A Valrhona “culinary-dating” experience

A Valrhona “culinary-dating” experience

On March 22, 2022, Valrhona brought together the team of Relais Desserts and Ecole Valrhona for a three-hour intimate afternoon tea at Jumeirah Al Naseem to discuss trends, business opportunities and the importance of knowledge sharing while discovering the talents of Frédéric Cassel, Vincent Guerlais, Pascal Lac, Eric Vergne, Sébastien Bouillet and Glenn Noel.

Frédéric Cassel, former president of Relais Desserts, a position he held for 15 years, was named Pâtissier of the Year in 2007. He was awarded Talents du Goût in 2008 and Meilleur Millefeuille Île de France. Frédéric Cassel is a familiar face in the world of pastry, leading France to victory in the 2013 World Pastry Cup. His also the current Vice President of the Pastry World Cup. Vincent Guerlais has been president of Relais Desserts since 2018 and is considered one of the best chocolatiers in France. The avant-gardist has received multiple awards for his work. At the event, Vincent Guerlais discussed his successes and famous e-shop, sharing few tips with the audience. Pascal Lac is a master of taste. Hailing from Nice, Lac shared his experiences and advice on how to succeed in the industry and the important of knowledge shared and passed on generations. Whether it is a simple éclair or a festive meal, every Eric Vergne creation over the last 50 years has received the same undivided attention. Vergne shared details on Relais Desserts and the importance of having such an entity in the World of Pastry. Glenn Noel, pastry chef at Ecole Valrhona for 6 years, has been in charge of the IMEA region for the past three years. Sharing his unique savoir-faire, his experiences at l’Ecole Valrhona and his adventures in different parts of the world, Glenn Noel told us that the most important part of any dessert is its taste. Held at the Palmery restaurant, Julien Jacob Pastry Chef of Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel said:“Having grown up next door, I have known Valrhona since an early age. To me, Valrhona has always rhymed with quality – a company always at the forefront of innovation and with an undeniable consistency in their values and products. Today, I can see first-hand Valrhona’s support to pastry Chefs and our industry around the world when organizing workshop, training, dedicated approach and technical support as well as events such as The Iconic 6, which brings a collective approach and open discussion to the pastry world. A proud moment for me!”.

Guillaume Lafaix, Valrhona IMEA Business Manager told us: “With « The Iconic 6 » of Valrhona, the Team Relais et Desserts driven by its President Vincent Guerlais and the Vice-President of the Pastry World Cup Frédéric Cassel brought a personalized experience around knowledge sharing, transmission of values and passion for Chefs coming from UAE, Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. UAE has plenty of pastry talents that makes the Emirates of Dubai – a sweet stop. Valrhona is proud to lead the gastronomy discussion of tomorrow.

During the event, Hospitality News had the opportunity to speak with Frédéric Cassel and Vincent Guerlais, who gave us the lowdown on their collaboration with Valrhona and the Pastry World Cup.

Vincent Guerlais

Valrhona has brought your Relais Desserts team for a three-hour intimate afternoon tea at Jumeirah Al Naseem. What can you tell us about some of the event highlights?
We are here from Relais Desserts to promote French desserts in a beautiful setting while savoring the taste of legendary French pastries. More than an exchange of knowledge, transmission of values and opening the dialogue with key players in the industry, we also enjoy the tasting aspect with participants, and this is key.

Why is your collaboration with Valrhona important to you?
Valrhona is a major player in pastry and chocolate in France and the world, a privileged partner of Relais Desserts. It is always important to us to collaborate with a brand synonymous of quality such as Valrhona. We rely on its excellent products, especially its cocoa line and custom-made items.

Your establishment’s mission is to excite the taste buds. How are you achieving this with Valrhona products?
Valrhona has a wide range of aromatic chocolate of varying intensities from different countries. It is up to us to find the right combination. With Valrhona, we are able to take advantage of different cocoas, different aromas ⁠— some fruity, some more intense. Valrhona products are known for their great taste, so the possibilities are endless.

What is your favorite Valrhona product?
Manjari Madagascar is my favorite Valrhona product to work with. It is a chocolate that I know very well with, and I am familiar with its plantation in Madagascar. The product offers an intense fruity taste which allows the pastry to have balanced flavor that’s not too sweet.

What are some of the challenges you are face and how are you overcoming them?
Our profession is all about creativity, so the greatest challenge is being able to create pastries that our clients will love tomorrow. As dessert often marks the end of a meal, the most memorable part, our job relies on passion; we are constantly searching for new ideas, which we often find when we travel or meet people who inspire us. The main challenge is to succeed in producing pastry that the customer will like because the quest is to find balance between taste and product can be difficult.

What are your future plans?
I aim to continue my journey with Relais Desserts, which celebrates its 25-year anniversary soon, and ensure its continues to highlight French pastry. The goal is to develop the company and look to the future. We would like to also ensure the advancement of pastry and transmit our knowledge to the new generation.

Frédéric Cassel

What can you tell us about this year’s World Pastry Cup competition?
I was requested by Pierre Hermé to co-manage the project and support the development of French pastry. The World Pastry Cup is more than 30 years old. As with managing any other business, we wanted to rejuvenate the event to allow it to continue being the best pastry competition in the world. We couldn’t continue doing things in the same way they were done previously, so the idea was to breathe new life into the competition.
When we first asked the question of what needed to be changed, we realized that many were not competing in certain events, like the ice-sculpting competition. We challenged these countries to find the wow element that would help them win the contest.
Furthermore, in previous years, we always had a chocolate cake with Valrhona being the sponsor. We used to have a lovely chocolate cake with beautiful glazing that we put in the fridge. After 30 years of doing this, we came up with the idea of having a shared cake that needed to be made live, so we shocked the participants!
In addition, we wanted a more environmentally friendly competition. We gave participants very strict guidelines focused on the environment and suppliers who have to prove that their products are traceable and sustainable.
Also, in the past, each country had to be represented by nationals, but this year we changed that. For example, we considered that a French pastry chef who has been living a Doha for the past five years can represent Doha in the competition. He can’t be the captain of the team, but he can be part of it.  

How do you think the World Pastry Cup can evolve?
The competition needs to be accessible to the youth, as they are the pastry chefs of tomorrow. The World Pastry Cup is a competition where we have seen teams working very hard to master techniques that can be reproduced in other places and competitions. It is a one-day competition that offers techniques that can be mimicked locally. There are other competitions that focus on money, that demand a lot of organization and are not affordable or accessible to young chefs.
President Macron stated that he would like to establish a center for gastronomy training. We are lucky to have a president who finally understands that we have young, talented chefs who need to be trained to become champions and win competitions, such as the World Pastry Cup competition. France needs to be a winner. The state is now interested in French gastronomy and this is a big step forward. What we want now is for all countries to excel in pastry. This will elevate the overall level of the competition

Do you prefer a classic or contemporary approach to pastry?
Pastry shop pastry versus competition pastry is completely different. A cake that is superbly designed but cannot be cut easily will not be sold, so we need to make a distinction between pastries in shops and ones in competitions. In the boutique, the classics will always have their place. If you try to sell an extremely complicated and well-designed cake, people can be intimidated.
On another note, hotels have finally understood that it is important to promote their young talented chefs to highlight their properties. They are investing and promoting their chefs, who are being given the means to develop and create. However, there are certain constraints. For instance, I prefer large cakes, whereas at hotels and pastry shops small desserts need to be served to meet clients’ requirements.

What helps a team succeed at the World Pastry Cup?
The team needs to be chosen well. It needs to be surrounded by professionals who are able to mentor and advise, even if they can’t compete. They need to be attentive to the pitfalls. For example, last year, the French team had many Meilleurs Ouvriers de France helping them. The result was a piece that was too detailed and missed the wow factor, Japan team won as they focused on this wow element.
When it comes to taste, the classics are often winners; but for presentation, it is all about the wow factor. The team members need to invest two years of their lives preparing for the contest, in which they are representing their country.


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About author

Rita Ghantous

Rita Ghantous is a hospitality aficionado and a passionate writer with over 9 years’ experience in journalism and 5 years experience in the hospitality sector. Her passion for the performance arts and writing, started early. At 10 years old she was praised for her solo performance of the Beatles song “All My Love” accompanied by a guitarist, and was approached by a French talent scout during her school play. However, her love for writing was stronger. Fresh out of school, she became a freelance journalist for Noun Magazine and was awarded the Silver Award Cup for Outstanding Poetry, by The International Library of Poetry (Washington DC). She studied Business Management and earned a Masters degree from Saint Joseph University (USJ), her thesis was published in the Proche-Orient, Études en Management book. She then pursued a career in the hospitality industry but didn’t give up writing, that is why she launched the Four Points by Sheraton Le Verdun Newsletter. Her love for the industry and journalism led her to Hospitality Services - the organizers of the HORECA trade show in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, as well as Salon Du Chocolat, Beirut Cooking Festival, Whisky Live and other regional shows. She is currently the Publications Executive of Hospitality News Middle East, Taste & Flavors and Lebanon Traveler. It is with ultimate devotion for her magazines that she demonstrates her hospitality savoir-faire.

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