Sadaharu Aoki :: Bamboo
I have seen thousands of pastries all across Paris. I have jammed my 105mm macro lens down into hundreds of them for hours at a time. I’ve poured countless hours into editing photos – countless more into contemplating the beauty of Parisian pastry. And I can safely say Sadaharu Aoki’s Bamboo is the loveliest of them all. If I put it next to another otherwise stunning Pascal Caffet or Pâtisserie des Rêves piece, it would make them look quaint and homemade. I don’t know why Aoki doesn’t sell postcards in his shop that simply read “I ate this.” Its surface bamboo abstraction and OCD-level layering make it the pinnacle of pastry design, in my opinion. And though I’m sure one day someone will top the Bamboo’s majesty, it will likely be years before we’re graced with anything more fantastic.
I’m sure any of us could have come up with the Bamboo if we tried. A little joconde biscuit, matcha (powdered green tea) and green tea-infused cream, plus decades of experience as a world-class pastry chef and a final dash of an . . . epiphany. So easy. The actual combination of those first three ingredients is quite something – perfectly sweetened (meaning: barely) and almost perfectly subtle in its flavors. If it weren’t for the matcha being slightly overdone and the chocolate being a little too tame, I’d give it an all-around 5 stars. But, alas, Aoki’s pieces are all uneven. It’s actually miraculous that this particular one comes vastly closer than any of his others to achieving a sublime level of interplay between the ingredients. And, really, my chocolate comment isn’t so much about the presence of the chocolate flavor as much as it is about the complexity/profile thereof; it could be more developed. Jean-Paul Hévin is the only patisier I’ve found so far who completely gets the potential of cacao. Maybe he needs to do a consulting gig with Aoki and help ratchet the Bamboo up to the level of pastry legend.
I only wish more Parisian patisseries were like this. Anyone can dump sugar into a pastry and make it appealing to someone . . . effectively by turning it into a candy. But there’s not much skill involved there. Unless the piece is bright pink, purple, red, etc., where I expect to get overloaded on sucrose, then keep it toned-down. I’m far more interested in how you work with flavors, textures and their interplay than I am in your ability to empty 25lbs. sacks of Domino into your mixer. It might even be that some of those pastries I’ve found disturbing are little diamonds in the rough, waiting for a more adept approach to bring out their dormant potential.
Musings on other patisseries aside, Aoki’s Bamboo is a must-have – among the top 5 in which you should indulge here in Paris. While it doesn’t quite merit my ultimate rating, its #1 position in aesthetics and chaste sweetness make it incredibly important to experience. If you’re a pastry student or chef, a few bites could very well change your entire approach to the craft.