In only six years, Jerome Landrieu has turned the Chicago Chocolate Academy into one of the most important centers of attraction for the pastry and chocolate industry in the USA. This is the reward for perseverance, as well as for hard, well-done work. Now, the Academy is active again after a profound renovation of its facilities, ‘we now have three kitchens: one focused on high production, one focused on smaller artisanal work and one just for research and development’ specifies the chef.
In these pages, we take stock of this period together with Landrieu and ask him about the present and future of pastry: ‘Anything is possible. The world is always changing and people are hungry for new concepts’, he concludes.
Could you evaluate your first six years in the Chicago Chocolate Academy? What works well and what can be improved?
The Chicago Chocolate Academy literally started from nothing. It was just under construction when I arrived in the USA. We were certainly set up for success – you see that immediately when you walk into the school. We have the most state of the art equipment, tons of space and more ingredients and supplies than I ever wished for. We opened in 2008 in a bad economy, with our goal set high: to be the top destination for chocolate education in North America. As with everything in this world, success did not come easy. Early mornings and late nights. Successes and failures. I spent months and months molding the academy to be what it is today. At first I did anything just to get customers ‘in the door’: consumer classes, corporate events… literally anything. I was eventually able to build my team and market the academy to professionals. Through my family (friends) I have made over the years, the industry’s top chefs made themselves available to come teach classes at the academy in Chicago. Word spread quickly and we every class we teach has a waiting list.
We never sit still even though the machine is running so well. We are constantly improving. We take suggestions from our students seriously and work as hard as possible to meet their needs.
What are your future plans for the school? Any new courses in sight?
The school just went under a huge renovation. We now have three kitchens: one focused on high production, one focused on smaller artisanal work and one just for research and development.
We always have new classes and new chefs. There are a lot of exciting people coming to teach: Chef Lilian Bonnefoi, Chef Xano Saguer and Chef Mathieu Blandin to name a few.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the basics are the key. Discovering Chocolate, to this day, is our most popular and potentially our most important class. If you cannot crystallize chocolate, you cannot be a chocolatier. It is plain and simple. But, Discovering Chocolate is just the beginning of a journey.
The school just went under a huge renovation. We now have three kitchens: one focused on high production, one focused on smaller artisanal work and one just for research and development
What surprised you most lately about pastry? Where? Why?
I am surprised and inspired by my students! I did not grow up with things handed to me… by any means! Anything I have now, I have because I worked for it. I was lucky, however, to grow up in France, where the pastry industry has been a staple in people’s lives for decades and decades. When I was an apprentice there was a patisserie or boulangerie on every corner. What amazes me is that I have students coming from parts of the world where pastry is just starting to emerge – Nigeria, Colombia and Venezuela to name a few. Students travel great distances to learn this craft I have devoted my life to. These students are inspired! And it inspires me.
I have students coming to the academy to learn about chocolate and pastry who did not grow up even knowing what a ‘pain au chocolat’ was; yet they are driven to master and succeed in this delicious world of chocolate and spread the love to their own demographics. Chocolate truly has no boundaries. It speaks every language. And it is constantly in the pursuit of happiness.
Trends are just that: trendy. Most of the time they will not last if you do not have a solid foundation
Where is pastry heading for? What are the future trends?
With social media today, there is no way to even guess what the next trend will be. In the USA a chef and friend of mine recently achieved monumental success by combining a traditional French croissant with an American breakfast pastry: a doughnut. People went crazy – waiting in line for hours just to taste one. I am not going to lie, I’ve tried one and they are amazing. I think there are two things to keep in mind when it comes to trends: Anything is possible. The world is always changing and people are hungry for new concepts. Get inspired and you’ll have a better chance of inspiring others.
Trends are just that: trendy. Most of the time they will not last if you do not have a solid foundation.
Tell us about the creations you present in So good.. magazine. What is the idea?
For this issue of So Good, I created a series of petits fours. The definition of ‘petits fours’ for me is a bite that wins you over instantaneously. It is one bite, maybe two at the most; so you have no wiggle room for magic – thought and technique must be present.
I decided to challenge myself with this medium because I enjoy reinventing the classics, petit fours have existed since the 18th century. For me it is exciting to put a modern spin on a classic pastry, I try to keep some elements that define it and then spin another element. I explore new ways to achieve exciting textures and flavors. Most often, petits fours are produced in large quantities; I kept that in mind when refining my recipes. It is one challenge to create something that looks spectacular but takes a long time to reproduce, but it is an even bigger challenge to create something spectacular that a seasoned chef can produce quickly that still, most importantly, tastes delicious. In the recipes here, I tried playing with shape and color, focusing on an elegant and classy look.