“From my childhood in the South of France, I remember my grandmother’s pastries, and especially her incredible crème caramel the memory of which I still cherish,” says pastry chef Nicolas Botomisy.
Very early in his childhood, he became interested in cooking and liked to play with kitchen utensils, and since he lost his father while he was still very young, he quickly started to prepare meals for his family.
At the age of 15, the talented chef prepared his first banquet for his family and friends.
Being a good student, he graduated with a scientific baccalaureat, but soon his interest in gastronomy became stronger and he decided to continue his studies in the gastronomy field and graduated with a BTS, as the promotion major in South-Western France.
His teachers were important advisors in his career choices, and thanks to their advice, he joined prestigious teams to start his career: the Relais de la Poste (2 Michelin stars) with Jean Cousteau to start with, then the Waterside Inn (3 Michelin stars) in the UK with the chef Michel Roux, where he was sure about his tremendous interest in pastry.
After graduating, he moved to Paris to join the teams of the Carré des Feuillants (2 Michelin stars) with the chef Alain Dutournier and soon became in charge of the pastry team. Willing to deepen his knowledge in pastry, he then joined the prestigious team of the Georges V. This was a very big kitchen brigade, a perfectionist organization with incredible products! He learned to work on palatial pastries, pure pastry and worked there for 7 years.
In 2011, he discovered the Japanese work-life by joining the teams of the Valrhona school in Tokyo. This experience helped him with coming across incredible people, deepening his knowledge about chocolate, and also learning how to teach.
Valrhona school then offered him a pastry chef position in Brooklyn, where he accepted and this gave him an immense exposure to the world and all the richness it can offer.
For more than two years now, he has been traveling the world participating in gastronomic events, giving demonstrations, conducting teaching classes, and helping companies to open and reinforce their knowledge. Consulting for others makes me realize the variety of needs and it is always with enthusiasm and passion for pastry that I share my knowledge and learn new things, he says.
What inspired you to become a pastry chef? You’ve been in the industry for quite some time. Would you have done anything differently when first starting out?
I have always been interested in food and in enjoying good meals. Food is necessary to live while the pastry is the little extra which makes a meal and life better… Of course, I love the precision and the fact we can plan the result with pastry in advance but more than that I love the technical side of it, with about the same ingredients we can have totally different results. I love the fact that pastry depends a lot on how a pastry chef will apply the technique. I am really happy with my career choices, of course when you think back maybe you would have done something differently… but I wouldn’t have changed anything as my choices led me to where I am now…
What is the philosophy and ethos behind the food you create?
I like to create mouth-watering, visually appealing, and natural pastries. I like it to be easy to understand in terms of taste and texture; I choose the main flavor, a pairing, and an ingredient that will enhance everything. I prefer to play with the textures rather than adding too many tastes and losing the core of the dessert. I don’t use any coloring and I prefer the color to come naturally with the taste. In terms of decoration, I don’t like the non-essential things, all the choices are driven by taste, I like to have decorations that serve the general purpose. So for me, taste and textures come first.
What’s the latest trend when it comes to baking and patisserie? What is one food (pastry) trend you wish would just go away?
Many trends come and go, and there are so many talented pastry chefs and bakers that there is a market for everyone. Thanks to social media, our profession has spread out to a larger audience than it used to be… so it is really positive to see so many pastries made by so many different people. Of course, it always comes with a drawback, and creating fake pastries or only serving the purpose of the social media exposure is not something that will serve the pastry environment in the long run. The look doesn’t come always with the taste and some products are impossible to reproduce daily during a normal pastry production. But once again, talking about pastry on social media and making it popular is a great thing.
What are your baking style and the philosophy behind it?
I believe in creating mouth-watering products which are easy to produce and to understand plus the color comes naturally with the taste.
What’s your favorite comfort food? What’s your favorite pastry or cake or baked product?
I eat a lot of vegetables and beans; my easy go-to meal is ratatouille with fish. My favorite pastries are the French classics…. I have a huge crush on flan, millefeuille, taste satin, and eclairs.
Who or what was your inspiration to become a pastry chef?
I started to cook when I was young; as I lost my father early I had to cook for myself. Later I really started to enjoy it I just went on doing it…. I like the manual part of it, the creation process, and the fact that we (as pastry chefs) create a little bit of joy in the day of a person who is eating the cake we bake and we can bring a smile to their faces.
What is your advice to aspiring pastry chefs?
Enjoy what you do, think about how to improvise your technique every day, don’t obsess about the fame, be happy with your work and the rest will automatically follow suit. When I started 20 years ago, learning and discovering were as easy or accessible as it is these days. Pastry chefs these days are fortunate but too much information could be overwhelming too, so it would be a good idea for aspiring chefs to take each step at a time and they will go a long way.
My plans include opening my pastry laboratory in NJ, to make more videos, photos, research, and development for my clients, for me, marketing and working with some of my clients if they wish to come to me, rather than me going to see them…
Would you consider yourself an artist? Are you inspired by artists when you create your pastries? When you create different products every day where do you get inspired from?
We are all artists somehow… to quote Picasso, every child is an artist, and we are all grown-up children!
I take my inspiration from the ingredients, how to enhance these ingredients and make them shine and sparkle in the pastry created, it doesn’t need to be complicated to be good! Of course, the vision of artists in museums is a great source of inspiration for me, especially in architecture.
The topic of local food, from smaller, specialized, and personally known producers, is becoming more important. What are some of your local partners from whom you source?
Yes, eating and sourcing local products is really important, when it comes to pastry it is a bit more difficult as the ingredients we source (chocolate, nuts, fruits) come from other places. The fruits in the area I am are difficult to source, and as I mainly do consult and I move from place to place I don’t personally source locally but I know that many of my customers do.
How can restaurants/hotels/chefs communicate the approach of innovative sustainable plant-based food/food chains to others?
It comes with teaching the customers that there are seasons and that serving strawberries throughout the year is not possible if you want to have good quality strawberry…
Then the vegan approach is multi-factorial, some will do it because it is in trend and they can attract a different segment of customers, some will do it because they believe in it and want to change things, some will do it because they like the challenge… I do believe that extreme behavior in any field is not good, so the best is to find a balance and of course to meet the demand to achieve customer satisfaction.
How has the current pandemic affected your work?
As I used to travel to 13-15 countries a year for classes, demonstrations, consulting, most of my work is affected by postponed or canceled events…
But it allowed me to do some things I didn’t have time to do, so I could finish some projects and start new ones. I have always been doing distance consulting and that’s what I did more during this time, I have some customers nearby so I did some work for them. And I have gotten into online classes, which I find really interesting as we can connect with many more people from different countries and except the tasting part and the smell, the experience is the same as in-person demonstrations, many cameras so I feel the view could even be better. Moreover, it is more affordable than a personal event so we can connect with more people, and in a way, people are compelled to redo the pastry if they want to try it. So the world is changing and we have to adapt. But I am really lucky compared to some businesses, as I don’t have many overheads nor employees.
When the lockdown is over, what is the first restaurant you’ll be
heading to and what will you order?
The day we will be able to travel again, I will be really happy to go to my friend Hideki Nishi’s restaurant in Paris, a French cuisine eatery with Japanese touches, and let him cook what he wants, the restaurant’s names are Neige d’été and Pilgrim.
Which is the dish you’ve created that you are most proud of and why?
I am really happy with the chocolate bonbons I created in terms of textures and taste. Like the one with almond paste, white chocolate and vanilla, and a touch of rum, it reminds me of the French king pie. Almond paste is traditional in confectionary, but here it is a nice mix in texture between a ganache and marzipan… It was technically challenging and really interesting in taste and a new texture, something in between… Many chefs have applied this technique and are using it in their pastry shops so I am happy that a large number of people appreciate it.