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Chef Talk: The Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai’s Thierry Metee

Executive Pastry Chef Thierry Metee is naturally curious. After years of hiding behind his mother in her kitchen and sneaking bites of whatever delicious treat she was cooking, he started baking bread professionally at 18. By 23, he decided it was time for a change of pace and turned to pastries.

While working as a baker at the Four Seasons in London, Metee befriended the renowned pastry chef Guy Krenzer. At 26, Krenzer had already been awarded a medal at the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the Olympics of pastry-making held every four years in Sorbonne. Metee was interested in the field and impressed by Krenzer’s reputation, so he appealed to his new friend.

“I said to him, you know everything! Everyone in the hotel talks about you. And he said to me, ‘No, I don’t know everything. I don’t know how to make nice bread,’” Metee remembers. “Maybe I don’t know a lot of things in my life, but I know how to make bread.”

So Metee would leave behind his leavening agents after a full day in the bakery to study for five more hours with the pâtissier to learn the art of pastry while passing on the secrets of the loaves to Krenzer. Even after their casual mentorship ended, Metee continued to informally study pastry-making by himself.

“I am an autodidact, so I am always learning. I didn’t stop learning about pastries, I didn’t wait for a new teacher. I learned through books and by meeting other people,” he says. “If I had stayed in Brittany, I would never have become a chef at the Ritz or met all the people I have met.”

But before Metee could begin his travels, he had to pay his dues, so he headed back to France to hone his craft in the kitchens of small hotels across the country. He started spending summers working in the Caribbean, winters in Switzerland. He worked his way back up to the Four Seasons – this time in the pastry kitchen helping the five star hotel brand open hotels in Amman, Mumbai and the Maldives. He picked up dessert recipes here and there, like India’s famous kulfi ice cream, but he prefers not to stray too far out of the box.

“Making pastries is like fashion – what’s popular always changes. You have to stay informed,” he says, explaining why he shapes his current Black Forest cake in a cube instead of the traditional oval. But when it comes to cooking good pastries, he believes what’s en vogue is not always what is good. He eschews ingredients like green tea or cumin, preferring to stick with classic flavours like chocolate, hazelnut and raspberry, a trait he attributes to his lack of formal schooling and his belief that simple desserts can be just as good as a complex one.

Now the Executive Pastry Chef at the Portman Ritz-Carlton, Metee looks for texture and taste, and in order to excel in both, he sources the best, proving that a simple apple torte with almond cream, apple compote and scoop of vanilla bean ice cream can be as outstanding as a complex dish that requires years of training – if you use top quality ingredients.

“Good dishes don’t have to be complicated. If you execute each step well and use good ingredients, then a simple dessert can be amazing,” he says.


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