One day, last May, I got an email from Café Pouchkine. Chef pâtissier, Emmanuel Ryon, wanted to know if I could come in and check out their pastry lab in Montreuil, just outside of Paris. I’d requested an audience with his majesty a month or two prior but was told the master was extremely busy and might not have enough time for a nice visit until the fall. But there’d been a change of schedule, and I was invited up to see the facility and get an inside look at how they make the magic happen. Was it a pretty cool experience? No. It was the coolest.
Stepping into the laboratoire, I was blown away not only by the size but by all the natural light. Not too unlike Jacques Genin’s kitchen, but bigger – much bigger – and . . . with no one in sight; the team had just wrapped-up for the day. But I somehow got lucky and spotted one of Monsieur Ryon’s sous chefs who, when asked where I could find the man himself, pointed me down a long hall. Right then, Monsieur Ryon popped out from one of the rooms, shot me a smile, and extended a hand for a shake. Even though I’d photographed other World Champions, French Champions and MOFs before, I was nervous, expecting someone far more reserved and intense. Friendly and relaxed was what I got instead, and he asked if I was ready for a tour around. But first there was a snack to be had, a freshly made Moskito…
And what’s the perfect accompaniment for an ultra-luxe pistachio-laden pastry? Water? No. Wine. Nuh-uh. Remember that this is like visiting the most upscale Willy Wonka factory you could imagine. So what we had was some freshly prepared Mors nectar. If you’ve never had it, think of it as a cross between cranberry and raspberry . . . but 10x as fancy.
Sugared-up, I was ready to go from room-to-room and hear all about how Pouchkine brings fantasy to life. There was the weighing room, where a team just weighs ingredients, all day every day. There was the macaron room, where a team devoted to macs toils sweetly away. There was even a sugar decoration room, where sugar specialists worked on fantastically amazing garnishes for the pastries. Of course there was a chocolate room, too. Really, there was a room for just about every sub-specialty and duty you could think of. And I’d show you some of the shots, but not only are they kind of top secret, but I have so many more of pastry magic happening that I thought it best to get into them instead.
After a thorough tour of the facility – and despite having been fed – I was still pretty hungry. “Monsieur Ryon, if it’s not too much of a pain, could you custom-craft your Pavlova for my amusement . . . now?” Maybe it was because I asked so nicely, or maybe because I’m naturally endearing – I don’t know – but he agreed to whip up the requested treat on-the-spot. He happened to have some of the very special crème he uses in the Pavlovas already prepared; the other bits and pieces were carefully put in place by his assistant . . .
Monsieur Ryon even got the meringues ready and did a thorough final inspection. “Sufficiently meringue’y, Monsieur?” Oui! . . .
So he snipped a poche open…
Finished preparing that super-ultra-incredibly thick Tahitian vanilla crème . . .
And then filled the bag up with its gooey goodness.
Wielding it like a nunchuck of creamy deliciousness, he was ready to start piping.
First, he had to set a little “glue” in place . . .
And delicately affix the lobes of meringue to the gateau and cassis layers . . .
Then he was on the attack!
One billowy bookend of crème . . .
Then the other . . .
Followed by undulous mounds thereof . . .
But the aesthetic wouldn’t be complete without sparkles! Because, as I’ve said many times before . . . sparkles make everything better. So Monsieur Ryon whipped out his trusty bottle of sparkle vodka and the sparkle gun.
And loaded that puppy up . . .
His loyal assistant was summoned over, freshly-piped Pavlovas in-hand . . .
And a fresh coat of shimmering goodness was applied . . .
It’s already more beautiful than almost anything at any other shop, but the master wasn’t done. Oh, no.
Using his very specialized pastry shears to set a rose petal in place . . .
And then affixing some fresh berries . . .
The Pavlova was ready to receive its wisps of decorative grass. Monsieur Ryon summoned every bit of concentration to insert them perfectly. Can’t you just feel his excellence in the shot below (my favorite photo in the set, btw)?!
I should also take a moment to explain to you that all of Pouchkine’s pastries are more refined and deeply considered than any other shop’s. As Monsieur Ryon develops the recipes and designs, he engages in a collaborative effort with Café Pouchkine’s creator, the brilliant restaurateur Mr. Andrei Dellos. They’ll go back and forth on the flavors and design of each, as many as 80 or 90 times, before they perfect every single facet of the piece. The aim is undiluted excellence, and it is achieved.
The final touch was to be a few dabs of 24K gold . . .
And, with that, the Pavlovas were done and hastily consumed by yours truly. Were they as tasty as they look? No, they were even more delicious!
So, yes, make sure to visit Café Pouchkine as soon as is humanly possible. In fact, if you happen to be in Paris at this moment and can get over to Printemps Mode, just go right now. Even if the Pavlova isn’t in the case the day you visit, there are only like a few dozen other pastries you should absolutely buy. From the vanilla croissant to the Moskito, Or Noir, and essentially any and every macaron there, you’re sure to be dazzled. And make sure to pick up some hot chocolate or Mors nectar, as those are the most appropriate accompaniments to all of Monsiur Ryon’s treats.
Address: 64 Boulevard Haussmann (inside ‘Printemps Mode’), 75008 Paris Phone: +33 01 42 82 43 31
Store Hours: Open Monday-Saturday from 9:30am until 8pm. Closed Sunday.