Geneva is a city in Switzerland, located at the southern tip of Lake Geneva. Surrounded by the beautiful Alps the city has great views of Mont Blanc. Since its foundation the Canton of Geneva has always been a trading post, attracting merchants from all over the world, the city became famous for different things like: fancy watches, jewelry, and of course Chocolate shops.
Geneva is home to the Headquarters of Europe’s United Nations and the Red Cross, among other international organizations, making this city a global hub for diplomacy and banking. French influence is widespread, from the language to gastronomy, I visited the city last month and had the opportunity to interview Executive pastry chef for the Mandarin Oriental Geneva, Michaël Perrichon.
Originally from France, Perrichon grew up in the city of Saint-Etienne located in easter central France, and close to Lyon the Gastronomical capital of France. He grew up with no culinary background in his family, except for his uncle who had a bakery business and gave him the opportunity to discover what later in life will become his passion, the baking and pastry world.
“I started working for my uncle family bakery when he was 14 years old during my holidays. One of my first memories working there was the great work atmosphere in the bakery and also making petite fours, like langue du chats, macarons, etc.”
Did you go to school to study baking and Pastry?
At school, I was very good student in general. My teacher at the time, was surprised I wanted to pursue a carrier in baking and pastry, they didn’t understand why I wanted to go to do an apprantissage where you attend 1 week at school and 3 weeks at work. They didn’t want me to do this so I enrolled in the Centre de Formation Apprentice for Pastry and Baking. During this time I worked in two bakeries and one pastry shop, in small town near my parents. Right after completing my studies I continue with my education and attended a certification at “mention complementaire Patisserie in Paris and then Back pro for another 2 years”.
What was your first professional job after you graduate from your pastry studies?
I finish school when I was 21 years old, at that point I had a background just working in bakeshops and pastry shops, at this moment for me I loved the job, but I worked on the weekends and working every night. It was a moment in life that was complicated, I had meet my wife already, At that moment I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t have any plan. I wasn’t really happy with my job, but I needed more excitement in my life. One of my first jobs I worked with a chef who was close to Jean Francois Mesplede, who wrote the book Lyon Restaurants. This book is like the Michelin star guide but only for restaurants in the region of Lyon. I meet Jean Francois and explained me about what is like to work in restaurants and told me that if I wanted to work in restaurants he could help. I decide to pursue a change my path in my career and started working in the restaurant business.
Soon after Jean Francois told me that Fredy Girardet was looking for a pastry cook for his restaurant brigade in Geneva. I apply, and got the job and got it. I started working under the tutelage of Chef Philipe Chevrier and Pastry Chef Christophe Lange.
Was it hard to get the job and what did you do to get it?
First you have to have a work permit to work in Switzerland, it is a very rigorous process like other places around the world. The company or employer has to prove the government that there are no other person in the country that could do your job. Manual work in Switzerland is highly priced, specially in the kitchen, Switzerland has a lot of hotel and tourism management schools but not culinary schools, since there are not so many Swiss people who do this kind of jobs the demand for qualified chefs is large. 90% of the people who work at the Mandarin Oriental are foreigners.
“Manual work in Switzerland is highly priced, specially in the kitchen, Switzerland has a lot of hotel and tourism management schools but not culinary schools… 90% of the people who work at the Mandarin Oriental are foreigners”
How do you make people like their job and what do you do to keep them motivated?
You need to be open, the reason I am here is because of my team, I have a seven people brigade, I start around 9:00 am, depending if we have a lot of work I start at 5:00 am, we have a relative small pastry operation here, compare to other at the Mandarin Oriental properties.
My effort is to create a strong pastry team who love to come to work, they come because they work with their heart, I realize that by creating team spirit and team effort, is the first thing to come to work everyday. We create Delightful memories for our guests when they eat, our desserts.
Does the hotel have plans to open a Pastry Shop or a Chocolate Shop inside the hotel like other Mandarin Oriental Properties around the world?
In Geneva you find chocolate shops in every corner, I think if we open something with the company. I much rather open a bakery. We are lacking in the city of good bakeries, some good French pastry chefs have open pastry shops like: Christophe Feldear and Jean Michelle.
I think maybe in the future we could see something opening at this property.
“Creativity is a key factor when I make desserts, seasonability, and good quality ingredients”
How do you see the future of pastry in Geneva?
Geneva is a very prestigious place to work, is defenitly changing and in the past years we have seen an improvement in the pastry scene. Chefs are moving and opening pastry stores and restaurants in the city and with social media its pretty open to see what chefs from around the world are up to now.
The different pastry chefs who work at prestigious locations tend to talk to each other and get to know each other, its a small city so we all feel the business, sometimes when we have time we meet to chat and change ideas, this has influence and style making desserts.
What do you first take in consideration when you create a new dessert?
Creativity is a key factor when I make desserts, seasonability, and good quality ingredients.
If I start to think about one project I find the way to make it happen maybe, last moment I will change something, I like to pursue different ideas when it comes to choose, I like to change to make things better. I like to hear the feed back of the guests, is very important, I like to check the plates if they come empty and clean, when it does I know my dessert was a success.
“I like to check the plates if they come empty and clean, when it does I know my dessert was a success”
For the past years we have seen a culinary and pastry reborn of Switzerland as a European top competitor among other European powers do you think this trend will continue?
Switzerland has change since I arrive to live here 10 years ago, you hear about all the accomplishments of the Swiss culinary teams, by being located in the middle of Europe, it gets influence by France, Italy, Germany.
Swiss have a large tradition of being perfectionist, they practice until they get perfect at what ever they set their goals, they are very competitive people.