Just over a year ago, Café Pouchkinein Paris (16 Place de la Madeleine) opened offering the services of a talented young pastry chef, Nina Métayer.
The young French patissier, who has worked in many prestigious restaurants including, Le Meurice, Hotel Raphael and of course Jean-François Piège's Le Grand Restaurant, also won the title of "Pastry Chef of the Year" in 2016 from Le Chef magazine, then again from Gault & Millau in 2017.
Fine Dining Lovers had the chance to talk with Nina Métayer not long after the cafe's opening.
What made you want to start working in pastry?
Envy is born from desire. I started working in a bakery and then, seeing the other pastry cooks at work, it made me want to do that too. I then lived in Australia for a while, but I didn't always find job as a baker so I sometimes ended up working in patisserie. I was even a pastry chef in restaurants! Finally, when I came back to Paris, I couldn't find a position in the type of bakery that suited me, that's to say, the old-fashioned ones, with a wood oven etc ... So I started training in pastry.
After having worked in the pastry sections of restaurants like Le Meurice, Le Raphael and Le Grand Restaurant and now a shop, with a year's experience at Café Pouchkine - which do you prefer, restaurants or shops?
These are two very different jobs, but I love both! In the restaurant, we work in the moment. In the shop, we are more technical and long-term because it's often necessary to make cakes at 4 am and make sure they hold up until the evening. At Café Pouchkine, what I like most is the international side. I also like the idea of participating in the growth of a developing brand. It's a small place with a lot of ambition!
What pastries did you create for the Cafe Pouchkine?
I arrived just at the time of the grand opening on the Place de la Madeleine so I had to create a lot of pastries. For example, a Pavlova in the shape of a Russian ballerina tutu, that's very popular. There are also the Matryoshka dolls that are nested in one another, which are discovered by slicing in half to reveal the different textures - confit, creamy, etc. Each dessert must correspond not only with my personality but also with the identity of the Café Pouchkine, and as my grandmother is Russian, everything is done naturally. Another signature pastry is Caesar. One day I asked my friends who don't work in pastry why they liked chocolate and thanks to their views I created a very chocolaty dessert with a volcanic earth chocolate for the smoked side as well as a softer one. In the end, we discovered a dessert that is similar to a chocolate cake, but both cooked and melted.
You were a contestant in the French TV show "Who will be the next great pastry chef." Do you think that TV can be a career booster?
It all depends on how the experience goes. For my part, it taught me a lot on a human level. The show also allowed me to learn to express myself in public. But I think we should not participate in cooking shows to boost its popularity. It can work but it is a big risk because we can also stand in front of everyone. You have to take it more as a life experience than a stepping stone to your career, even if it helps.
You have also experienced the other side by becoming a jury on a test of the Best Pastry Chef on M6. How did that feel?
I enjoyed it! It reminded me of good memories and as I had already been in their place I think I was more attentive and more invested. I went there with great kindness because the candidates on this show are amateurs and it's really great what they do!
What is the worst criticism that can be made on your pastries?
For me, the worst is when someone doesn't like it. That I don't manage to convey the emotion that I wanted to with a pastry. Everyone has different tastes and can't please everyone but when I put my heart and soul into it, it feels horrible.
And the best compliment?
I love it when people are amazed, because a pastry reminds them of a memory. When I manage to take a person where I want, even with a simple tarte tatin, it's great!
In everyday life, do you prefer sweet or savoury?
At first, I preferred savoury but now I'm completely addicted to sugar (laughs)!
What's your favouritedessert?
Apple pie. I love simple desserts!
Do you have projects in progress or to come?
I am already busy with the development of Café Pouchkine and the birth of my first child. But I would love to make a book and start shooting pastry videos again. We will see in the coming months!
Here below you can find a selection of amazing inspirational dishes from Nina Métayer. (click on the images to enlarge)
Matriochka, from the Spring collection.
Vesna, from the Spring collection. Individual strawberry desserts with fresh and candied strawberries and garnished with grapefruit.
Le Nid. Very very chocolatey cake, with a hint of kaffir lime.
Tarte Soleil, from the Spring collection. Raspberry coconut, fresh and tart.
Caesar Trio. This chocolate biscuit with hazelnut butter dessert celebrates the combination of three textures and three chocolates: a creamy chocolate Madong from Papua, a crisp chocolate made with fleur de sel and a chocolate mousse made from Araguani, a single origin chocolate from Venezuela.
Pavlova. This is an aerial Swiss meringue, inspired by the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, that showcases a surprising tutu of whipped cream. A creamy chesnut filling or confit of fresh raspberries and blueberries can be found in the centre.
Cherry Pannacotta. Surrounded by a soft biscuit, this creamy pannacotta contains a black cherry coulis, topped with fresh cherries and crunchy chocolate.
Staff shortages are hitting the hospitality sector hard, prompting some restaurants to look outside the industry to train those without restaurant experience for life in the kitchen. Andrew Friedman finds out more.