Welcome to Tomorrow Land. Shanghai, with its 20-something million inhabitants, is a hugely popular tourist destination due to its historical landmarks and cutting-edge architecture and design. And now, the food scene has arrived in full force!
China’s rapid ascension can be seen firsthand along the Bund on the Haungpu River where the ultra-modern and ever expanding Pudong merges with the more traditional Shanghai. During my stay in the city, I decided to stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Pudong, the heart of the Financial District overlooking the Huangpu River.
The hotel has a mix of luxury hotel suites and condominiums for sale with five-star services and prices to match. The location is particularly striking in China’s most sophisticated western orientated city. I recommend a trip up to the viewing deck of the 128 floor Shanghai Tower, the world’s second tallest building, for a great view of the city.
The Mandarin is just a short walk away from the Harbor City, a new arts district, making what was once a purely financial area into a stimulating, fast evolving hub full of restaurants, cafes, and ultra luxury stores. The entire area feels brand-new.
I visited the Mandarin Oriental’s charming pastry shop, where the French Executive Pastry Chef Kevin Pannier told us about his life and career and what led him to this fascinating country towards the end of 2017. He acquired his education in the School for Certificat d’Aptitude Professionnelle (CAP) diploma in pastry and bakery in Versailles, then he completed a program with Le Cordon Bleu Paris and Olivier Bajard International Pastry School in Perpignan. His 15 years of culinary experience has taken him to Wellington, Kiev, Dubai, Moscow, Bermuda, and France. Now, in China, he is looking forward to spoiling his guests again with sumptuous pastries.
I started when I was 14 years old, I decided to learn and work to become a chef de cuisine, and destiny made me a pastry chef. I say that because when I was studying and working, they put me to work the very same day in pastry. It took me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting it, but I did enjoy it and started to work in pastry and that motivated me to pursue a career in the pastry world.
Where was your first position as a pastry chef?
It was in Ukraine. We opened a luxury brasserie with a 300-seat restaurant for lunch and dinner. It was my first managing position as pastry chef, which was a big challenge because I didn’t speak Ukrainian, Russian or English, so I remember we had to communicate with hand motions, etc. But I was happy, and after that I met the Executive Chef that was in charge of the opening of the Fairmont Hotel in Kiev and he invited me to join his team as the Pastry Chef for the new Fairmont.
That was a big step up for me, I was just 22 years old and coming from a restaurant to being in
charge of a five-star hotel pastry shop, which wasn’t going to be easy.
Was it difficult to move from Paris to Shanghai?
Not really. I had spent ten years working overseas; I worked in Dubai, Russia and the Ukraine. In 2015 I opened the school in Paris, Chateau de Ferrier, which focuses on gastronomy and the hospitality industry. I was in charge of the desserts of two restaurants on site, named Le baron and Le Chai which opened in late 2015. There are also two restaurants at the hotel with the same names. Before that, I worked at The Fairmont Hamilton Princess in Bermuda and at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow, and also at Fairmont Dubai and Fairmont Kiev.
“I like to play with flavors, to bring something new, create new flavors, my inspirations, if you give me a theme and I’ll make the desserts according to the theme that clients want”
What has been a major challenge that you have encounter, besides language?
Everything was easier when I learned how to speak English. When I worked in Dubai it was so much easier to speak English due to Dubai being a melting pot of people from all over the world and they all speak English. Culture is a challenge sometimes due to religion, eating habits, and people work differently than we do in Europe. I love working with people from different backgrounds and cultures because you always learn a lot of new things. Now I have a staff of 24, more than half don’t speak English, so what I do is repeat, explain, and demonstrate! If not, I make something myself!
What kind of cakes and pastries do you make for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel?
The Mandarin Hotel here is a European Experience for the guests. The hotel has three restaurants plus the cake shop, club floor, and tea every day. We try to work with seasonal produce as much as possible, now we have to change 30% or 40% of the menu in the cake shop.
For me, the most important thing is flavor and taste. In the pastry I made for this article I used a mix of almonds, rosemary, and almond- like flavors we can find in the south of France. I like to play with flavors, to bring something new, create new flavors, my inspirations. If you give me a theme, I’ll make the desserts according to the theme that clients want. I do my research on the internet, it gives me ideas, and helps me create new desserts.
What do you like the most about working at this hotel from the other hotels where you have worked?
What I like about this hotel that the others were lacking is clearly the Cake shop. I started working at a cake shop when I was young so I kind of missed it, so I always wanted to work in a hotel with a cake shop and this hotel has a very nice one. This is the second hotel that I have worked at with a real cake shop. All the big five-star hotels have pastry shops, but here the concept is very different, we have to change the menu every month. Its challenging to serve a wide variety of freshly baked, homemade pastries, chocolates, breads and cakes. Using only the finest ingredients, the cake shop offers a changing selection of baked goods, pick up sweets, and bon-bons.
“All the big five-star hotels have pastry shops, but here the concept is very different, we have to change the menu every month. Its challenging to serve a wide variety of freshly baked, homemade pastries, chocolates, breads and cakes”
The Cake shop is open to the public, it’s not only for the Hotel Guests or Residents, so I pay extra attention when it comes to creating a new item to sell because I’m the executive chef and I’m responsible for the quality, look and taste of the products that we display in the cake shop. We create jewel-like cakes for the high-end clientele that stops by.
When I have an idea for a new cake, I will have the recipe ready, and during the process I will add something or change something. I always keep my mind busy creating new things. Clients like to give me themes and I come up with amazing desserts for them.