Yann Brys: “You need to be grateful for what you have been given and know how to give in return.”
An emblematic ambassador of French pastry-making and inventor of the tourbillon, a technique used worldwide, Yann Brys was kind enough to answer our questions about his work, his inspirations and role as Executive Pastry Chef at Dalloyau.
Your first sweet emotion:
My favourite dessert is the one my mother used to make when I was a child: lemon tart. It’s very traditional, nothing fancy, just good pastry, some lemon and good ingredients, quite simply.
Do you prefer plated or shop desserts?
Your favourite Sunday dessert?
Paris-Brest. It’s a gourmet dessert and a must-not-miss. It’s refreshing, with good choux pastry, made on the day of serving, delicious hazelnut flavoured cream, not too fatty... But there is nevertheless some butter which gives the product its smoothness and gourmet value.
What is the importance of fruit in your work and are they a source of creativity?
Fruit are very important, especially citrus fruit. Hence the lemon tart! I like all citrus fruit, whatever they are. There is such a wealth of fragrances that they inspire lots of combinations and there are loads of possibilities: in confectionery, pastry-making, in original combinations. And when you travel, you discover so many varieties of citrus fruit all over the world. They’re a great source of inspiration.
Fruit and citrus fruit, in particular, hold a special place as they are complementary ingredients that will enhance other flavours and I particularly like zesty flavours. Light, but well controlled, as the acidity should be neither unpleasant nor aggressive, more a subtle fragrance.
Do you have a preference or does it vary with the seasons?
I really love Menton lemon. Even though with the IGP label, it’s difficult to be 100% sure that the lemon really comes from Menton. I also like red berries, although not a massive fan as quality can really vary. I love blackcurrant, a pleasant, quite fruity berry, not always easy to work with as it has a very specific taste, with a strong acidic touch. I am crazy about bergamot: it’s a great product and I find there are lots of things to do when you combine it with blackcurrant. I love using blackcurrant with tea too. I find they have complementary flavours. There are in fact lots of fruit-flavoured teas. If tea manufacturers have combined tea and fruit, there must be something in it.
I follow the seasons. For example, I will not use blackcurrants in winter. That’s what I particularly love about citrus fruit: you can find them in winter. It starts in October with the first mandarins, right through to March when sweeter fruit, like the flavoursome Blida, come on the market. Menton in February is the lemon season and also the high season for yuzu. I really fell in love with yuzu when I arrived in Japan and it was a delight to discover it was available in France. To my knowledge there are only two yuzu growers. It’s good to work with them during the season to have fresh yuzu. The juice is fabulous but when you are looking for real zestiness, nothing replaces the peel of fresh fruit. It’s one of the ideas I give to manufacturers’ marketing teams: remove the peel, without the flesh, without the white pith. Peel, and nothing but the peel: that’s an idea! I spend a lot of time peeling fruit as well as extracting juice. Flavour is more concentrated in the peel.
Where does your inspiration for your pastry designs come from?
I react to emotion. I will taste a product and if I like it, I will naturally have ideas of flavour combinations. For example, with pineapple; it’s interesting to combine it with ginger. I made a pineapple marmalade with fresh pineapple to which I added the ginger puree. As it cooked, the ginger flavours and note accentuated the taste of the pineapple.
That’s the way ideas come. I then had the idea of combining that marmalade with a lemony white chocolate mousse to add roundness to the product and to attenuate the intense ginger flavour, the right subtlety that it takes to make it pleasant to the taste.
That’s how creations are born: from an emotion, a desire.
I have mentally combined, bergamot with the Valrona’s dulce chocolate ; so I will combine a bergamot cream with that smooth and caramelised ingredient so that the acidity of the bergamot will counterbalance the roundness of the chocolate. It’s all about balance.
Have you already thought of introducing vegetables in your sweet creations?
Yes, the use of vegetables in pastries is very interesting. There are still unexplored areas to discover. I have made cocktail-reception products in my work for Dalloyau. You can afford to be more original in events than in over-the-counter sales. People are more open to originality because it’s a spur-of-the moment thing and there is less reluctance to explore new things. It’s more difficult with a cake you buy in a shop, because it will be enjoyed with the family. You’re looking for a safe bet and risk taking is more limited. In receptions, you can let your imagination run riot. I have already made small mini-cones in 3 different flavours: One with a very pleasant pea cream and strawberry compote. The fennel with its interesting aniseed taste, pan-fried in vanilla-flavoured olive oil, to give a round taste, mixed with a fresh pineapple brunoise to add a fresh touch! And combined with a candied orange cream. The third mini-cone was a basil cream with light raspberry jam and fresh fruit decoration: raspberries, blueberries and a rocket leaf to add a peppery touch. I have already explored very surprising and interesting things. For instance, a Linder tart from Alsace, but with candied carrot, cinnamon and grated carrot! I believe that consumers are not yet prepared to buy this type of product in the shops.
We have proposed a limited edition in a Parisian department store consisting of a fennel cake combined with Granny Smith: chocolate, caramel with fennel and Granny Smith brunoise.
As I said, customers take fewer risks in the shop and there are many more restrictions on sweet products. For example, I love banana, combined with hazelnut/ginger cream with banana sponge and a crunch. It’s a very pleasant product, yet half of customers would not buy a banana cake. So you can imagine their reaction to carrot and fennel! When we stopped telling people over the counter that it was a banana sponge, the product sold ten times better when it was described as an exotic sponge.
We also had fun making a savoury Saint-Honoré, with choux pastries filled with lobster, caviar and glazed carrots, while retaining the dessert aspect.
What are the tastes, textures or flavour sensations you have discovered on your travels and that have affected you?
The most memorable sensation was during my first trip to Japan when I discovered yuzu, which started to be known in France in 2004. I discovered that flavour: it was an emotion: its peel, taste, smell … I also discovered large shiso leaves with their amazing flavour. I remember I worked with it as a fresh fruit and the freshness the shiso produced was astonishing. I found it bore no similarity with any other product. It had a unique freshness and flavour that I had never met before. It was a really pleasant surprise. You taste it and you say “I can imagine this with this or that product”. For example, I got the idea of using yuzu infused in milk chocolate. Yuzu is so rich in essence that it’s quite fabulous as an infusion.
As creative director at Daloyau, you have observed various trends in pastry-making. What do you feel about where the profession is heading and which innovations have caught your attention?
I get the feeling that pastry-making has leapt back in terms of creativity. At a time, it seemed to be heading towards excessively complicated combinations of techniques. People are now going back to basics: Saint-Honoré, Paris-Brest, the safe bets are back and are improved in a more contemporary style. They are improved, revisited, fat is removed or textures enhanced…
There is also a preference for creamy things, less sticky, less gelatinous, less sweet. I know by experience that the Asian market prefers these types of pastries. In fact, one of my hobby horses is to add as little sugar as possible. That’s the way I’m heading.
Making products healthier, of better quality with reliable ingredients as customers are increasingly aware of the origin of products and of traceability. That’s all very important to me. Eating locally also seems essential. It’s crucial to know the importance of having a thriving local economy and local artisans in short circuits, who respect nature. I’m very aware of that. A part of industry has done much harm to our land, sacrificed on the altar of profitability. There is some land that can no longer produce anything.
I am in favour of pastry-making that goes in that direction. If I had to work on a personal project today, I would make it the priority rather than making money. Working with quality products comes at a cost but if customers are happy, if quality is there, they understand and agree to pay more.
Professionally, I was seduced by Claire Heitzler, with her sweet menu made with vegetables and fruit. The trend is also to work with the freshest produce possible. It’s like going back to our roots.
When I started in the business, things were going in all directions: Pepper in cakes... I don’t say don’t use it, but beware of crazy combinations… We are now going back to basics: La Pâtisserie des Rêves took the first steps with its perfectly textured Paris-Brest, a rather new presentation and a great gourmet taste.
What role does transmission play in your job?
An essential role. It is one of the key values that I uphold in the spirit of “meilleur ouvrier de France”. transmission and sharing. I would notbe where I am today without it, doing demonstrations and showing what I was taught. I have a philosophy in life: You need to be grateful for what you have been given and know how to give in return. I am still learning. It’s interesting but I also like to pass on my vision of pastry-making. Explaining why I like it, what combinations of flavours develop an emotion, what you are looking for … We uphold all that and one of my roles as “meilleur ouvrier de France” to perpetuate the values of our trade.