Q&A: Eric Kayser
The French baker, in town to launch the first Hong Kong branch of Maison Kayser, talks to Vanessa Yung about technology, fermentation and 2,000-year-old bread
How did you get into baking? "I started to learn when I was 16. My parents and grandparents were bakers so I've loved to cook and make bread and pastries since I was young. When I was five or six years old, my father sometimes let me in his kitchen to make something and that made me very happy. The first thing that I made was an apple tart."
How has technology changed baking techniques? "Now we're going back to the very old recipes - but using new technology, new equipment. So it's easier for bakers to make something very good out of complicated recipes from 2,000 years ago. For example, 100 years ago, it took 10 hours to make a baguette, and 20 years ago it was four hours. Many bakers now make baguettes in under four hours - they don't have the time for a long fermentation, but that means the baguette won't be very good because they have to [add] bread improvers and a lot of yeast. [At Maison Kayser] we take 12 hours to make our baguettes - they undergo a natural fermentation. My friend and I invented this machine [the fermentolevain] which stabilises a slow, natural fermentation - we don't have to look after the dough the whole time. In the past, bakers slept on the floor of the kitchen. Not now, because we have this equipment."
How important is it to come up with new products? "In terms of pastries, we don't create a lot now. In France, we go back to traditional pastries such as St Honoré, mille-feuille and the eclair. Creativity is good but [it doesn't always sell well]. Eighty per cent of the bread and pastries we sell in France are based on very old recipes. The eclair [has been around] for 200 years but we still sell a lot. Sometimes we use new colours, new designs … but we keep the basics."
Where does your inspiration for new breads come from? "I travel a lot so my inspiration comes from the people. I go to the markets; I look at what the people cook; and I go to restaurants. In every country we produce a signature bread. Hong Kong's signature bread is chicken ciabatta. Two or three months ago I tried this Cantonese white cut chicken and it is [the inspiration behind] the signature bread here."
How do customers in Asia differ from those elsewhere? "In Asia, people like smaller bread and smaller pastries. They like nice presentation and packaging so we take care of that. We started in Asia 11 years ago, in Japan, and we know what to expect. Now we try to teach people how to eat the pastries. For instance, we show people that a croissant tastes better if they dip it into their coffee - they are so beautiful together. This is how French people eat it."