François Payard on Why Macarons Are Way More Awesome Than Cupcakes

Francois Payard.jpg
Photo courtesy François Payard
The man behind the macaron

Pastry chef François Payard, who runs François Payard Bakery (210 Murray Street, 212-566-8300), has become synonymous with chocolates and fancy French desserts. Payard is also currently organizing the third annual Macaron Day, which will be taking place on Tuesday, March 20, 2012, a citywide event to celebrate the beloved (and often belittled) colorful cookies. We called him up to learn more about trends in the pastry world today and to get his thoughts on the cupcake, that other beloved and belittled confection.

Why do you think France has such a pastry and bakery culture and New York City doesn't?

France is all about food. In France, every corner has a bakery or pastry shop. It's in the French culture to eat pastries, like how in American culture, you eat doughnuts for breakfast, or bagels, or go out to brunch. Every culture has its specific foods. But there is a difference between a bakery and pastry shop. The bakery is where you see a woman buying a baguette, and afterwards go to the pastry shop to buy cake. When invited for dinner [in France], we always bring dessert. In America, you bring flowers or wine, maybe. Only during Thanksgiving do you bring pie; it's just a different custom. ... Look and see how many pastry shops there are in Paris. And they are all busy!

What are the big trends in pastry today?

The new trend is the macaron. It's become very big. The cupcake has stayed, but it's not my favorite thing to have. I find it very sweet, but I think the cupcake is good for the kid market, while the macaron is for the everyday woman because it's small. We come up with new flavors by the season. We develop them and work with a company in France that has developed the cold pressing of vegetables [to make flavor extracts]. It's incredible what they do. To make an expression of coriander, they take 50 pounds of coriander and make five grams of extract. We'll work with them to make new flavors. It's very concentrated because it's cold-pressed and not fake, and it just came on the market a few months ago.

How do you feel about the trend of having desserts be savory?

They become more savory because of people making them too sweet. They can be good, but it's a fine line. ... I still like a nice dessert. It doesn't need 25 components. Simple but well-executed with the best ingredients. Sometimes, people work too hard and have about five to six on the plate and it gets lost. You need harmony. I think what makes a great dessert is simplicity and using the best ingredients. Most chefs think too hard. I loved Michael [Laiskonis] from Le Bernardin because he makes good things even if they are a little molecular. There's not too much that's extravagant. It's all about the food. Sometimes when I go to restaurants, I'm not even sure if something's a dessert. I had a chocolate mousse that was freeze-dried with some little fruits. I wasn't sure if it was dessert or pre-dessert. People want to be so fancy now. ... People want to impress the world by doing too much, but then the dessert doesn't look like dessert.

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