He belongs to a generation of well-trained, hyperactive, openminded French pastry chefs with clear ideas and a well-armed discourse. When he was only 3 or 4 years old, Rémi Montagne already said he wanted to be a cuisinier des gâteaux. He started out in his godmother’s bakery and with his uncle, a pastry chef. Although he started with bread, he was soon taken over by the ‘gourmandise’ (a term difficult to translate, but which comes to mean something like ‘sweet pleasure’). ‘I love the smells, the variety of products we have available. The balance between rigor and creativity. Pastry is associated with good moments in life, with pleasure, and it’s certainly nice to be able to participate in it,’ he says at so good.. 28.
After his training, he had the opportunity to teach at the mythical ENSP and from there to L’École du Grand Chocolat de Valrhona, where he has been Executive Pastry Chef, leading a team, or as he himself says, ‘a golden team’. We do not forget the brilliant triumph representing his country at the Coppa del Mondo della Gelateria 2018. Now Montagne is working hard on a new and exciting project, an ice cream & chocolate shop in which he will implement those clear ideas to which we alluded, ingredients and products as fresh as possible, all made in the workshop, simple combinations so as to not get lost in the tasting, and an unwavering pursuit of pleasure.
What is your current role at L’École du Grand Chocolat?
I had the opportunity to play all the jobs until I was proud to be Executive Chef of the Valrhona School in Tain l’Hermitage and to lead the team of Chefs. A golden team with great people. These 10 years at Valrhona have been extraordinary, so full of everything. Currently I do consulting, service delivery and a lot of forecasting, budgeting….
What can you tell us about your new project? An ice-cream and chocolate shop? What is the idea?
It is still under study, it will be an ice cream and chocolate shop, accessible, focused on gourmandise and pleasure. No frills, but good products, simple recipes to make the most of everyone’s work. We will work as much as possible directly with the producers, we will use the products at the moment of optimal ripeness and we will transform them quickly to extract the quintessence. Production will be located as close as possible to the maximum of ingredients. We will be between Ardèche and Haute Loire. Of course, we will do everything in-house with the aim of using only unprocessed ingredients and transforming them directly.
How do you define your pastry? What are your specialties?
My specialty is rather not having any specialty, I like everything. I like simple things, 2-3 flavors so I don’t get lost during tasting, adding something extra to brighten up the taste buds. I enjoy making new shapes, new decorations without buying new equipment, diverting utensils from their initial functions. I like taking inspiration from nature, objects or other professions. They say my products are ludiques, mignons, gourmands.
‘I like taking inspiration from nature, objects or other professions. They say my products are ludiques, mignons, gourmands’
Diet, light, healthy, fat-free, sugar-free… Today’s consumers are subjected to all these messages. Where is haute pâtisserie heading? Is there a middle ground between pleasure and health?
Habits, needs and expectations are constantly changing. The evolution has been enormous in recent years. Pastry creams are now half as sweet as when I learned them, cakes are smaller, less fatty, there is almost no alcohol anymore… There is serious research to eliminate sugar, but unfortunately there are confusions. Sometimes we hear about eliminating sugar when the baker has only replaced sugar with glucose or fructose or simply added acidity. Indeed, the sweetness perception will be lower, but the number of calories are the same. Sugars help in many other ways, such as texture, preservation,… so it is difficult to do without them completely. Evolution is necessary, but it must be reasonable. There is no point in taking from one side and adding to the other. It is a question of balance.
There are also ingredients of vegetable origin, which are very interesting when they improve flavor or texture. This is a delicate work that we have done at Valrhona and that will accelerate even more in the future.
An egg-free fruit recipe is much fruitier and you don’t have that cooked egg taste. A sablé containing coconut oil or cocoa butter is much crispier. I am a bit wary of all substitute products, I think you have to be moderate in their use, even avoid them if they are not irreproachable. Pastry must remain good for the taste’s sake, but also for the body and the spirit’s. If there is no gustatory pleasure or if the next day it provokes rejection, we are not on the right track.
What products or elements should never be missing in a good dessert or cake?
It’s hard for me to do without a crisp in a cake. And then the contrasts, they are very important regarding textures, temperatures, flavor: a touch of salt, an acidic gel… They are the little surprise during the tasting.
‘I am a bit wary of all substitute products, I think you have to be moderate in their use, even avoid them if they are not irreproachable’
Why French pastry is considered to be the best?
Thanks to Valrhona, I was able to meet many pastry chefs in France and abroad and taste countless cakes. Honestly, my best pastry memories are not from France. I think it is also linked to the mood when you travel, something that influences the tasting… even if it is ‘French pâtisserie’. For example, I love Patrice Demers in Montreal and Norihiko Terai in Tokyo.
Food is essential in France and is the centerpiece of parties and events. We are fortunate to have a wide variety of high-quality products. There are also customers willing to spend money to treat themselves throughout the year. Training works quite well although there is room for improvement. Cooking and baking are also part of the world of luxury, refinement, high end and French culture. It is therefore valued and promoted.
‘Seasonality is not just a time of year, it’s also proximity. It’s always in season somewhere, but a strawberry is never better than eating it straight from the orchard’
What does today’s pastry lack? And what does it have in excess?
I find the work done in hotels really impressive, a lot of refinement and a lot of creativity. It still sometimes lacks a bit of sincerity and seasonality, especially in the stores. To keep seeing raspberries all year round is complicated. Seasonality is not just a time of year, a date, it’s also proximity. It’s always in season somewhere, but a strawberry is never better than eating it straight from the orchard.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion among the general public as with many other topics, I imagine. ‘Frozen’ gets confused with low-end industrial products. Big production is equated with poor quality, and it’s not true. We can do little, all homemade and do it very badly, with bad, semi-finished products and the same improvers that the industry uses. Conversely, we can make large amounts and freeze as needed for various applications (molds, production, etc.), and do very well. There is a lot of work to be done in education and communication in order to evolve.