Whenever Philippe Conticini, chef and co-founder of an exceptional and innovative French pastry shop in Paris, La Pâtisserie des Rêves and his business partner Thierry Tessier open a new shop there is excitement that only builds once people have tried his recipes. They now have an empire that includes five boutiques in Paris, two in Japan and one in London.
Over tea in the salon de thé at the boutique on Rue de Longchamp in Paris’ 16th arrondissement, Philippe explained the journey and thought process that has brought him to where he is today. His professional training started at 18 years old, and he passed his CAP exams in pastry, chocolate and ice cream at the age of twenty. He then worked in top establishments in Paris and Cannes, each for a year or so, mostly creating desserts, but also gaining experience of all the sections in the kitchen.
When he was 23 he set up the restaurant La Table D’Anvers with his father and brother, already a celebrated young chef. His brother took over the main kitchen, while Philippe was left to create in the pastry section. And create he did, quickly gaining a stunning reputation for what he produced. In 1989 Gault Milau magazine dubbed him “l’enfant prodigé de la pâtisserie”, and then in 1991 honored him as the best pastry chef in France.
He had a revelation in 1994, when, frustrated by the plates on which he was creating his desserts, and in the spirit of experimentation, he borrowed a glass from the restaurant’s sommelier and decided to put the elements of a dish in it vertically. By ordering layers within a glass, depending on how he wanted them to be tasted, he could dictate the experience more precisely. Voilà he had created the ‘verrine’ a form of layered dish in a ‘little glass’ that is now a standard of patisserie and refined kitchens.
In 1998 he left the family restaurant, to further his own journey, to think, and then to begin what became a prolific period of consultation for many restaurants and food businesses worldwide. He had particular success as head chef for Petrossian gaining a Michelin star 18 months after opening a restaurant for them. When they then took the partnership to New York, he was a massive hit, on the cover of every magazine going, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.
In 2008, Thierry Tessier, for whom Conticini had developed many recipes for his luxury hotel menus, proposed that they set up a patisserie. Philippe agreed, but on condition that he was allowed to go back to the classics of French pastry. He wanted to express himself in the purest way, and felt that the elaborate desserts he had been creating, while clearly delicious, had not achieved that.
Before opening on the Rue du Bac in late 2009 Philippe took 10 months to prepare those first recipes, tweaking and rethinking them until they moved him. The Paris Brest was three months in development, the tarte tatin six! All that he has ever wanted, all that he wants now, is to touch people deeply with his food, to evoke in them memories of their childhood wonder and joy, and give them back to them anew. If you love his food, Philippe is satisfied.
His Grand Cru Vanille, a simple square of dreamily light vanilla mousse-cake, that slices open to reveal a heart of pure vanilla on top of a fine layer of soft biscuit with the very slightest crackle of texture, is a superbly comforting thing to eat. Interesting, delicate, technical even, but above all a child-like hug in cake form, with its milky flavours and vanilla scent.
The Paris Brest, classic of the French pastry kitchen, is something that Conticini has reworked to enhance all its important flavors and associations. He has lightened the whole and given it a wonderful texture, by reducing the amount of butter and whisking lots of little bubbles into the crème patissière centre. Into this he injects a seam of pure rich flavour, the praline that he allows no one other than himself to make. It is full of deeply toasted caramel and hazelnut flavor and is quite wonderful. These two contrasting but perfectly married elements, encased in a meltingly good circle of choux pastry, combine to both evoke the classic Paris Brest, and to delight anew.
In a nutshell: French pastry at its absolute best, in the hands of a passionate and innovative maestro of the kitchen.
111 Rue de Longchamp, 75016 Paris
Tel: 01 47 04 00 24
Branches at: Rue du Bac, Rue du Poncelet, Centre Commercial Parly2
Pâtisserie des Rêves
Paris Brest Video interview with Chef Contacini
The chef’s website