Florian Poirot heads to the Pastry World Cup
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 January 2017
Yorkshire Life Chef of the Year and master patissier Florian Poirot is ready to take on the world, as Jo Haywood reports (while eating macarons)
Training for the World Cup is tough. You don’t get a day off for six months, you’re rarely finished before midnight, you’re permanently hot, tired and tetchy and you have to make 52 chocolate cakes.
Ronaldo, Rooney and Robben (they’re footballers apparently) might claim their training schedules are punishing, but do they have to create a sculpture out of sugar? No, they do not, they just have to boot a ball about a bit and compare hair products.
Master patissier and current UK Pastry Champion Florian Poirot could teach these part-timers a thing or two about dedication. As a key member of the official UK pastry team, he’s heading to Lyon this month to represent his adopted country in the Coupe de Monde de la Patisserie – the Pastry World Cup.
He’s put his hugely successful macaron-making business, FP Macaroons (we’ll explain the extra ‘o’ later), on hold for an entire year so he can concentrate on this highly prestigious gastronomic event and has spent the last six months doing little else than baking chocolate cakes and crafting sugar.
Morning, noon and night he’s in his home-based kitchen, a more industrial, gadget-heavy version of the spic-and-span model he shares with his wife Celine next door, poring over detailed plans and recipes while pouring his creative ideas into resin moulds and cake tins.
‘My wife is amazing and has given me the freedom to do what I need to do for a year,’ said Florian, as the, frankly, saintly Celine brought us coffee and a plate of macarons. ‘But that is it; no more. I think she’ll leave me if I do this again.’
The UK team has to make three chocolate desserts with Valrhona grands crus; three frozen desserts from the Ravifruit range; 15 identical plated desserts; a sugar-work extravaganza; an artistic chocolate creation; and a hydric ice sculpture. And they have to do it in front of an audience, under the hawkeyed gaze of top ranking judges, in France, a country that has won the title seven times.
No pressure then?
‘My attitude is that if I’m taking part in a prestigious competition I’m already a winner,’ said Florian, who was recently awarded the Yorkshire Life Chef of the Year title. ‘We will all learn something new and exciting and will have made great friends along the way. In that respect, we can’t lose.’
The UK took sixth place last time around – its highest ever ranking – so it would be a major coup if they won gold this time. But it’s not an impossible dream and, while the team talks modestly of a top ten spot (22 teams will compete), when pushed they admit they have their eyes set on the podium.
‘Sixth place was a real triumph, but this time we would like to make it into the top three,’ said Florian. ‘But it’s not easy. Working as a team can be difficult because we all have our own separate visions. I like the exchange of ideas though and, to be honest, while I might not initially agree with some suggestions, the end results are usually much better.’
As a Frenchman, he could be forgiven for feeling torn about competing for the UK in Lyon, but he’s lived and worked in England for eight years and has grown to love his adopted county of Yorkshire and, particularly, the city of York.
‘It’s such a beautiful, charismatic, romantic place; a human-sized city that you can feel a part of,’ he said. ‘I would not want to live anywhere else.
‘Unfortunately, however, it is not a great place for artisans to flourish. I would very much like to open a shop in the centre of York selling fine pastries, but it is too expensive unless you are a national chain. York should learn from what’s happening in Malton. People want to buy things they can’t get anywhere else and, if all the artisans go to Malton, the customers will follow.’
Florian is clearly passionate about his work; a trait that first emerged at an early age when his grandfather invited him to help in his bakery in north-east France. His uncles were bakers too, but his father was a plasterer with a family business ready for his son to join if he wanted.
‘I quickly realised that being a plasterer was not for me,’ he said. ‘For one thing, I don’t like working in the cold. I don’t mind working hard, just don’t ask me to do it outside.’
Instead, he began helping his grandfather make relatively simple everyday pastries and breads, treating his parents to fresh croissants when they awoke. Although perhaps ‘treating’ isn’t an entirely accurate description.
‘My mother is a very tidy person and I drove her crazy by messing up her kitchen,’ said Florian. ‘I would wake up early – like 4am – to make my parents croissants. I was very much enjoying myself, but it was not so good for them. They would get up in the morning to find their kitchen trashed. And my croissants weren’t even that good.’
He improved quickly, however, when he started a two-year tutored apprenticeship at the age of 13. It was not without its problems – he had to live away from home during the week, setting off at 3.30am every Monday morning to take a train and three buses back to class – but he flourished.
‘It could have been very difficult because I was so young, but it helped that I was very good at what I was doing,’ he said. ‘Some students hadn’t even touched a piping bag, while I’d had my own at my grandfather’s shop since I was six.’
After graduating with a master diploma in pastry, Florian worked at Patisserie Thiebaut in Nancy, one of the world’s finest bakeries, and at Daubos, a luxury patisserie shop in Versailles. He first came to York as a chef in Nestle’s product testing centre, but has since launched his own artisanal company making macarons.
Which brings us to that spelling. Why FP Macaroons, and not FP Macarons?
‘I decided to call it macaroons, like the little coconut biscuits, instead of the usual French way because that’s how it’s commonly pronounced here,’ he explained. ‘It’s not a spelling mistake, I just thought it was easier.’
In recent years, we’ve become much more accustomed to macarons (and their correct spelling) in the UK, thanks in no small part to the Great British Bake Off (sniff – sorry, I get a bit tearful at the mere mention). Unfortunately, many of us have also become accustomed to eating dry, cloyingly sweet versions of them too.
‘A lot of people think they don’t like macarons, but that’s usually because they haven’t tasted one that’s been made properly,’ said Florian. ‘They should have a crisp outer shell and a chewy centre, and they shouldn’t be overly sweet. I only use the very best ingredients – no buttercreams and liquid flavourings – so I get the very best results.’
His macarons keep in the fridge for up to two weeks, but let’s not kid ourselves that they will actually last that long. After tasting his passionfruit and milk chocolate (oh, my goodness) and salted butter caramel (my, oh my) creations, I can honestly say that if they last until you get in your car, you’ve got more willpower than most.
Florian has only been making macarons for a few favoured clients over the past year – those who have become friends as well as customers – but he will be back in business at full strength after the World Cup on January 23rd. Just give him time to get his breath back a bit first.
‘I will feel very relieved when it’s all over,’ he said. ‘My wife and I are going to take a holiday and not do very much at all for at least two weeks.
‘When the competition comes to an end I will be sad, but not for long. I’m really looking forward to being able to watch a movie on the sofa with a beer.’