Philippe Conticini, a pastry chef coming out of the mold
He had the idea of presenting a dessert in a burgundy glass: the verrine was born! For Philippe Conticini, modern pastry is a major art where everything remains to be invented.
At 50, he has opened his sixth Pastry of Dreams in London. And wants to convey to aspiring pastry chefs his philosophy: to put taste in the service of emotions.
How did you become a pastry chef?
As a child, I was very round, and even though I was an extrovert, my weight complicated me. I did not feel comfortable at school. Since I was 11 years old and the first Sunday cake I had enjoyed with my family, I only thought about pastry. I grew up in the kitchens of my parents’ restaurant, who one day said I was leaving high school to do the same! I did my apprenticeship, got acquainted with the best of the time: Patrick Fortier, Jacques Chibois, at the Peltier house … Then, with my brother, we opened La table d’Anvers, in 1986.
This is where you developed your creativity …
While tasting the kitchen of my brother, I felt new things: I did not know that one could live such emotions while eating. It was these sensations that I had to try to offer. More and more customers came to congratulate me, to tell me that my desserts had touched their souls. I then realized that pastry was a means of expression, a way of communicating. With the intuition of presenting a dessert in a large burgundy glass – I invented what will become the verrine – I understood how I could dissect, build and read flavors as one reads a text. From there, I had the tools to create emotions or bring childhood memories back to the customers, with a simple dessert.
What do you have left to discover in your job?
Some time ago, as a result of a surgical error, I stayed in the hospital for two years, and almost died. After fourteen months without eating, the first meal I was able to eat – a bad mashed potato and bread – triggered an extraordinary emotion. This proves that sensations can arise from simple products, and that we must work on taste and harmony. To cook is to go deep within yourself. Even today, I express myself there: nothing but last year, I tested one hundred and seventy-four recipes, from the simple pancake to the English carrot cake! Pastry is a major art, like literature or painting. I want to transmit today, to explain to young people how I formed my taste. Make them understand that we have to put taste back in the center of our business – which is not the case yet, unlike cooking. The pastry is only in its infancy. With this in mind, I sponsor the first high pastry promotion at Ferrandi School; it is an important first step, before other projects of this type I hope.