Bringing Japan to the World of French Pastries: The Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris
“As summer draws near, the eighty-eighth day...” These famous lyrics from the traditional song “Chatsumi” (“Tea-picking”) have reminded generations that the eighty-eighth day of the old calendar was the day to begin picking tea. We are well past that day now, and the season of new tea is upon us. Today, green tea is enjoyed not just in Japan but around the world as a matter of course. It is no longer unusual for a pâtisserie to use green tea in its wares. In fact, the other day in a Paris department store I saw a bag of matcha so large it must have been intended for making green tea sweets at home.
When it comes to Parisian pâtisseries that use green tea, however, I cannot be the only one who thinks immediately of the Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris. That black lettering with a hint of gray on a white background unified across their packaging and logo, and of course those long rectangular pastries lined up in the show case: even its colorful chocolate series has the same shape. The simplicity of this style, so evocative of Zen, catches the eye amid pastries of all shapes and sizes on offer in the major Paris department stores. Brainchild of the pâtissier Sadaharu Aoki, the brand now boasts five locations in Paris and five more in Japan.
Aoki’s arrival in France overlaps with my own time in Paris by nearly a decade, so that period is one we are both familiar with. When Aoki began his work, it was still striking and unusual to use matcha as an ingredient. Customers on catering jobs in Paris thought his matcha pastries got their color from spinach. Considering how strongly rooted Japanese food is in Paris today, these stories sound almost impossible!
Aoki’s ideas are always unique, from the “Tokyo-yaki”—a combination of a macaron and an imagawayaki (a kind of sweet bean paste bun)—to fresh, cross-cultural takes on traditional French pastries using Japanese ingredients such as matcha.
In France, there is an idea known as revisité, in which a new twist gives a well-known dish or dessert new life. The idea is to express the same basic elements or spirit in a new form. The work is only a success if the customer notices the connection, like a game of associations. Many brave chefs and pâtissiers have tried their hand at this, but creating something that goes beyond gimmickry is no easy task.
Aoki’s work is a catalogue of successful “revisitations” or revisité in French style. For example, his line of éclairs using Japanese ingredient come in matcha, genmaicha (brown rice tea), and black sesame flavor—deliciously simple tastes in crispy, fragrant pastry. He uses only the finest ingredients, even going so far as to bring his own tea leaves from Japan.
The classic pastries known as Opéra and Forêt-noire have also been reborn as “Bamboo” and “Forêt verte Kyoto” (Green Forest of Kyoto)—reconstructed Aoki-style by replacement of ingredients. The key to Opéra is the combination of coffee and chocolate; “Bamboo” replaces the coffee with matcha. Similarly, a Forêt-noire contains chocolate, cream, and kirsch-infused cherries; “Forêt verte Kyoto” has matcha instead of chocolate. Both are delicious creations in their own right that also evoke memories of the originals.
(All four photos above taken on the Japanese garden-style terrace of the Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris atelier on the outskirts of Paris)
All of these pastries have the same 3 cm × 3 cm × 12 cm shape, and can be evenly divided into four 3 cm-cube petits fours. I asked Aoki about this, assuming it was calculated, and was surprised to learn that it was actually rooted in economy. In the early days of his pâtisserie, budgets were tight, and he simply wanted to make the best possible use out of his square cooking molds. Today, the shape has become his brand identity. You might say that this untroubled acceptance of the way things are is uniquely Aoki-esque.
Behind Sadaharu Aoki (left) can be seen a variety of artworks incorporating his chocolate and a small part of his impressive collection of awards (photograph taken at the Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris atelier)
text © Mika Ogura 2018
Essayist, Food Culture Researcher
Returned to Japan after more than ten years living in Paris. In 2008, she was recognized for more than a decade of work as a writer with the Distinguished Service Press Award by Atout France’s Paris Tourism Office. Member of the Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat, a French chocolate-lovers’ association. Publications include All About the Finest Chocolate (Kokyu Shokora no Subete), I Love Chocolate! (Shokora ga Daisuki!), Alain Ducasse: Banquets with an Evolving Chef (Alain Ducasse: Shinka suru Shefu no Kyoen), and Paris on Foot: Mika’s Guide to Paris (Pari o Aruite: Mika no Pari Annai).
・Eclair sésame noir
・Forêt verte Kyoto
Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris
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