by David Downie
The minimalism of contemporary pastry art can be spectacular. A Paris-trained American pastry chef friend of mine from New York came to dinner carrying a hatbox. She lifted the lid and everyone gasped. “It’s a pastry radiator,” I couldn’t help exclaiming. The “radiator’s” buttery pastry fins were filled with ethereal cream, shielded by dark chocolate plates and mounted on a hard nougatine U-shaped base reminiscent of Bakelite.
“Actually it’s a vertical millefeuille,” my friend explained as she heated the blade of a long knife—the only way to slice this incredible, gorgeous delicacy without destroying it.
The “radiator” turned out to be the conceptual-art brainchild of culinary designer Marc Brétillot, whose creations have often been spotted in the pastry department at the Bon Marché’s Grande Épicerie.
“Pastry is art,” Philippe Muzé, for a decade the wonder-worker at Paris’s bastion of traditionalism, Dalloyau, told me (he has since moved on and on and won many awards). “It’s poetry,” he added. “You can turn sugar, chocolate, herbs, spices and fruit into a million flavors and colors.” I hesitated before deconstructing his green Gâteau Vert, discovering a raspberry-colored biscuit, pear mousse, hot Szechwan pepper, cardamom, thyme and paprika.