Entering into the world of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is like entering into a magical world. I could spend all day admiring their gardens and discovering new secrets with every step I make. Stepping into the kitchen reveals the same magic. Everything radiates perfection. I saw there the most beautiful pain au chocolat in my life! The structure was so perfect that I am still dreaming of it. Benoit Blin is the chef patissier who knows how to create perfect desserts. His perfection is a result of talent, persistence, great discipline and many years of experience. He let us enter his kitchens and revealed his world.
How would you introduce yourself?
I have been the Chef Patissier at the 2 Michelin-starred Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Relais & Chateaux, alongside Raymond Blanc for 20 years now. I feel as passionate about my job today as when I first started out. Leading a team of 13 pastry chefs, we make everything here at Le Manoir from 12 varieties of bread, freshly baked for each service, to an extensive range of chocolates, ice creams, and pastries for afternoon teas and plated desserts to supply the demand of our customers both in the restaurant and the private dining facility. Having been involved with the UK pastry Team as team president in the 2011 pastry World Cup in Lyon, I am now the Chairman of the UK Pastry Club which has been created to find and support future UK pastry teams whilst helping to raise the profile and develop the pastry skills in our industry.
How did you enter into the Pastry World?
I grew up in a village in Normandy, France with a bakery on each end of the street I lived in. From an early age, I spent my time hanging around these bakeries with each baker’s sons, playing between the flour bags, and then, later in the day, waiting to see if I could have a chance to taste any of the pastries. It seemed natural then for me to take an apprenticeship at one of the bakeries. This started my career, first as a baker then later on specialising as a pastry chef. From here I went on to work in places such as the Normandy Hotel in Deauville, The Ritz in Paris and finally Le Manoir.
What/who is inspiring you?
I have been inspired throughout my career by great pastry chefs in France, many of whom were also MOF themselves. Early in my career Jean Creveux MOF 1966 was a huge inspiration to me and it was he who first taught me to pull sugar he also trained many MOFs to be. MOF Philippe Rigollot and Pascal Caffet amongst many, have also been a great influence in my career, motivated by the quest to push themselves to develop new techniques and ideas which we are all using today.
What do you love most about your work?
As a skill, pulled sugar work is the most difficult as there is nowhere to hide and needs a great deal of practice and commitment and it is showing the artist inside the chef. As for work, it is the opportunity to make a difference in training young chefs to develop their passion and interest in pastry.
What do you think is most difficult to master?
Coming up with new ideas for dishes or other items can be challenging at times, as you have to make sure you understand fully what you are aiming for and not be creative for the sake of it, resulting in chaos rather than a harmonious result sometimes…..
What are your favourite flavours?
I really enjoy the combinations of caramel, chocolate and sea salt but there are many others.
What is your relationship with chocolate?
I work with chocolate every day. It is one of the core ingredients of our job and is also a very interesting one as you will experience different results depending on which cocoa bean varieties, origins and combination of flavours you work with.
Which chocolate desserts are on your menu now and which are your favourites?
We did have a take on the Bounty chocolate bar on our menu, which is a deconstructed dessert using coconut in different textures and a beautiful elegant single origin dark chocolate from Ghana. Alongside many other dishes, we also have a version of Millionaire Shortbread which combines my favourite flavours.
What was the best chocolate dessert that you have eaten and where?
At L’Ambroisie restaurant – 3 Michelin stars, Paris, about 8 years ago, I had the Chocolate Tart signature dish made by M Pacaud. It was such a simple presentation combining a very thin, delicate chocolate sweet pastry filled with a light, warm aerated chocolate cream and served with the most exquisite bourbon vanilla ice cream. No gimmicks, no smoke and mirrors but a real treat.
What would be your final message for our readers?
As a young pastry chef, keep on working and trying to better yourself. Patisserie is not easy but is an extremely rewarding career. Pastry does not have Michelin Stars, so I would encourage every young pastry chef in the UK to aim to achieve the title of Master of Culinary Arts as a true recognition of success and achievement in their career.