Category: Arnaud Larher
I find it hard to strike a balance between my personality, a writing tone people will enjoy, and the reality of my experience with these pastries. The issue is that, whenever I go full-tilt honest about a negative experience, it turns some people off. Some simply get offended because I’m making fun of one of their favorite patissiers, even if they haven’t had the particular piece I’m shredding. Yet, others delight in the harshness, when well-deserved. As the blog goes into full-on site mode next year, I am going to try and focus mostly on the pastry I do like and make only passing mention of the substandard works. But it’s not yet next year 😉 And you know Arnaud Larher is at the bottom of my list already, so how much can this hurt . . .
France’s MOF competitions are supposed to elevate the greatest French artisans into the public spotlight. From bra makers, to cheese gods and patissiers, there’s nationwide recognition and adulation for the greats. But, and call me crazy, shouldn’t that mean their work really is at an exceptional level, or least a consistently impressive one? Selling me a mound of nut-covered vanilla crème atop overcooked caramel in a 25-cent gimmicky verrine should be a sufficient basis for Arnaud Larher’s MOF title to be revoked. This “Pause Vanille” is just one more embarrassing piece of **** from Arnie.
Clocking in at a “mere” €4.90, the Pause is composed of coulis caramel, crème brulee a la vanille, Chantilly a la vanille roulée dans des éclats d’amandes. I actually found the almonds to be fairly pleasant. Not remarkable, but they were enjoyable enough. The crème brulée and Chantilly fused into a creamy vanilla texture and flavor sensation that, much like the nuts, was quite good, if totally uninspired. And then the caramel . . . a glob of moderately overdone amber carbony-ness that made me want my €4.90 back even more than the aforementioned ho-hum portions of the verrine did. What a total ******* waste of money.
Even more than the inexplicably burned Roussillon Monsieur Larher sold me, this piece just underscores how much of a scam the man’s pastry work is. Charging close to €5 is what a good shop in the 5th, 6th or 7th arrondissement would charge for a verrine. Tucked out beyond Sacre Couer in the 18th, Monsieur Larher’s shop should be selling this for closer to 4euros – perhaps less. And then there’s the issue of the container. It would be cute in a neighborhood patisserie, but from an MOF? Are you kidding? And the tragically simple composition of this “treat” is so bereft of creativity that it’s… and I’m going to have to make up a word here… ridicunderwhelmescent. Any other word would be woefully insufficient for expressing the degree to which it is a full-force letdown.
As a point of comparison, Patrick Roger, chocolate god and MOF has spent the last year cultivating a large swarm of urban Parisian honey bees, housed in hives throughout the city. He then incorporates his own honey into his creations, giving them a touch of character that is incapable of being duplicated. Arnie here buys a knickknack piece of crockery with a handle/built-in spoon and then fills it with crap caramel and a few cents worth of ingredients, expecting you to fork over close to $7US for the ennui of it all. Do you see why I think he should be de-MOF’ed?
So would I recommend that you purchase a Pause Vanille? Mmmm . . . well, what I’d suggest is you “Pause” before ever visiting his shop for pastries. He has an awesome Charlotte Cassis, and his chocolate is some good stuff, but I’ve never had anything else there even worth ¼ of his inflated prices. Oh, Arnie!
I’m just going to get right to it . . . this Charlotte Cassis is a delight. No, regular readers, your eyes are not deceiving you. I just used an unambiguously positive adjective to describe an Arnaud Larher pastry. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that it is among the finest of all the cassis pastries in Paris.
It is with this piece that the promise of Arnaud Larher has come to life for me. His quaint shop in its quaint neighborhood, with its kind staff, offers this up as the one patisserie in their gamme that I’d go back for again and again. Finer than Mulot’s, finer than Aoki’s, for me this is the yardstick against which all other cassis mousse must be measured.
Breaking it down, we have some violet-colored cassis juice-imbibed biscuit, covered by a giant mound of cassis mousse, surrounding a small block of cassis pâte, and it’s all crowned with a blueberry balanced atop a square of dark chocolate. Oh, and lest I forget, there’s a healthy dose of cassis glaçage covering all by the chocolate garnish. The biscuit was texturally solid – not too chewy and definitely not soggy. Although its flavor was pretty tame, that’s to be expected when it’s competing with as much cassis as one gets in every bite. The cassis mousse was what really reeled me in. I’m at a loss for how to explain it, as fruit mousses are very different from the chocolate variety. It’s a mixture of spongey, oozey, gooey, chewy, and foamy that has to be done “just so”, and Monsier Larher hit the nail on the head. I would love to fill a gigantic pastry bag with it and have someone just pipe it into my mouth; it’s that good. Adding to the superior texture and flavor blast, there was the cassis pâte, which took the flavor intensity to a new realm. The corners of my cheeks are tingling right now just thinking about its acidicly pert deliciousness. Since I’m not a big fan of chocolate as a complement to cassis (cassis to chocolate is another story), I might advise setting the square aside and just savoring the ripe little blueberry. It was a sweet, yet mild, little counterpoint to the force of the cassis one gets to savor in the dome.
I think the secret to the success of this piece is that Monsieur Larher loves to use gelatin, and a command of it is pretty pivotal in a fine cassis mousse. While it might not need to be such a prominent fixture in other pastries, this is where his “desire and opportunity meet”. Maybe Arnaud could expand his fruit mousse offerings even further. I’d certainly be into it.
I mean, really, if Strasbourg can have a patisserie devoted almost entirely to kugelhof, Maison du Kougelhopf (btw – there are like 10 ways to spell that word), then there could be a fruit mousse shop. New York City even has a big store that just sells rice pudding, Rice to Riches. Sometimes it’s all about running with a speciality.
So, yes, next time you find yourself out beyond Sacré Coeur, snag a cassis dome from Arnaud Larher. While you’re there, pick up a bar of chocolate or two. He is well-regarded for his skill with cacao, and I can certainly vouch for its quality.
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I’m just going to get right to it here. I find Arnaud Larher’s work to be generally appalling. That he achieved enough acclaim to open and sustain a patisserie of his own is so completely beyond me that I can’t even express it. It may be that he’s independently wealthy and finances his life as a patisier without regard for actual sales. I don’t know.The only reason I’ve kept going back is out of disbelief; there’s just no way anyone could consistently churn out such obvious crap. From his gauche and meaningless pastry designs, to pointless garnishes and a reliance on gelatin that only Bill Cosby would advocate, I’m just speechless. To be honest, I have found some diamonds in the rough. Notably, he does have one of the finest cassis pastries I’ve yet come across. But, the overwhelming majority of his work is abominable. His Le Recif has even earned the distinction of being the most horrific pastry I’ve eaten during my three months in Paris. And what about the Roussillon here? Well, let’s dive in, shall we?
Starting with the flower and green triangle of white chocolate, here’s what I’d expect from an actual world-class patisier . . . 1. That flower would taste like a flower or borrow on one of the flavors in the pastry. 2. That piece of white chocolate would be delicious and at minimum, mid-grade, if not something along the lines of Amedei. 3. The white chocolate should also be used in a way that seems natural or highly aesthetic. So how has Arnaud managed with those three points? Well, the flower tastes like nothing. I can guarantee you it would be enjoyable alone if I found it at Marletti’s and likely Pain de Sucre, as well. The white chocolate was, uh, gross. Again, were I at Hévin or Hugo & Victor, it would be sublime. And, Arnaud, is that green thing supposed to be a leaf? Do flowers grow out a single leaf? Mmmm…no. The answer is no. That is not how flowers grow. Is that supposed to be abstract? Do you want to know what I think? I think it’s just ******* stupid.
Ok, let’s move on to the orange rubber layer. Yum! I love when my food is vulcanized. I also adore little blobby drips of vulcanized orange rubber on top of it. Rubber-studded pastry. Hint: You might want to cut back “a little” on the gelatin. And what about the white cream Jell-O, which you refer to as a mousse, beneath the orange rubber? Flavorless. But then there was the golden fruit chunk layer and oozing biscuit base – with a combined overdose of sugar and mango, pineapple and apricot flavors. Though, according to his catalog, the fruit layer is only meant to be apricot and the biscuit is intended as “almond”. Uh . . . ok. I don’t think my tongue magically stopped working, as normal, just for this pastry. Ugh. But what’s really shocking is that when the layers all combine into one bite, despite being way over-gelatinized, the flavors work . . . not as billed, but they do function as something I didn’t feel the need to spit out. I’m virtually certain this was just a happy accident. Monsieur Larher could not possibly have planned anything along these lines.
Obviously avoid the Roussillon, unless you’re a huge fan of Jell-O and want to buy a $6 pastry poorly made of it. The best part was that there was a moderately-sized burn mark on the front side of the piece. But given that I wanted the photo to not look absurd, I used a little Photoshop magic to remove it. Why would I be sold a burnt mousse pastry? That’s the one you throw out, Arnie – not the one you sell to customers. Your work is an embarrassment.
Oh, and while Monsieur Larher’s work scrapes the bottom of the barrel, do you ever wish you could have Paris’ truly fine pastry hand-delivered to you every morning? Well, you can. Just add Paris Patisseries as a friend on Facebook. You deserve a daily dose of Paris’ finest.
Arnaud Larher’s shop is set in an aesthetic wonderland. Tucked away from the throngs of tourists in a neighborhood north of Sacré Couer, you just marvel at the sun dancing through the leaves of the enormous trees that line the streets, the bounty of steep neverending staircases, and quiet cafes you always envision dappled about Paris. Topping it off is when you actually reach Larher’s shop. The pastries are all on display in the window, complete with little nametags and enticing descriptions. Almost every one of them is picture perfect or perfectly wild in its design. The first time I stopped by, it was tough to whittle-down my options, but there wasn’t even a second thought about taking the Paradis home. Neverminding the questionable design philosophy employed, it just pops. And when you eat it . . .
It also bombs. Lifeless might be the best descriptor. In my original notes from that day, I have, “This pastry was indeed ‘paradis’, if paradise is a rubbery strip of cherry* goo on top of a bland marshmallow**.” And that strip of goo might not even be cherry – it could be strawberry, raspberry, banana, eggplant, salmon, etc.. Why can’t I tell you? Because it basically tasted like nothing. I could forgive the absence of flavor in the marshmallow as an exercise in achieving perfect texture, but that then must play against flavors, whether subtle or pronounced, in the rest of the piece. At least there was that glowing red cube flecked with gold leaf . . . the one saving grace for flavor. Just kidding; it was dead, too. Why on earth is any garnish flavorless, much less one that large and deliberate? And what are you thinking when you cover something so boring in gold leaf? It seems the focus is more on creating a “food sculpture” someone would want to buy than it is on crafting an excellent patisserie.
There was actually some good flavor in the sablé base and rose macaron atop the pastry. Granted, the macaron was way too dense, but who cares . . . at least it tasted like something. It was after I ate it that it also struck me how random the garnish design was. Aside from the fact that a 4-year-old could tell you they’re all generally in the “red group”, what do a raspberry, a pink rose macaron, and a flavorless red gelatinized cube have in common? Nothing. Oh, I forgot, there’s the gold leaf . . . now it makes perfect sense.
It actually upsets me that some people come to Paris and wind up with this as the only, or one of the only, pastries they experience. Then they return to Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, America, or wherever they’re from, and walk around for years going, “What’s the big deal about French pastry?” They never know they simply got gypped by an inept pastry chef. Punishment for arrogantly peddling this waste under the name Paradis should be for Larher to instead sell it for a week as the Enfer***, before he retires it from the pastry case forever.
*The Arnaud Larher Spring/Summer catalog claims it is raspberry with balsamic vinegar from Modena.
**The Arnaud Larher Spring/Summer catalog claims it is an almond panna cotta mousse. While they share some ingredients, there is a very real difference between marshmallow and panna cotta; this was a marshmallow.
***Enfer (noun) m – Hell. antonym: paradise
The Récif is like the sad, maladroit fumbling of a first year pastry student at a 3rd-rate culinary school. This is a piece almost completely bereft of anything redeeming, save a few scant nuts in the “brownie” base and a pleasantly warm, smooth and complex outer shell, albeit one that can only be savored when teased apart from the gauche and patently absurd thyme ganache it encases. This is trash.
When you flavor chocolate, in this situation a ganache, there are a number of considerations – two that supercede all others. The first is the flavor profile of the cacao itself. The second is balancing the infusion with that chocolate’s profile. In the case of the Récif, Monsieur Larher has seemingly ignored the need for the chocolate to have any clear flavor whatsoever and has suspended any attempt at subtly with his use of thyme. What could have been a complex dance between a carefully chosen cacao and pleasant herbal notes, tasted more like a mound of thick brown thyme-laden mucus.
The brownie base was virtually flavorless, with the exception of the aforementioned nuts, which were delicious and robust. It was also generally dry; about 1/3 of it seemed to have desiccated significantly more than the rest. It’s not a stretch to say that a Little Debbie that’s been sitting on a convenience store’s shelf for the last 6 months would come off as a more professional and genuine effort.
Having purchased four of his pieces so far, I can safely say Monsieur Larher has light years to go in his command of flavor and texture. Even the other shell, while excellent, did not mesh with the use of thyme. I can think of a half-dozen dark chocolates that would have better complemented it.
I plan to return and give Arnaud a few more chances, but I’m incredibly disappointed with what I’ve already had the misfortune of experiencing. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to “go Silkwood” on my mouth with a Waterpik.
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