NOBODY dresses up calories better than famed French patissier Pierre Herme.
As Jeffrey Steingarten, the food critic of American Vogue aptly puts it, he is the 'Dior of desserts'.
In Herme's hands, sugary creations are swathed in romantic bijoux hues and styled in contrasting textures of sigh-soft creams and crisp macaron shells that scream chaste eroticism in one's mouth.
In a further nod to fashion, he sends his newest pastry collection down the catwalk, paraded in trays by waiters, every March and September.
Sugar addicts pay pilgrimage to his temples of haute confectionery couture in Tokyo and Paris where they go giddy frittering tomorrow's calorie-intake credit over eye candy that tastes as heavenly as it looks.
Local fans unable to lay their hands on these delectables, however, have had to settle for ogling Internet pictures of his drool-inducing macarons, a cream-filled almond sandwich.
|'I create the cakes I want to eat' -- French patissier Pierre Herme, who is unfazed by consumers who do not understand the concept behind his desserts
After an eight-year absence, the patissier is back for an encore at the World Gourmet Summit (WGS) with a five-day-long dessert dinner at Grand Hyatt's mezza9. He will also be conducting a culinary masterclass.
'WGS is a famous showcase of gastronomy attended by the best chefs and I wouldn't want to miss it,' says Herme in an e-mail interview with LifeStyle.
While the menu is still being finalised, he says diners can expect his signature creations such as Emotion Satine, a compote of passionfruit with orange segments, cream cheese and cubes of shortbread.
The 47-year-old is born to three-generations of Alsatian bakers and pastry chefs in the eastern French town of Colmar, and as a child, he was fascinated by architecture and nature.
'Had I not chosen to become a pastry chef, I would've loved to become an architect or a gardener,' he says.
But pastry-making was his first love.
Eager to achieve more than inherit the provincial family business, the 14-year-old left for Paris to become an apprentice to the legendary French pastry chef, Gaston Lenotre.
This was followed by stints at the famous classic Parisian patisseries of Fauchon and Laduree. It was at the latter that he came up with his signature pastry - Ispahan, a rose-flavoured macaron filled with rose petal cream, whole strawberries and lychee.
Pleasure, the portly chef says, is his only guide when coming up with his whimsical yet sensual creations.
'The freshness of seasonal fruit, the climate, my changing cravings, all these dictate my new recipes and creations,' says Herme.
In 1997, by a stroke of luck, he came to know the owner of the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo, who persuaded him to sell his French desserts in the hotel's boutique. Herme agreed and that proved to be the turning point of his career.
His three-month showcase in the hotel was so successful, it gave him the confidence to open a pastry store in the hotel in 1998. This was followed by a tea salon, in 2000, in Ikspiari, Tokyo.
Fuelled by his success in Tokyo, where he says 'there is a real interest in French pastry', he returned to Paris and set up shop at 72 rue Bonaparte in the Saint Germain des Pres area.
To date, his sugar empire spans two boutiques in Paris, seven outlets in Tokyo and an online shop that delivers to countries in Europe such as Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain.
He will be opening another boutique in Dubai later this year.
Despite having a finger in every pie, the patissier, who counts Renaissance visionary Leonardo da Vinci as his hero, insists on conceptualising his own desserts.
'First, I imagine the dessert, its tastes and sensations. Then I write down the recipe and draw it out for my assistant to realise the creation. I try to give my pastries a tempting look.'
He says his most out-of-the-world collection to date is Entre, French for 'between', which was released last year.
The collection consisted of four pudding desserts named after different emotions - Revelation, Indulgence, Ecstasy and Infinity, and was meant to highlight unlikely flavour compositions such as tomato and strawberry compote, cream of green peas with mint and candied ginger, as well as mascarpone cream with caramel.
Like a true high fashion designer who sticks by his vision, Herme remains unperturbed that his consumers might not understand the abstruse concepts behind his desserts.
He simply says: 'I create the cakes I want to eat.'
Patissier Herme will be cooking at Grand Hyatt's mezza9 from April 14 to 18. For reservations, call 6732-1234. He will also be conducting a culinary masterclass at the Singapore Tourism Board Auditorium on April 19. Tickets are priced at $88 per person. For reservations, call 6270-1254.
This article was first published in The Sunday Times on Mar 23, 2008.