INTERVIEW WITH GUILLAUME MARCHAND
EXECUTIVE PASTRY CHEF, RITZ-CARLTON – SARASOTA
At left is the Gingerbread House; at right is the real Ca d’Zan Mansion
Executive Pastry Chef Guillaume Marchand brings with him vast experience and a passion for the sweeter things in life. Before joining the culinary team at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, he held the position of assistant pastry chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Hotel Arts in Barcelona, Spain and he was also the Chef de Partie at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas.
As Executive Pastry Chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, Marchand is responsible for the day to day operations of a 24-hour pastry shop, supplying all breads, pies, cookies, chocolates, candy, ice cream, cakes and desserts to the seven food and beverage outlets of the resort. Prior to his tenure with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C., Marchand oversaw dessert preparation on a cruise ship with Renaissance Cruises and also spent several years working in London.
Born and raised in Western France, Marchand, similar to many other French chefs, learned his trade through an apprenticeship in a pastry shop that was affiliated with Relais Dessert International, an association of pastry chefs that spans across France. He spent two years in Nantes, France and a year in Toulouse and in this time learned what many “American schooled” chefs do not: The money value of time and ingredients. “A sense of urgency as well as a respect for ingredients is most important to a shop owner because the success of his business is at stake,” Chef Marchand remembers.
Q: What was your educational background that led you to become an executive pastry chef?
I apprenticed for two years in Pastry and two more years as Chocolate Master.
Q: Did you start out wanting to be a pastry chef, or did you start in a different job which led you to your current field of expertise?
I decided to become a Pastry Chef at the age of 17. I love pastries and I knew that I wanted to travel around the world. Cooking can be a passport for world discovery.
Q: Did you have a mentor who guided you, as an apprentice, to work with pastries and confections, or did you pick up your skills while in school and perfected them later while on the job?
My time as an Apprentice was the most important in my career. I was lucky to be working in a good, refined Pastry Shop. Many people were helpful and always appreciated my curiosity and appetite to learn. As an Apprentice in France, I worked two weeks in a Shop and was going to school for one week. The two weeks in the Shop was when I was able to apply what I was learning in school.
Q: What type of continuing education are you required to take to maintain your professional licensure, if any?
No continuing education required, but I continue to study, learn and explore new concepts and ideas in my spare time.
Q: If you were to be invited to create a one-of-a-kind pastry masterpiece, say for The White House (symbolic for the purposes of this interview only, as a remarkable place which serves as host to remarkable and influential people from around the world), what would your creation be?
As a French Pastry Chef working in America, I think it would be fun to create something symbolic like a chocolate Statue of Liberty (a gift to the U.S. from France).
Q: What types of character traits and skills do you feel make for an outstanding pastry chef?
Curiosity, innovation, imagination, passion, respect, commitment and discipline.
Q: Your position working at the Ritz Carlton is pretty much a solid career path for you, especially when the hotel brand is known for hiring from within on most openings for its hotels around the world. You were formerly with the Hotel Ritz-Carlton Arts Barcelona (2002 – 2005). Did you start your professional career there? How does the job differ between our two continents? Can you voluntarily choose which locations you would like to work at next – should occasion offer itself to do so?
After Barcelona, I worked at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas as the Chef de Partie. Moving to the Caribbean from Barcelona was a huge move for me. In the city of Barcelona, I had exposure to a fantastic culture where you can obtain inspiration from famous pastry chefs while experiencing the artistic side of the city. A lot of concurrence.
My next position will be with The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai (the second Ritz-Carlton in Dubai scheduled to open in late December 2010). I am moving there next month. This will be a big challenge and a very exciting time for me to work in a different culture and to open a hotel! It will be a lot of work, but again, the concurrence of this city is big!
Q: What was your most complicated dessert project – the longest it took you to prepare?
The most complicated is when we have our Big Brunches for 500-600 guests. It takes almost three weeks of production and research to make it something to amaze our guests. I like to “wow” them with our creations and displays.
Q: Have you ever had a request from a guest/client that you simply could not fulfill (exactly as requested)? How did you handle it?
The biggest issue I’ve had to deal with is the weather. Many clients will ask for something that might not be able to withstand the humidity in Florida. For example, they might ask for a wedding cake (for an outside wedding) and I have to explain and perhaps make part of the cake “fake” in order to hold up in the hot weather.
Q: What is your most unusual – exotic ingredient that you had to use / obtain?
In Singapore, I worked with some very unusual fruits. They were very exotic and I had never worked with these fruits before. I can’t recall the names, but I will never forget the experience.
Q: In relation to the Ritz-Carlton Barcelona where you worked previously, how did your pastry menu and ingredients requirements change when you arrived at the Sarasota property? Did you bring any of your former favorite recipes to the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton that have done well for you in the past?
The two continents do have differences. For example, the quality of butter is different. The percentage of fat in the cream is different. Barcelona had a big influence in my career. Working as the assistant pastry chef with Sylvain Guyez was fantastic. His taste and presentations were incredible. He is definitely one of my mentors!
Q: You have the benefit of an expanded team to work with you in your current position at the Ritz Carlton. What do you look for in your creative team members in accomplishing your duties.
I ask my creative team to accomplish their duties by creating items that will seduce the customer. The items MUST be flavorful, beautiful and “sexy”!
Q: When you prepare for the traditional “High Tea” service in the Ritz lobby, do you change the pastry makeup based on the seasons? Which pastry is your favorite to create?
For High Tea, I like to involve my team because they have GREAT ideas. They try recipes and they know more about some of the traditional tea items than I do. They came up with the idea of creating mini cupcakes and their idea for a key lime cupcake was a huge success.
Q: Do you have a favorite event for which you like to prepare: weddings, special events, high teas, competitions?
All the big brunches: Mother’s Day, Easter.
Q: How was the Gingerbread Masterpiece (photo above) – the replica of the John and Mable Ringling’s Ca d’Zan mansion – envisioned? Was this your idea and how long did it take for you and your pastry team to create? What became the most challenging part of handling such a large-scale edible work of art? How many people were involved in this project? How long did it take to orchestrate this particular item (from the beginning of the assignment to presentation date)?
This was the idea of Executive Chef Chris Southwick. I was lucky to have Mae Cavazos on my team who is incredibly talented. She was the creator of the architectural design as well as the attention to detail on the Gingerbread “Mansion”. Of course, the entire pastry team had to help out by keeping the operation of the hotel in mind, while assisting (where and when they could) with the creation of this masterpiece.
[A photograph of this incredible edible masterpiece is shown at the top of this article and is juxtaposed alongside photograph of the actual mansion located on The John and Mable Ringling Museum grounds.]
Q: You know, the gingerbread mansion project would be similar in scope and effort to one created at The White House during the holiday season by their own pastry department. Did this have any influence on your own preparations for the Cà d’Zan mansion project.
I once met the White House Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier. While I didn’t specifically ask him about their holiday season, I was impressed with his experience and our conversation. I did think of that while we were creating our edible holiday decorations.
Q: As you, I am sure, recognize that your particular field of expertise is influential in providing a visually attractive dining experience, how has the afternoon High Tea – with its bountiful repertoire of delicacies presented on beautiful service – been received in terms of volume? The press has certainly covered this wonderful program with beautiful photography, especially when the Hotel opened its doors in November 2001. The price for the High Tea service at $25 may seem high to some, but then again this is a true Ritz Carlton tradition favored by so many. Has the price point been an issue lately, in relation to our current economy, or do you feel the coverage of service and the delicacies presented are price-worthy? How has your department handled this issue?
We feel that our tea has been price worthy.
Q: Has your kitchen been affected by budgetary constraints in the current economy and how have you made changes to accommodate?
We are always very aware of quality. We will not compromise the quality of our product and the presentation. While we didn’t fill the Assistant Pastry Chef position, we have a very strong team with the desire to excel and together we create beautiful works of art in pastry.
Q: Do you keep a written journal with photographs for each step of this creation for future reference
Q: We recall the special birthday cake you created as a surprise for professional golfer Paula Creamer with a huge, golf-ball-shaped pink cake to celebrate her win. Additionally, you also created a replica of Paula made out of pink sugar for the cake topper. This must have been a fun project. Did you expect such great press coverage for the Ritz as a result of your part in this?
It was a surprising project and a fun one, too! We only had one day to create the cake and topper—but we knew immediately that it needed to be pink (her favorite color). We were delighted to do something so unusual and it was great to see her reaction! She loved it and immediately shared it with her fans on her Twitter page.
Q: Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?
My Grandmother; Sylvain Guyez, with whom I worked with at The Ritz-Carlton, Barcelona; and French Pastry Chef Pierre Hermes (I read about him in all the books).
Q: What do you enjoy most about being a pastry chef?
I love the creativity and I enjoy “tasting” my sweet creations each day!
Q: What was your great career success and biggest setback?
Success — My first appointment as Executive Pastry Chef (the promotion to The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota) Biggest setback – One year when creating the Gingerbread House I decided to use pastillage and it wasn’t working. At the last minute, I changed the process and the entire team helped me create a complete “Gingerbread Village” that turned out to be better than I had imagined! (Good came from the initial setback!)
Q: Do you like to teach pastry arts – who were you most influenced by when you were a student?
I love to teach! I was most influenced working in the pastry shop during my education instead of just by the influence of one individual. I was always very curious and in the pastry shop I was allowed to ask questions and find the answers. I was able to be very creative!
Q: How important is it to create and maintain relationships within the culinary profession? If it is, how do you do it?
It is very important to work well as a team with all the culinary departments. I maintain a positive attitude and instill that in my co-workers.
Q: Is it crucial to always network with chefs from around the world?
Yes! I keep in touch with others through Facebook, phone calls, etc. I keep up with trends by attending classes and by networking with other professionals.
Q: What are some of the tools of the trade for pastry chefs? Which ones do you use most?
There are many tools that I use. My favorites are the airbrush and the molds for sugar or chocolate showpieces.
Q: How much and what kind of work is done outside of the kitchen?
I research and study outside of the kitchen because I do not have time to do it while I am in the kitchen. Q: What are some trends that you see in the field that might help prospective students?
There is so much research and learning that can be done on the computer. Students should always be asking “Why? Why? Why?” and want to learn.
Q: What factors did you consider when choosing a school of culinary arts or culinary department?
I look for innovation, style, and reputation.
Q: What advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in the culinary arts?
Be passionate and committed to the field. And always ask “what can I do better?”
Q: Based on what you hear in the industry, which do you think are the most respected and prestigious pastry schools in the world that really can make a difference to students who graduate from these schools?
The French Pastry School in Chicago and The Culinary Institute of America. But I still believe an apprenticeship is the best way to learn. Schools cost so much money, but I believe that working and learning at the same time in an Apprenticeship is the best way.
Q: In your opinion, is there a major difference in the industry between graduating from a prestigious pastry school or graduating from a college with a pastry program? We recognize that pastry schools can provide a more intensive program than a college and, therefore, the students gain a more in-depth knowledge. Do you agree?
I’m not sure. I believe it all depends on the student and how they apply themselves to the program.
Q: As we all recognize, the Ritz Carlton is world-renowned for its special attention to serving its dining patrons with immaculate attention to detail, plate presentation, sophisticated recipes and, of course, impressive service. You are providing a memorable dining experience for the guests who are typically well traveled and knowledgeable about gourmet meals. How do you go about preparing the elegant pastries and desserts served at the hotel’s fine dining restaurant – The Vernona?
In our Vernona Restaurant we have found that the most popular desserts are the ones that are most recognized by the guests. We only serve the freshest ingredients which makes the most delicious desserts.
Q: Do you have seasonal favorites you try to create based on prior demand? What are they?
We do have seasonal favorites. For example, guests love pumpkin items during the fall and chocolates during Valentine’s Day and Easter. We created a “Chocolate Decadence” chocolate dessert buffet during Valentine’s Day. It’s a huge success!
Q: When you prepare for special events catered by the Ritz-Carlton, such as the recently completed 17th Annual Florida Winefest & Auction Gala Dinner and Dance (with a guest count of 500), how did you orchestrate and prepare for the event? What were the challenges you and your team had to prepare for in order to ensure your compositions would render up well to the occasion?
It’s all about timing. I have experimented with many desserts and have learned all the nuances to ensure that the desserts are appealing to the eye and the palate. A big banquet is always challenging but I’ve learned to make it successful through years of training.
Q: What type of pastry competitions have you entered and which one would be your most ambitious in terms of challenges?
I haven’t entered many competitions. It takes so much time but perhaps with my new challenges in Dubai, I’ll be able to compete.
In closing, I wish to thank Chef Marchand for allowing me his time and wonderful personalized responses to my inquiries. He is well regarded by his colleagues and his contributions and talent will most certainly lead him to an even greater future. Without a doubt, the transition to the Middle East where he will soon be headed to work at the Ritz-Carlton Dubai, can be nothing less than magical – and a fortuitous challenge. We wish him bon chance.