In August 2018, Heavenly Sweet Academy invited Joakim Prat as its guest tutor and Passion Media had the chance to interview the French Pastry Chef about his views on pastry industry, his current activity, and the future of specialized pastry products. Joakim has been working in 9 Michelin starred restaurants throughout his career from France, Spain, and England: from 2 starred L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, 3 starred Can Fabes, 1 starred Sauc, 1 starred Hofmann, and 2 starred The Greenhouse. In addition, Joakim has also won the golden medal for UK Best Dessert of the Year 2014, and awarded as UK Rising Talent at UK Pastry Open World Cup 2013. Despite of his great achievements, actually Joakim is one of the coolest, humble, warm French Pastry Chef we’ve ever met. Here’s our exclusive interview with the owner of London’s Maitre Choux.
Who’s your primary inspiration in pastry?
Joel Robuchon and Pierre Hermes. Joel is my most important mentor as he taught me about excellence. When you do something, it has to be the best thing that you can do. If you should do a cake, it has to be the very high quality with high level of decoration.
Pastry chefs are notorious for being a perfectionist, does it have to be that way?
Yeah! I think it’s very important, because if you want consistent product all the time, you have to be perfectionist. Basically, in pastry, if you mess up something, you have to start all over from zero, you have to be more precise.
From 1-10, how perfectionist are you?
I heard you have 9 Michelin stars?
No, you can’t have Michelin star as Pastry Chef, it’s given to the Head Chef of the kitchen. However, I have been a Pastry Chef in some Michelin starred restaurants, some are 3 starred, 2 starred, and 1 starred, that’s why people came up with the 9 stars.
Do you deliberately aim for the (Michlein) stars?
Yes, because it’s the best place to learn. We talked about excellence before, and the best food is in the Michelin star restaurants.
How do you describe your style?
It’s very feminine, delicate, refined, tasteful and colorful. By feminine… it’s hard to describe, have you seen what I’ve been doing?
Of course, mostly from Maitre Choux’s and your Instagram.
You’ll see all the design, decoration… Actually it’s funny, because of the design, before people know me, they’d think the Head Chef is a girl, you know what I mean? It’s either I’m a girl…. or a gay. My design is very refined, elegant, more like a woman craft, I would say, but I’m comfortable with that, I don’t mind.
You’ve been a Pastry Chef working with many pastry products, now you settled only on one specific product, éclair. Why?
First, I really like choux pastry. I think it’s something that’s really playful, you can play with the shape and color. It’s also really technical, I mean, if I teach how to make it to a person, it doesn’t mean tomorrow he’ll be able to reproduce it. You need to practice and train to understand and to have it perfected.
I think specialization is the future. In pastry, you got so much different products, you can do mille-feuille, baba, choux, entremets, petit gateau, or chocolate. But I really think, you can’t be very good in everything, there’s no one that’s perfect in everything. I think more of focusing in one project but bringing it to the highest level. Little by little people will concern more in signature or mono products, I think it’s the next (big) thing.
What makes Maitre Choux different from any other choux?
If you come to our shop, everything is done fresh during the night, everyday! I have 2 teams, the first one start at 9.00 pm to 6.00 am. Basically, everything is baked, decorated during the night, and in the morning you will have the freshest product you can find. Some pastry shops make their choux store it for 2-3 days in the display, but I’m not doing that. If I have some leftovers (at the end of the day), they’re going to the garbage bin. Of course, you won’t get sick if you eat it after 3 days, but if you want the best texture and flavor, you have to eat it at the same day. If you want to eat some meat, would you cook it one day in advance? It’s the same concept that I apply in Maitre Choux.
You worked in some countries, tell us some interesting stories from your journey.
Without being cocky, I’d say pastry is coming from France, it’s like saying pizza is from Italy. As pastry chefs, we, the Frenchmen are very arrogant. When you speak about pastry to a French pastry chef, they’d think that everywhere you go, people make rubbish pastry, just because the chefs aren’t French, which is completely wrong nowadays.
I know, most of the chefs all around the world are learning pastry to France, but when they come back to their countries, they’d twist it with their own tradition, so actually, pastry is getting richer and richer there. Meanwhile French people are not that interested in what happened in other countries because they think they’re the best. For example, when I move from Paris to Madrid, of course the level in Paris was much higher, but people in Madrid is getting better and better and as French people, we have to be careful about it.
Why did you decide to open your own shop in UK?
At first, I love London, it’s a very open city, and I think you got more opportunities here. Being a French chef in France just mean I was just another one more chef, but in London, I am The French chef, do you know what I mean? And businesswise there’s no comparison, I have less competition here and London people have more money to spend.
How many outlets do you have in London?
Currently, I have 4 shops. The first one is in French area in London, in South Kensington, the second one is in Soho, the third one is in Westfield White City, and then I have one in Piccadilly.
How do you find balance in flavor, also for the concept of the product?
I really like the combination of raspberry and vanilla, something sharp. I don’t know if I’m answering your question, but conceptually, I think shop is the opposite of a restaurant. If you go to a restaurant, people are coming for experience. You don’t have any idea of how the food’s going to look like as most of the menus only have nice names and the explanation of the products. In a pastry shop, you will see the products and you choose them, therefore, the design is more important in a shop than in restaurant. Of course, the flavor has to be as good as it looks, so people won’t get disappointed.
Do you always trying to find new flavor combinations?
Yes, but I mainly work on the design, because, I think in pastry shop, there’s so many flavors you can’t take off, like chocolate, coffee, vanilla, or caramel. It’s a classic! If you go to a pastry shop and you don’t have chocolate, something is wrong.
Do you think that working in a specialized product limits your creativity?
Actually, no. In the beginning I was scared to be bored easily, but… how can I say it…. Actually, restrictions allow you to be more creative. After a while, I knew that I can do all the techniques I’ve learned in pastry and apply them on éclair. I can make chocolate mousse éclair, tiramisu éclair, crème brulee éclair, anything.
What’s next for Maître Choux?
Right now, I’m developing savory menu, like salmon eclair with avocado, chicken and mayonnaise, and developing vegetarian choux using broccoli or carrot.