For a man who told The New York Times, “I don’t even want to be called a master… ”, Jacques Genin still does a great job of making almost everyone else seem like amateurs. Sure, they had their fancy stages and sous chef positions alongside MOFs, Champions du Monde, and three star Michelin royalty, but Monsieur Genin eschewed formal training in favor of a reliance on His own genius and immeasurable talent. Yet, in my conversations with Him, Monsieur Genin is always exceedingly humble, claiming none of his pastries are yet perfect and that there’s still so much more work to be done.
The Master has also told me that my opinion of Him and His work might be tempered a bit, if only other chefs had access to the finest ingredients. Perhaps. But I’m more inclined to believe 90% of the majesty stems from His techniques and obsessive love of the pastries. Take for instance His book “Le Meilleur de la Tarte Citron” (a cookbook that’s solely about making perfect lemon tartes), and you’ll see that not only is it packed with exceedingly specific temperatures, weights and times – but hyper-specific sidenotes, musings on lemons and even poetry about lemons; it’s crazy in the best possible way. There’s a reason this Man dominates the classics. Among them is of course His Éclair au Caramel . . .
Every time I bite into one of His éclairs, I feel as though I’m tearing through something Divinely transubstantiated – engaging in a sensual violation of a perfect and holy flesh – rendered in pâte a choux. So tender. So sublime. It’s the perfect vessel for the sweet amber goodness that engorges its length. Neither too subtle, nor too forceful, the caramel crème is a revelation of balance of flavor. It was once a violently bubbling cauldron of sugar and cream, but as its cool smoothness floods your mouth, you’re privy to nothing but wave after wave of pacific delight. A sense of betrayal creeps into your mind, wondering how any other chef has seen fit to charge you for his own inferior work. But, basking in a mouthful of Greatness, your attention quickly shifts to the sticky milk chocolate glaçage. It dances against the pâte a choux and caramel, expressing its cacao tones for a few moments before subsiding. It glides in again and, together with the choux and crème, reverberates through your soul in an instant of symphonic magnificence.
There’s a reason this little guy is at #20 on my Top 38 Best Pastries list. I’d likely have put it higher, were it not for the even more impressive chocolate éclair (#4 on the list) from Monsieur Genin. I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to describe that when I post it here in a few months. I’m sure I can somehow wordsmith my way through even more religious imagery, as a way to paint the experience of something so much better than perfect. If only Monsieur Genin were merely great and not so often mesmerizing, then it would be far easier to write reviews of His work.
Another unintended consequence of my love affair with Monsieur Genin’s creations is that I’m even harder on my own baking/cooking than I was before. I’m literally in the process of going mad over crafting a hot chocolate recipe*. With every slight adjustment to the recette – every little tweak to the process and proportions – I wonder what the Master would say. Granted, I have a copy of His recipe (all the way down to the specific Valrhona couverture He buys), but would He be proud of what I’m creating?
*Note: I cook a lot, but I’ve only written three recipes. And when I say I’ve written them, I mean they in no way resemble others in their categories, and I spent months obsessing and crafting them from scratch. The first has been picked up by restaurant chain. The second tops Google, is constantly stolen by bloggers and other sites, and I have good reason to suspect it was adapted as the basis for an episode of a popular Food Network series. And then the third is the aforementioned hot chocolate recipe, which I’ll be sharing with you in January.
So, yes, buy at least two of these next time you stop by Monsieur Genin’s. While you’re there, pick up three chocolate eclairs, four lemon tartes and dozens of His caramels, chocolates, and pâtes des fruits. Then send me an email telling me how awesome they are. Since I won’t be back to France for about four months, I need a means for vicariously experiencing His Greatness.
SPECIAL: On Monday, I’ll be taking you into the kitchen of London’s famed pâtissier/chocolatier, William Curley. Four-time winner of ‘Best British Chocolatier’, gold medal winner at The Culinary Olympics, and recipient of numerous other awards and accolades, I think you’re going to enjoy the 16-photo spectacular of him in action!