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Paris as Seen by Pierre Hermé

Interview edited by Sophie Delon

Pierre Hermé is one of the most talented pâtissier of his generation and his celebrity extends as far as Tokyo. It is however in Paris that he finds what he needs to satisfy his curiosity and his love of fine and good things.

You are one of the most iconic pâtissiers in Paris, but you are from the Alsace region of France. What do you remember about your early career in the capital?

I moved to Paris in 1976 when I was 14 years old. I was an apprentice at Gaston Lenôtre, which was where my professional career began. I was really very young and I worked hard. I lived in Auteuil, near to the Mirabeau bridge, in an attic room on the eighth floor. I used to get up at 4am in the morning, and then I took the bus in the direction of Plaisir to get to Lenôtre. I used to finish at 2pm and then for me it was the start of a second day. This gave me the time to discover Paris, the Paris of the pâtissier of course, but also cinema and the endless number of attractive shops. All that, I discovered on my long walks through the city streets. I really wanted to see everything, discover everything. I remember once being at the barber’s shop … he was called Alexandre, and when I was given the bill I could hardly believe my eyes: 180 Francs at that time! That was my entire salary as an apprentice, and I was used to having my hair cut for only 3 Francs in the Alsace. Gradually I came to understand that things had a different value here.

Tell us about your Paris of today.

I left my attic room in Auteuil and moved into the 20th arrondissement, in the east of the capital. Then I lived in the Marais, close to the Centre Pompidou, in Montmartre and in Asnières before returning to the 17th arrondissement where I live now. I do not have far to go to work because my office and my creative workshop are situated close by, just next to Monceau Park. I really enjoy walking there or in the surrounding area. When I am not in my shops in rue Bonaparte, rue de Vaugirard or rue Cambon, I like to travel around Paris visiting suppliers of my favorite Parisian foodstuffs. I use the opportunity to find new shops that sell products with flavors that are new to me. For meat, for example, my regular supplier is in the 14th arrondissement, at the butcher Hugo Desnoyer, whose motto is, “it is impossible to cheat, on the customer’s plate”. For fish, I go to rue Mouton-Duvernet, to the Comptoir Océanique. I buy my bread at Poilâne, rue du Cherche-Midi, or at Des Gâteaux et du Pain, boulevard Pasteur. There is nothing like it for serving with a good cheese, which I buy at Marie-Anne Cantin, rue du Champ-de-Mars, at Marie Quatrehomme, rue de Sèvres, or at Dubois, rue de Lourmel. But for most of my supplies, I go to the Alma market, on avenue du Président-Wilson, just between the Palais de Tokyo and the Galliera Museum. I have an infallible reference point there: the stalls of Joël Thiebault, the best-known market garden produce of the Place Grâce. In addition to the excellence of its produce, you can also find less common vegetables (parsnips, swedes, helianthus, Jerusalem artichokes, parsley root, etc.). I also love to nip off in between two professional meetings. I take a bit of time off for example to shop at the Finkestein deli, on rue des Rosiers (his caviar d’aubergine is irrestible!), at the chocolate maker Jean-Paul Hévin, on boulevard Saint-Germain, or at the Pâtisserie des Rêves, on rue du Bac. The one thing that I confess I don’t know very well in Paris is the foreign pâtissiers. I usually bring myself up to date when I am traveling abroad.

You spend part of your time traveling abroad. How would you describe the creative energy of Paris?

I adore the creative energy of Paris! Of course, I love to spend a few days in New York or Tokyo, but it is so wonderful to return to the capital. Paris for me is happiness; it is everything I prefer, from the point of view of culture and the art of living. There are so many exhibitions but also all types of shops. I have also noticed that there are more and more initiatives in the field of artistic creation. Patronage and support from private funds, for example, are working better and better, and it really is very encouraging!

And how do you enjoy the creative aspects of Paris?

I’m very interested in fashion, design and art. Recently, I met the Japanese artist Shinro Ohtake. He is a real star in Japan, where he is also known as Murakami. When he comes to Paris, I will take him to see my latest favorite things. I have for example recently visited Item éditions, a lithograph workshop at Montparnasse. It is well-known amongst artists, and David Lynch was working there during my last visit. I have also found some very fine works by the Chinese artist Fang Lijun there. Even if my work takes up a lot of my time, I always try to save a little time for myself to go and see an exhibition, if possible with my wife and daughter. I am also particularly fond of the Bourdelle Museum in the 15th arrondissement. Its small-scale coziness, the beauty of the works presented, both classic and contemporary, and the bucolic aspect of the venue are a great source of inspiration.

What are your next projects in the capital?

My reply will no doubt surprise you, but I would like to spend a night with my wife in a hotel in Paris, the new Royal Monceau Raffles Paris! I like to do this once or twice a year. Traveling, while staying in Paris … we will take advantage of this little interlude in my schedule to do the tour of some of the great classics: the Eiffel Tower, the Orsay Museum, the Quai-Branly Museum, Monceau Park, the Vie Romanique Museum … while waiting for the Galliera Museum to reopen.

Where to find Pierre Hermé:

PIERRE HERMÉ PARIS
www.pierreherme.com

Les boutiques Pâtisserie
72 rue Bonaparte, Paris 6th
Tel +33 (0) 1 43 54 47 77

185 rue de Vaugirard, Paris 15th
Tel +33 (0) 1 47 83 89 96

Les boutiques Macarons et Chocolat

4 rue Cambon, Paris 1st
39 avenue de l’Opéra, Paris 2nd
Publicis Drugstore, 133 avenue des Champs Élysées, Paris 8th
Galeries Lafayette, 40 boulevard Haussmann, Paris 9th
58 avenue Paul Doumer, Paris 16th

Top photograph courtesy of Janine Vasta and The New Luxury blog. Photo of Pierre Hermé courtesy of Pierre Hermé.

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3 Responses to “Paris as Seen by Pierre Hermé”

  1. Sweet Freak says:

    Love this interview! M. Hermé always seems like such a formidable character – great to hear how down-to-earth he is.

  2. Terra says:

    What an inspirational interview! Thank you for sharing:-) I just recently started my blog, and am determined to learn all I can about France. I am working towards being fluent in the beautiful French language. I would love to be an apprentice with a French chef. Now after reading that Pierre was an apprentice, I know it is possible. I love your site! I look forward to following your site, and planning my first trip to France:-)

  3. Lilia says:

    What a surprise to learn so much about my favorite patissier and chocolatier! Great to know he likes a lot of the things that keep me going back to Paris. My favorite is Ispahan…..

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