The French Pastry Ambassador in China

The French Pastry Ambassador in China

You need to be very patient and motivated to learn Chinese characters and you need a lot of character to succeed as a French pastry Chef in China. Lloyd Hamon has impressively managed to do both!

You’re 32 years old, you’re a native of Brittany and you’ve been living in China for 14 years. Let’s begin by talking about your quite intriguing career path.

Yes, I was born in Rennes in the French region of Brittany and, when I was 14, I did an internship at the Restaurant des Forges, near my home. That’s where I discovered the world of cooking and above all pastry. I knew immediately I’d found my way in life. Following on that, I did specialist technical training, while working at the Restaurant des Forges and was then hired to work at the Relais des Diligences, a family restaurant in the Breton countryside. That’s where I discovered the joy of a family business and told myself that, one day, I too would work with my spouse.

But, from that point, how did you make the great leap to China?

It’s another family story. My cousin married a Chinese man and, in 2005, he offered me the opportunity to go to China with him and set up a French pastry shop in Guangzhou (Canton). At 18, I went along with him on this adventure. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to launch the business and, a few months later, he decided to go back to France with his wife. I was 19, I didn’t speak Chinese or English, but I decided to stay. I looked for work for six months and, in my free time, I decided to teach myself Chinese. I finally got a job as a pastry Chef in a French restaurant, La Seine. That’s where I met my wife-to-be, Kiwi, a Chinese woman who had trained as a pastry Chef in France and had done internships at the George V Hotel in Paris and the Four Seasons hotel chain.

Did you open your pastry shop right away?

No. It’s important to know that there were no French pastry shops in Guangzhou at the time. On top of that, we had to take care of administrative matters, which is no easy task in China. My wife Kiwi quit her job at La Seine to prepare the groundwork. We finally opened our pastry shop in December 2010, called Chéris, in a street in Guangzhou where there are a lot of foreign food shops and restaurants. We didn’t have a lot of customers at the start because the Chinese didn’t know much about French pastry at the time. Then, in January 2011, an English-language TV channel did a report on us and, the next day, the shop was overrun.

Apart from this media coverage, what to you think triggered your success?

In fact, the TV report focused on what happens behind the scenes in a pastry shop, explaining in detail what ingredients we use, including Les vergers Boiron purées and Valrhona chocolates. They also talked about all the techniques we employ to get the results we want. These two things, the use of good ingredients and the technique, are what fascinated the Chinese and which led to our success. Since then, we spend a lot of time explaining to our customers what we do and we always insist on the quality of the ingredients. We now have a lot of regulars who know and appreciate our craft.

So today, what’s the trend? What sorts of pastries are most in demand?

The French macaroon is definitely the king of pastry in China and the millefeuille is its prince. Pastry connoisseurs are looking for a creative mix of flavors (especially fruits), textures and colors. This gives us a huge number of possibilities to explore and innovate. We use a wide variety of fruits, both Western and Asian. In fact, contrary to what is often said, the Chinese are open to very different tastes and they love novelty. They really have a sense for a good balance of flavors. It’s important to communicate with them and share knowledge. The other major trend is that the Chinese really appreciate the visual aspect of pastry and love very shiny icing or glazing, which for them is a sign of luxury and precision. We therefore have to stimulate all their senses and constantly surprise and delight them!

So, where are you at now?

With Kiwi and our investment partners, we now manage three pastry shops, the Lu Cafés in Shenzhen (near Hong Kong). Lu, in Chinese, has nothing to do with the well-known French biscuits brand, but means ‘to travel’. We spend a lot of time training our staff, to make them more autonomous and to enhance their communication skills so they can engage with our customers. Personally, I’m spending most of my time as a Brand Ambassador for Les vergers Boiron, which mainly involves teaching pastry making, in Chinese, throughout the country. It’s a great advantage to be French and speak Mandarin. The Chinese are passionate about French pastry and they really appreciate quality and authenticity. Over the next few years, we will train hundreds of young Chinese pastry makers. There will never be as many pastry shops in China as there are Asian restaurants in France, but our gastronomy and our pastries are now very appreciated and I’m happy and proud to have participated in this process!

January 2018