One thing I won’t complain about living in Singapore is the size of the place. True, it is just one tiny island that you can drive from one end to the other in less than 45 minutes, but it is conveniently located for easy traveling. Most places in Asia are just a short hop away and even Europe and Australia are well within 12 hours. North and South Americas and Africa are a little far to get to, but I don’t need to go there too often, now that my parents have retired and moved to Shanghai, and how many times do you need to go on a safari, right?
Anyway, my point is, Singaporeans are a well-traveled bunch and coming from a food-loving culture, they eat where they go at the best places they can find. As a result, mention any internationally renowned chef to any globe trotting Singaporean and chances are he/she has not only heard of the chef but has also eaten at the famed establishment. It is therefore no surprise that each year at the World Gourmet Summit held in town the list of guest chef looks like the who’s who of the culinary world. I missed the one last year because I was back in the States helping my parents move, i.e. tossing out high school report cards, college notebooks and even my wedding dress from their basement.
This year, I made sure I was in town during the WGS and I am so glad I did, because Pierre Hermé, the man who single handedly changed the way desserts are made and presented was one of the guest chefs.
I have long been a fan of Mr. PH ever since my Tokyo days and have visited his store in Paris as well. He may not be my all-time favorite pastry chef ever (that honor goes to Mr. Hidemi Sugino), but his innovative flavor combinations never cease to amaze and inspire me. Naturally, when my friend called to tell me that he’s going to be serving his signature desserts at Mezza9 I wanted to make a reservation right away. I also wanted to attend his master class, however I was not as decisive in that front. So in the time it took me to come to the conclusion that yes, I really do want to watch him from the back of an auditorium that seats 200, all the tickets were sold out. At least we booked our seats at the Mezza9 early enough.
After more than a month the day finally came. The six of us agreed (or rather, the wives decided on behalf of the husbands) to order a light dinner so we could try all seven desserts on the menu. In true Singapore “kiasu” style we pre-ordered our desserts before our meals, just in case any particular item runs out. While we were deciding what main dishes to order, Mr. Pierre Hermé stepped out into the dining room and all of a sudden I could feel my heart palpitating. He came over to our table and I asked Jason to take a photo for me with the master himself, then another one with all three ladies at the table. Normally I am not the type to swoon over a movie or rock star but I found myself gushing in the presence of Mr. PH. So it was in the presence of an iconic chef that I finally got a little taste of what screaming fans must feel when they’re faced with their idol.
At the waiter’s urge we ordered some side dishes to go with the main, but the main dish portions turned out to be very generous. I had almost half a duck on my plate and in order to conserve precious stomach space I had to give most of it to Jason. When finally the dishes were cleared away we ordered a bottle of dessert wine and waited for the arrival of Mr. PH’s masterpieces.
Now, in the order of flavors going from lightest to heaviest, they are:
Dessert Ispahan – rose flavored macaron filled with rose petal cream with raspberries and lychees, served with sorbet ispahan: lychee, rose petal aromas and raspberry sorbet.
I have had both the ispahan (macaron) and the sorbet (in the form of and ice cream bar, named Miss Gla-gla), which are both excellent on their own. But I have to say that having them side by side like this, when you chase the ispahan macaron with a light, refreshing bite of the sorbet, you’ll understand why this is his best known dessert.
Emotion Satine – compote of passion fruit, seasoned orange segments, cream cheese cream, topped with shortbread cubes soaked in flavored syrup.
I have also had this while in Tokyo, when the range was first introduced. I’ve always liked the tartness of passion fruit, especially when it’s paired with something sweet and creamy. One of my favorite elements of this dessert is the shortbread on top. People are weary because they look like brown sugar cubes but of course when you pop one into your mouth you’ll immediately realize your mistake.
Revelation – puff pastry with tomato, mascarpone cream, olive oil, pieces of black olives, tomato and strawberry compote.
There is a split of opinion on this dessert, with only two guys in our group liking it. Usually I am the first to order something weird like this because I am always for trying new flavors, but even for me this is a little strange. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against tomatoes in desserts, it is a fruit after all. In fact, one of my favorite tarts was a cherry tomato tart from a bakery in Tokyo. However, the revelation lacks the magic element that pulls all the components together, so the tomato tasted like salad and the olives seemed really out of place.
Tarte Mogador – shortcrust pastry filled with milk chocolate and passion fruit ganache, with a piece of flourless chocolate cake inside, topped with roasted pineapple
Here is another one I did not like. For one, the short crust pastry shell was really hard and very difficult to cut, and then there’s the problem of the pineapple. Maybe the Hyatt couldn’t get a good batch, but it was kind of tasteless. Then there’s the cacao nibs. I confess I’ve never been a fan of cacao nibs, and especially not in ganache. I am all for contrast of textures, but biting into cacao nibs in an otherwise silky and smooth ganache is like finding coffee grinds in a nice cup of latte. It’s just not my thing. Sorry, Mr. Hermé!
The next dessert has no name but only a description: variation of chestnut, passion fruit and matcha green tea.
The bottom half of the martini glass was filled with a silky custard so rich and creamy and full of egg flavors I couldn’t stop eating. Then there was a layer of sweet chestnut cream and a layer of matcha mouse. Passion fruit pulp was drizzled on top to give this sweet and rich dessert some zing. The scoop of ice cream lent a nice contrast in temperature and it was all rounded off nicely with a paper-thin tuille. This is more like the Pierre Hermé I know.
Crème brulee with foie gras, cranberries and pear compote
Ladies and gentlemen, this is by no means your regular crème brulee! Although I eat foie gras at every chance I get, I’ve never had it in a dessert and to be perfectly honest, I had my doubts: will it be too rich, will it be too weird? All my doubts were dispelled the moment I took a tentative little bite. Oh how do I describe it? You know when you eat foie gras, you like the intense rich flavor but the burst of oil in your mouth is not really pleasant? Well, somehow Mr. Hermé managed to solve that problem. You taste the intense fragrance of the foie gras without the greasiness because, me thinks, it is first neutralized by the custard cream and further played down by the refreshing combination of cranberry/pear compote and fresh pear chunks. In the words of Randy Jackson, (watch American Idol much?) “Yo, listen dude, this is molten HOT!”
And last but not the least, an assortment of macarons:
The vanilla was too sweet for my taste and the chocolate had the same problem with the tarte: cacao nibs in ganache. I didn’t try the passion fruit milk chocolate ganache macaron but I really enjoyed the rose flavored ispahan, again. My favorite, however, was the white truffle. I know it sounds so cliché, but I really did enjoy it the most. I know it’s hard to make a good truffle dessert because I’ve had some pretty bad truffle ice creams before. Nevertheless, when it’s done right, it is the most incredible experience of flavor and aroma, which PH managed to do in perfection. The fragrance of the truffle is neither too pungent nor too subtle and the flavor is neither too intrusive nor too delicate. And with that perfect macaron we finished off our wonderful dessert course.
I was feeling content and happy about the whole experience, until the next day, when I found out that there was actually another different dessert menu just next door in the Martini bar. Had I known that I would’ve convinced my dinner companions to skip dinner altogether and order that entire menu too! Oh well, there is always Paris and Tokyo. Until then, Mr. Hermé.