An Interview With Pastry Chef Nina Métayer
A slightly different version of this interview was first published on the Taste of France website.
Young, talented, and ambitious, pastry chef Nina Métayer is one to watch. Voted Pastry Chef of the Year twice, in 2016 by Le Chef and 2017 by Gault & Millau, she is the International Creative Chef for Café Pouchkine. I had the pleasure of interviewing her last October, shortly before her live demonstration at the 25th edition of Salon du Chocolat Paris. We talked about about haute pâtisserie, entrepreneurship, social media, and always dreaming on a large scale.
Is it difficult to be a woman in the world of haute pâtisserie?
Big or small, man or woman, young or not, each attribute has its virtues and qualities. The real question is, is it more difficult if you're a woman? I have never been in the safe shoes of a man so I do not have that perspective. I think the subject is more complex: is our society macho? Very much so, certainly. I often receive messages from young women asking for support, and to them in particular I'm happy to say that adversity is a driving force, and I'm almost thankful for that.
Your first signature dessert was the exotic floating island, created for the Hôtel Raphaël. What inspired it?
That was a big challenge, being in the position of Chef for the first time. I wanted to create something that resembled me: light, airy, not too sweet, powerful in taste. Maybe with a zest of technique as well. It's a complicated dessert. To please Amandine Chaignot, who launched me, I wanted really beautiful desserts, worthy of a gourmet restaurant. This dessert helped me a lot, personally and professionally.
Are there two ingredients that you will like to combine in a pastry, something new?
I go through phases, as if I were on a passionate quest around a particular flavor. Afterwards, it's like building blocks; I have a frame, and I compose the harmony. It always starts with one flavor, then comes the second, which is replaced by the third. Salon du Chocolat is happening this week, and I remember that for my first Salon appearance I combined chocolate, whiskey, and cigar. It was really fun.
I came across a video of you playing the piano. Are you an accomplished pianist?
I wish! No, it's a hobby, when I find the time for it. A soothing moment, with music, by the fire. Without any pretension, one day I hope to say the opposite though.
What is your safe place, your refuge?
There was a teaser in the previous answer. It's in the middle of nature, surrounded by woods, fields, and those close to me. I chose Normandy, as it is close to Paris and I can get there quickly. I built a laboratory there; from the very start, the idea was to be able to combine work and relaxation.
If you could bring something from the Charente-Maritime and your hometown, La Rochelle, to Paris, what would it be?
The harbor cafés in the sunshine, and my loved ones that I would like to see every day. My native region is in my heart, and I am happy to be an ambassador for one of its flagship products, the AOP Charentes Poitou butter. I use it in all my preparations, and to me it is as sacred as Proust's madeleines - I would never give it up.
How do you think the ubiquity of social media has had an impact on your work, and on the way people see you as a person beyond the job? I must confess that I did a bit of Internet research before this interview to get to know you a little, and I was charmed by your personality, which shines in all the articles and videos I have seen.
That's nice of you to say! It's difficult to answer that. The digital world seems full of promise and usefulness. I am really happy to be able to speak live via the social networks, I have the chance to share emotions, points of view or discoveries with perfect strangers. It is a great freedom. I'm autonomous, direct. It is a great source of sharing, and the positive energy I derive from it is incredible.
Please tell us about your new adventures in London - your restaurants at Mercato Metropolitano. Why did you choose London?
It's a mixture between the desire for entrepreneurship, instinct, and encounters... Frankly, I wasn't expecting that! I was preparing a French project, which might happen or not, life will tell. I liked the fact that the culture is quite similar but at the same time begs to be discovered, and was very surprised that this opportunity was so underdeveloped. I firmly believe that in terms of bakery and patisserie our craft has something to offer. I went for it, and for the "durable" spirit initiated by Mercato. My mission is to open three places; we are almost at two with a third on its track, and I cannot wait, because I miss Paris too!
Can you talk a bit about your next big project? What does Nina Métayer dream of currently?
I dream of so many things, and I hope that will never stop! In the short term, professionally, I'm focused on excellence, creation, and transmission. Excellence, because I wish to surpass myself. I intend to train hard, for I hope to become Meilleur Ouvrier de France. Creation involves not having one eternal signature dessert. I really want to invent - for the shop, for the plate, or even simply for my family. And transmission, that will happen via video. Do it once, share a thousand times. Technology is incredible.