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Memories are made of these

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-08-23 16:29:22
 

Chef Oppermann's creations are art, edible art that look and taste so good that they are pretty hard to forget. Mike Peters gets a glimpse of the creative process.

His hands turn pastry into fantasies, from dainty puffs shaped like swans to a multi-layered chocolate bar bristling with paper-thin sails of caramelized sugar. But Yannick Oppermann, the newly installed executive pastry chef at the Peninsula Beijing hotel, insists that he's not in the business of making desserts that are "too pretty to eat".

"I make desserts for the pleasure of the person being served," he says. "Sharing that pleasure is part of the creative process for me."

Oppermann admits that he sometimes cringes when he has created a showpiece for a corporate event or a wedding catered by the hotel.

"When some people want to eat a decoration like that, it's a little bit painful because it took many hours to make.

"My way to make desserts is to make something tasty first, then beautiful," he says as he pipes curlicues of walnut cream onto a gleaming bar of chocolate. "If you do the opposite, make them beautiful but without taste, no one will remember the desserts no matter what they look like. If you make something tasty, people will remember it."

As a top-flight pastry chef, the young Frenchman has to deliver some "wow factor" before the first bite is taken. He acknowledges that his game has become pretty competitive.

"It's kind of a fashion, very trendy whether you are making pastry or you are any kind of chef. There are so many TV shows now about cooking, so it is difficult to play your cards and shine."

So is being a French chef a good way to meet ladies?

"That is a funny question," he says, laughing. Opperman says he met his girlfriend at a travel agency while they were booking flights. "So I can't say that happened because of my work.

"On the other hand, it's for sure a good way to meet women, the only problem is, you don't know if they like you for what you make or for what you are."

Oppermann got the cooking bug at the age of 14, he says, inspired not by fast talking and slicing celebrity chefs on TV but by his uncle, who is arestaurantchef to this day, now working in Jakarta.

"He gave me the passion for food," Oppermann says. "I was a cook at first, but I decided I had more feeling for the pastry, for the sweets."

While his eyes gleam brightly as he sprinkles his favorite French chocolate powder into a mixing bowl of molten caramel, he says that working in China for five years has changed his thinking about sweets.

When he arrived in Hong Kong, he says, he quickly discovered that Asian people don't like sweet desserts. That flash of illumination could have sent a lesser wizard of sugar scampering back to Paris.

Today, he says, "I thank Asians a lot for that! I have reduced the amount of sugar in myrecipes25, 40, even 50 percent, and I really appreciate the desserts now much better.

"When I go back to France now and I try the desserts - oh! They are really, really sweet. Too sweet for me. But now even French people are starting to understand that making desserts with less sugar is better. It's healthy, and you can work with different sugars, honey, fructose, all the sugar contained in the fruits"

"I've also learned from Chinese culture how to better manage your team, without screaming, with more calm and serenity," he says. "You definitely get a better result from people you work with by being a good listener, and trying to understand that we have a different vision, a different mind."

Memories are made of these

Memories are made of these

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Dream of a banquet 

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