Dear Mr. Hidemi Sugino,
You don’t know me, but you probably remember the strange group of five women who went to your Kyobashi shop Idemi and ordered thirteen cakes, spent more than two hours passing the plates around taking turns tasting each cake, and each bought a copy of your autographed recipe book the other day. Well, I was one of them.
The first time I heard about you was from Keiko’s blog. She said she’d never been to your shop so I said I’d go try it for her. That was almost two years ago. I did make it to your shop once, but it was late in the afternoon and you had sold out all your cakes and closed up. Since then, I’ve learned that even though it’s not possible for you to make every cake from start to finish, you want to make sure each one was touched by you personally. This limits the number of cakes produced so they are sold out around noon everyday. To be very honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced that anyone’s cake could be that good that it’s worth going at shop opening to try. I thought you were just another hyped up “celebrity chef.”
It took four of my classmates from Le Cordon Bleu to give me the initiative to get up early and line up before 10am to wait for your shop to open. I was somewhat surprised that a staff came out a few minutes before opening to explain that most of the freshly made cakes are not to be bought back and must be consumed in the shop, because they are so delicate that they’re sure to melt or lose shape en route. Right there I thought, “Wow, this is someone who really takes pride in what he does.”
I have seen photos of your creations in magazines and books, but to behold them with my own eyes was a whole different experience. I had thought Pierre Hermes was a genius in presentation, but you are something entirely different. If PH was bold and daring, you are delicate and subtle. From color coordination to attention to details, you are a master of the masters. Then when I actually tried the cakes, each one tastes familiar yet so different from anything I’ve ever had. Take your signature cake Ambroisie, for example, chocolate and pistachio. Who hasn’t had a chocolate and pistachio cake? Yet somehow, your pistachio cream is the smoothest of them all and the chocolate mousse is so fluffy and light it melted away in my mouth almost instantly with just enough after taste lingering on the tongue, wanting more.
You are also a genius when it comes to innovative combination of flavors. My second favorite, after Ambroisie was a guava/honeydew melon mousse. The naturally delicate flavor of guava blends with the distinct aroma of honeydew melon, creating such a refreshing taste that I thought I was eating watermelon on a hot summer day.
My only complaint is that you don’t allow photography in your store. With my hopelessly short-term memory, I can only remember a fraction of the thirteen cakes we tried. To prevent me from forgetting further, I’m going to write it down, in no particular order:
Miss Albion, a wonderful looking hexagonal creation of mint and chocolate mousse with thin butterfly-like chocolate wings on top.
Charme, a variation on the Foret Noire with chocolate au lait and chocolate flavored cream chantilly sandwiched in biscuit chocolat.
Paradis, a white wine and gooseberry mousse cake so pretty that I really had trouble taking the first bite.
Mariee, a strawberry and pistachio mousse cake that had the most beautiful pastel shade.
Exotique, a mango filled banana mousse dusted with fine coconut flakes.
La Harmonie, a cherry and lemon mousse combo that tasted so heavenly I couldn’t stop eating it. I never knew lemon and cherry could work so well together.
Larme, a chestnut mousse, chestnut cream concoction coated in coco powder. Enough said.
A mango layer cake that I couldn’t remember the name. Having had so many different types of mango dessert in Hong Kong, I must admit that I wasn’t extremely impressed with this one, but my classmates all said it was very good, so it must’ve been just me.
I know I’ve missed a few, but every one of the thirteen cakes we tried was so good that one tends to only remember the very best. I must admit that I’m not the easily-impressed type when it comes to food and drinks, but I was truly wowed by you, Mr. Sugino. I think this is beyond a doubt what you’re meant to do and you do it with such grace and sophistication. I cannot tell you how much I was inspired by you, and how humbled I was at the same time. Because of you, I am looking at fruits and mousse in a whole new way. For my final presentation at Le Cordon Bleu, I have decided to make a fruity mousse cake. I am under no delusion that it would be anything close to your ingenuity, but I only hope that it would reflect your spirit and philosophy that the cake should bring out the best of what the materials have to offer and make the materials come to life.
So I would just like to thank you not only for giving me the inspiration for my final project but for teaching me a lesson of dedication and the need to constantly improve myself.