Nicolas Lambert, the king of raspberries, crowned in Hong Kong
At the age of 27, Nicolas Lambert had dreams of leaving the country. He chose to travel the globe and became the pastry chef of the Caprice, a 2-star restaurant at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong. It took him only 6 months to be elected Best Pastry Chef of Hong Kong and Macao. This young star pastry chef’s cakes are like him: simple and straightforward. Here he reveals the flavours of his adopted country and culinary specialities of the end of the year.
What prompted you to move abroad and so far away?
The challenge. I needed a new professional challenge after having worked in four different places in France and, above all, to improve my English (laughs). I had many opportunities in London but England is too close to France! I chose Hong Kong which is an extremely active and cosmopolitan city. In addition, the Caprice is one of the city’s best restaurants: a 2-star establishment where I am happy to express my pastry-making style. Perfect! At the age of 28, I manage a team of 8 people in a major restaurant that works like clockwork, with 65 covers for lunch and dinner, 7 days a week and which welcomes both foreigners and locals, all delighted to discover different flavours.
Is it true that real Chinese food has nothing to do with what can be found in France?
Yes, it’s completely different. You have the inevitable dim sum, steamed buns that mean “touch the heart”. There are hundreds of variations possible that are served in an assortment, using bamboo baskets. They are perfect for a diet, but in reasonable quantities! Seafood - fried, baked or steamed - is very popular. It is so fresh it seems to have come straight from the sea to your plate. I also love Chinese barbecue, a real institution in Hong Kong. Once seasoned and roasted on a spit outdoors or in the oven, the meat is hung in restaurants’ windows. Delicious and ideal for a snack when you are on the go.
Is Christmas celebrated in Hong Kong as it is in France?
Not quite, but the tradition is starting to take hold. The main celebration is of course is the Chinese New Year which involves immense festivities in late January-early February. The Chinese gather with their family for Christmas. Father Christmases can be seen everywhere in the streets and, this year, there was a huge Christmas tree on Hong Kong’s central square, lights and decorations that lit up the whole city.
And what do people in Hong Kong eat at Christmas?
Restaurant menus offer new dishes but there is nothing specially made for Christmas. I surprised everyone by being the first pastry chef to offer a Yule log.
We know that Asians are not big sugar lovers. Have you adapted your log recipe?
Not at all. I had a pretty good idea of ??what I wanted to do. I took my inspiration from my memories and the forests of my native Vosges. I promised myself to make this log when I became a chef! It is made of milk chocolate and hazelnuts. Everything can be eaten: even the decorations, the small logs and pine cones. This dessert takes 48 hours to make and requires a lot of attention. I therefore decided to make only 30 of them which were immediately sold! I’m already working on the next one.
And regarding cakes, were you surprised by pastry-making traditions in Hong Kong?
To be fair, the people of Hong Kong do not have a sweet tooth. They make a cake for the Chinese New Year, made with sticky rice. They like fruit but are not very fond of acid tastes, passion fruit or lemon, unless there is more taste than acidity. You can immediately forget desserts made with cream or butter. They are less fond of sweet tastes than the French!
It was easy to adapt and I reduced the sugar content of my cakes and desserts without affecting the taste. The people of Hong Kong love it but don’t like me just for that (laughs). They like the identity of my cakes, which is very classic. I never use more than three flavours as I do not want customers to be confused, so that they may feel what I feel.
Do you use Les vergers Boiron frozen fruit purees?
Yes, a lot. It’s simple, whenever my desserts include fruit, I use Les vergers Boiron. I particularly like the 100% fruit purees as I prefer to have the untouched product to control the sugar level. My favourite flavours at the moment are white peach and blood peach, mango, lychee, blackberry and, of course, raspberry which is my star fruit. During the summer season, we make a lychee-raspberry dessert hat is to die for.
What is your signature dish?
As I love raspberries, my signature dessert is quite simply called “la framboise”. It’s a dish crowned by a giant raspberry including six different textures, including coulis, mousse and candied raspberry, to enhance all the flavours of this marvellous fruit. It took me six months to create this raspberry.
What is your secret to imagine and create a new pastry?
I firstly work on the taste and do 5 or 6 tests. I’m careful not to exceed 8 to 10 recipes per dessert. In a chocolate tart, for example, you can have 3 recipes with the shortbread, chocolate sorbet and mousse. It’s very easy to reach 10 recipes but I do not go beyond that so as not to disperse the flavours. Once I have defined the taste, I take a look at the visual but my priority remains the flavour. I am inspired by nature, everyday colours, art, etc.
I’m now happy as I have some experience and can create my own pastry ideas.
I often think of my parents - bakers and pastry-makers in the Vosges - and my twin brother who is also a pastry-maker. They really support me and encourage me to push back the boundaries and I’m lucky enough to share my passion with my wife who is also a pastry chef here in Hong Kong.
You can follow him on his instagram account @nicolas_lambert