In the pantheon of legendary pastry talents, the French will point to Marie-Antoine Carême, Gaston Lenôtre, Pierre Hermé, perhaps Dominique Ansel for his culture-bending cronut, and now Cédric Grolet who, at 31, is arguably the most recognizable figure in the pastry world today.
Head pastry chef at Le Meurice hotel since 2012, Grolet’s imaginative trompe l’oeil desserts, like the lemon, apple, or hazelnut that he featured in his first book Fruits, and his inexhaustible capacity for experimentation, has earned him high honors; he was named the Best Pastry Chef in the World by Les Grandes Tables du Monde collective and again best-of for 2018 by the influential restaurant guide Gault & Millau. His creations aren’t just devastatingly beautiful works of art that should be admired and contemplated with the same consideration bestowed on any painting or sculpture, but perfectly of the moment.
He has excelled at what the French call désucrage or de-sweetening/moderating the level of added sugar in favor of revealing the natural sugars in other ingredients like fruits and high quality dark chocolate. In real terms, this means you can taste the nuanced textures in his fruit-based desserts because they aren’t masked by added sugar. But beyond that, it is his mastery of balance, flavor and presentation that elevates his work above that of almost all other chefs and has generated attention from pastry schools and students all over the world. When he’s not in the kitchen developing his next statement piece (though it is hard to imagine concocting anything more intricate and labor intensive than his sculptured fruit collection or his Rubik’s cake), he can be found leading master classes everywhere from Malaysia to Russia and Australia, simultaneously boosting the hotel’s name recognition in markets traditionally dominated by Asian hotel groups (Le Meurice is part of Dorchester Collection).
Up until last month, his exquisite creations were reserved for tea time guests of Le Meurice. That means, booking a table and spending a few hours with formal service. Though the hotel’s tea time experience and à la carte pastry menu are priced comparably to other high-end hotels around the world (including most high tea experiences in London), it remains a more costly affair. That certainly hasn’t prevented an influx of impassioned pastry fanatics to use their travel budget toward an unparalleled gastronomic experience but the atmosphere can be intimidating, inaccessible even, for the uninitiated. Now, there’s a slightly more democratic place to get your hands on Grolet’s confections.
Around the corner from the hotel’s entrance on rue de Castiglione is a sliver of a boutique where a short selection of Grolet’s pastries are available for take-away. It also serves as a lab for his team: the first station to the left when you enter serves as the preparation and finishing area for the madeleines, kouglofs and out-of-this world cookies (peanuts and caramel) that are replenished throughout the day and all served fresh from the oven, visible at the back of the space.
Then, it’s over to the five haute pâtisseries of the moment that are priced from 7 euros to, yes, 17 euros — let’s not forget, these are still Palace hotel confections. Still, when you consider the price we are often willing to pay for a cocktail or a glass of Champagne, there’s no reason an artisanal product like pastry, prepared using the market’s top-shelf ingredients, should warrant gasps. On top of that, the time it takes to prepare one of Grolet’s trompe l’oeil lemons or apples is worth the price tag alone. And if you’re not eating pastry like this every day (you’re not, right?) it’s a little luxury worth experiencing.
Each treat is tucked neatly inside a keepsake box and ready to be enjoyed outside or, preferably if weather allows, in the Tuileries Gardens across the street. Expect lines and go before or right at opening to ensure you can walk away with one of these prized creations: quantities are limited.
If I may recommend one of the five signature pastries available at the moment: I urge you try to the tarte au chocolat (shown second from the left in the top photo). It sounds basic enough, perhaps less adventurous than the fruit-leaning desserts at first glance. But the play on textures, the harmonious balance of sweet and bitter, the smooth mouthfeel had me euphoric. If you have even the slightest affection for chocolate, this tarte will be a revelation (and maybe set your standards higher, as it did for me).
I’ve talked about how chefs and pastry chefs have been elevated to near celebrities, a trend that is certainly not unique to France. Most of the time that veneration comes across as excessive and unfounded. But I have spent quite a bit of time with Cédric, talking about his career, understanding his approach and observing his evolution and I can say that he deserves the fanfare. Not only because his unmatched talent shines through each new recipe but because he is living out his childhood fantasy and that means that permanent smile on his face isn’t disingenuous, it’s a sign of unabashed joy. He enjoys every second of the journey and meeting every admirer or aspiring pastry chef he encounters. The humility and love for the craft that radiates from Grolet — qualities we sometimes blithely ascribe to all artisans, even when unwarranted, by dint of their professions — has brought him this far. I can’t wait to see where he takes the industry next.
La Pâtisserie du Meurice par Cédric Grolet
6 rue de Castiglione, 75001
Metro Tuileries (line 1)
Open Tuesday-Sunday, noon until they sell out
+Do yourself a favor and follow Grolet on Instagram
+For more about Paris pastry chefs, read my story in the March issue of British Airways’ High Life magazine