Some culinary delights need their very own specialised chefs, people like Nicolas Paciello, one of the up-and-coming masters of patisserie – the art of making fine cakes and deserts. In his native France, they call him the “pâtissier supersonique”. Trawling through his Instagram feed is like a journey into a parallel universe, where deserts are artworks first and foremost. He trained at a patisserie in his hometown Forbach, when one day his boss told him to “Go! Now it’s time for Paris”. He worked at places like Fauchon, Crillon, Lignac, La Reserve and Prince de Galles – quite a pedigree for a chef in his early thirties.
Q: Your creations look out of this world … what inspires you?
A: Inspiration can come from anywhere: fashion designers; ready-to-wear fashion; things I see on social media; and, of course, new experiences when I eat in other restaurants.
I love to visit the South-West of France, around Biarritz, because they have a great tradition for making deserts there, with lots of artisan patisserie chefs. And as the region is so close to Spain, you get a really interesting mix of flavours.
But just to be clear: whenever I create a new desert or come up with an idea for a new cake, it’s always something new, something that you won’t find elsewhere.
Having said that, I also try to build on tradition, but give it a twist, reinvent it with new, different flavours and shapes.
Q: Give me an example…
A: Take my Paris-Brest, a traditional choux pastry. I’ve reworked its shape and flavour, with unusual ingredients like nuts. It’s still a Paris-Brest, but also a completely new pastry as well. It’s actually one of my favourites. Right next to my buckwheat chocolate tarte.
Q: No savoury dishes to round off the meal?
I prefer a sweet end to a great meal – but it should not be sugary. And for an unusual, special taste, I love to add herbs like basil and tarragon, maybe some spices and of course fleur-de-sel.
Q: How often to you come up with new desert ideas?
A: I try to create something completely new at least twice a month. At least I will try to reinvent an existing dish. I want to give our guests something that they’ve never had before.
Q: Making deserts and pastries, quite often that feels like the wall flower of both haute cuisine and home cooking… so what got you into this field?
A: I’ve been passionate about experimenting with cakes and deserts since when I was … oh … around 14 years old. My mum was always baking cakes and I just loved helping her. I developed a huge passion for cakes and deserts and even back then I knew: I want to become a “pâtissier”. I’ve never lost the passion.
Q: For most people, though, making a desert feels like a chore… when it’s so easy to get some ice cream out of the freezer…
A: True, and I find that a bit sad, because making great deserts isn’t difficult at all. The pastries or deserts that round off your perfect meal at home don’t have to be as elaborate as what I’m doing at work. That’s why I have just written a cookbook with recipes for great traditional French deserts. I’ve reinvented and simplified them to make it really easy for people to recreate them. I want to inspire people to have fun in the kitchen…
Q: What’s your top tip for pastry chefs at home?
If you make a desert, make it for the pleasure of creating it. A lot of love should go into it. And take your time, don’t rush a desert or cake.
Q: But how about you: When you’re working in the restaurant, do you have fun or is it stressful?
A: It’s fun, but it’s also a lot of work. Everything we offer is made fresh on the day. There’s nothing that’s prepared. So yes, it’s quite stressful, especially towards the end of a service, when it’s time to get the deserts out. I work Monday to Friday, from early in the morning until around 11pm or midnight. That’s very intense.
Probably even more stressful is another kind of deadline: when I have to come up with a new creation and everything has to be perfected in time.
Q: After a long day at the oven and with the mixer: how do you relax?
I’ve got this routine: When I’m finished at the restaurant, I walk home along the river Seine near the Eiffel Tower. And when it’s cold, in wintertime, I sometimes stop at a bar for a glass of red wine. My favourite is the Dépôt Légal near Bourse train station.
Q: And when you arrive home, you do the cooking?
A: Oh no, I leave that to my wife. I don’t really cook savoury dishes. What I will do from time to time is bake a cake, something nice and simple, like a carrot cake or an apple tarte.
Q: Thinking of all the stress and good food: how do you keep fit?
On my weekends, I do a lot of sports. I love to go for a run, and my wife and I are always taking long walks through Paris. It keeps me in shape.
Q: Finally, any tips for us when ordering desert?
A: There aren’t really any rules when it comes to combining a desert and a main course. Just one thing: mix it up. When your main course has lots of flavours, maybe opt for a simpler, sweeter desert. And if you have a simple salad as a main, go for a desert with punchy flavours.
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