During his fascinating and highly entertaining presentation on pulled sugar and sugar formations, visiting Chef Christian Faure from Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa reminded everyone in the audience that while we must follow the laws of divine proportion (and ultimately the universe), primarily patissiers are merchants of pleasure.
A merchant of pleasure!! It was something I never thought I’d hear during a patisserie presentation, but the truth of it completely resonated with me. I was already standing in the back row of the demonstration room, completely rapt by the piece montee he was creating and straining to get as good of a look as possible. His presentation style drifted from French to English to Fringlish, was sprinkled with crazy innuendos and a repetitive ‘boomdelaboom’ phrase, so needless to say his sense of humor had already engaged me. But when he framed the objective at hand as being a pleasure merchant, I smiled even more broadly and felt like cheering. What a great concept, not just for patisserie but for anyone involved in making consumer goods.
In speaking of divine proportion, he referred to the numbers displayed in nature as well as the laws of the universe. So respecting the number of leaves, petals, seeds, appendages, etc. that exist in nature, but also the color, harmony & symmetry of the respective elements. He said jokingly, “That simply means, you don’t put your fish in the sky, and your doves in the ocean and you try to follow the numbers 3, 5 and 7 when designing your work.” He reminded us how many items in nature follow these numbers, including the human body with its 5 ‘branches’ and preference towards symmetry. And it is instinctual that we are attracted to things that follow these laws in their design.
In calling us pleasure merchants he elaborated further, explaining that a person who comes to buy a piece montee wants to be delighted, to be fascinated, to have their eyes rest upon something that is designed to look good and attract attention. They also want the experience to be personal, displaying a photo or emblem or motif that means something to them. Then they will want to eat…probably not the piece montee itself, but something sweet since the sight of such a beautiful creation will stimulate more than just people’s eyes. “So always offer something tasty within their reach, to ensure they are not disappointed.”
He was quick to remind us, however, that simply being good in piece montee was probably not going to pay the bills. “In running a patisserie business, what makes money is being good at really basic stuff, the stuff people buy everyday: Bread, croissants, simple but well prepared cakes. These things must taste good and look good. This is how people come to recognize you, what builds their trust in your products, and what will keep you working.”
The inverse message of this was obvious, but he spelled it out clearly anyway: “You might never become good at piece montee, and still be a very successful patissier,” he advised. “But, you can probably never be a successful patissier – at least financially – unless you can offer people the basic items they’re after, as good as these items can possibly be.”
It is so true. I thought about my design work in FMCG. One the one hand, the total commonality of it; on the other, the beautiful convenience (bordering on necessity) that these products afford to consumers everyday. What makes my brand different vs a competitor is not just how it performs but also finding some new way to incorporate the delight factor…somehow to make it a bit more special, surprising or more personalized even though it is a mass produced product.
And so I left this presentation realizing that my job objective as both a design manager and a patisserie student is to be a pleasure merchant. What a wonderful and inspiring task! I want to change the title on my business cards!