Champion d'Europe de Pâtisserie 2000, Coupe du Monde de Pâtisserie 1995, Premier pâtissier glacier de Belgique 1991: these are some of famous Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini’s prizes. His empire includes a dozen stores in Belgium, four in Japan, three in Paris, one in London, Monaco, Kuwait and while you are reading this he probably just opened a new one. The alchemist of taste was born in Charleroi 50 years ago. In 2013, he formed part of the jury on France2’s tv show Qui sera le prochain grand pâtissier? becoming a real star. We met for a chat at the Four Seasons Hotel, in Milan, during the World Pastry Stars event.
How all began?
In Belgium, inside a 30 square meter lab and now we have a 5000 square meter one. Our success is not just about numbers though. Success means Marcolini clients recognize my stores and chocolate at first sight. It’s greatly satisfying to know a client will recognize my chocolate just tasting it.
The secret of being number one?
Believe in it. It was almost impossible to think you could become a chocolatier in Belgium, in the 90s, because the market was already full, but I didn’t give up. It’s also important to understand the difference between making and producing, artisanship and industries. I want to be a great artisan who keeps the quality of his production constant. A good artisan feels, an industrial calculates: you need to find the in between balance. You have to feel what the market wants and try. Numbers will add up.Important steps in your life?
Many. Winning international prizes is very gratifying. Working with Nestlé and Nespresso is another great opportunity. The company believed in me and made me feel confident when I needed it. It’s been a great collaboration where there is mutual respect. I don’t think globalization is a bad thing. If you export your creativity around the world it is great. To be a great artisan today you need global vision.Let's talk about chocolate...
Each time someone asked me which chocolate I use and why, I was a bit worried: I thought, maybe there is a better chocolate that I still don’t know? I started to travel a lot. In Mexico, Venenzuela, Madagascar and other places looking for the best cacao. I realized the ingredient is yes important, but I could do my own mix, my style. Now when they ask me I say: “It’s Marcolini”.
Did your Italian origins influence you?
Definitely when it comes to passion and enthusiasm. Also the sense of friendship which is very important at work. Italy is a great reference for artisans. It doesn’t matter if you know a lot unless you pass it on: that’s what I try to do with my 350 employees.Patisserie and chocolate don’t seem to be affected by the crisis: what do you think about it?
If you work you get results. We have to fight pessimism first. My business makes 35 millions a year, that’s a fact. If you work hard and keep at it, you get the reward.What is the next challenge?
The next challenge is to create made-to-measure chocolates for each client right in front of their eyes: and it’s already happening at my stores.
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.