisp outer crust and soft inner crumb. Chef Grégoire and his team sampled recipes from tearooms and hotels all over the world before adapting their favorites to create the famous Four Seasons scones, which are properly served with imported Devonshire clotted cream and made-from-scratch fruit jams such as a sweet-tart apricot and gooseberry.
Given chef Grégoire’s dedication to his craft, it would be no surprise if he kept his recipes a secret. But that’s just not his style, as he proved by publishing four books on baking and desserts.
“Of course, there are recipes you keep back because they’re very unique,” he concedes, before adding with a smile, “But when you write a book, you open up to the world and say, ‘Hello! I’m going to share with you all I know.’”
In addition to his cookbooks, he maintains a blog full of baking tips, updates on his latest projects and more recipes, including one for those fabulous scones. He is also active on Facebook and Twitter, where he attracts followers daily, thanks to an outgoing personality that is as fun and approachable online as it is in person. Still, he limits what he will reveal publicly.
“I’ve learned to share only what is relevant to people. I will talk about my mood when it’s about an important [social] issue or a cause, but not about just me,” he says somberly.
Then, the boyish grin is back. “But I will share my pain when I go to the dentist, which happened not long ago—horrible!”
What’s next for the multitasking chef Grégoire? He has coyly hinted at a fifth book in the works and tantalized blog readers with a sneak peek at his (not yet available) line of chocolate bonbons. Currently, he is preparing for the eagerly anticipated Easter Afternoon Tea and the delightfully whimsical confections of pastry and chocolate for which he is quickly gaining renown.
As he continues to charm with his unique treats, the question is whether he can outdo himself every time or if his font of ideas will one day run dry.
“As long as you allow yourself to be a little bit crazy or to try things that don’t make sense, then you challenge yourself to make sense of it and eventually something new comes out,” he says. “It is important to have a vision and stick to what you believe. I believe in simple, clean and authentic [in what we make] as long as it pleases people. That is the ultimate goal—to give pleasure with our creations.”
Check out chef Grégoire’s blog at www.gregoiremichaud.com for recipes, tips and information about his books.
For information about Afternoon Tea at The Lounge, please visit The Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong website at www.fourseasons.com/hongkong/dining/.
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