On Meeting Sadaharu Aoki

Sadaharu Aoki

Let me tell you this: girls aren’t what they used to be. Present them with a spiffy British actor who knows how to bake an apple crumble, and they will smile, shake the actor’s hand (twice), and walk away with a good story, yes, but their heart unstirred.

Allow them to spend half a day with a famous pastry chef, however, and you will get a rather eloquent embodiment of glee.

This opportunity was brought to me on a dessert plate by my friend Louisa: she was in Paris with a television crew to film an episode for the upcoming season of Diary of a Foodie, and she asked if I’d be willing to appear in the segment on Sadaharu Aoki.

At this point, I feel compelled to state that I am vehemently opposed to the use of the term foodie, a word that makes me cringe so deeply my fingers refuse to type this combination of letters and I have to copy-paste it. But I love Louisa, I had met part of the crew last summer, and hanging out with them in Aoki’s lab while he showed us stuff sounded like a fine use of my time, so I said yes.

And indeed, a terrific afternoon it was: my role was simply to be curious, ask the chef about his work, his pastries, and his creative process, and translate our exchanges from French to English for the camera.

We began with a tour of the downstairs lab, where I ate raw matcha* cookie dough and watched cream puffs bloom through the oven door, as we discussed ingredients and techniques.

We then headed upstairs for a baking demonstration in the test kitchen, where Aoki normally works to develop his recipes. There, we made — or rather, I watched him make — green tea éclairs** and yuzu*** macarons, some of which I sandwiched together myself, yes sir, I did.

Sadaharu Aoki turned out to be a remarkably friendly person, generous with his time and his knowledge, and he made the exercise fun and easy. Any job that involves gobbling up macaron shells is fine by me, but the real treat was to stand by his side as he worked, observing the supernatural precision of his gestures and hoping it might rub off on me: I have tried my hand at éclairs in the past, and I can tell you my blobs would have felt horribly self-conscious in the company of his slender confections.

The Paris episode will be broadcast in the US in early spring so don’t hold your breath — no, really — but I will post the air date when it gets closer. In the meantime, you can sample Aoki’s pastries in one of his boutiques in Paris, Tokyo, and perhaps, sometime soon, in New York, as he is itching to open one there.

Sadaharu Aoki / map it!
56 bd de Port-Royal, 75005 Paris
01 45 35 36 80

* Matcha: green tea powder.
** Éclair: an oblong shell of choux pastry filled with pastry cream and topped with a layer of fondant. Éclairs are classically flavored with chocolate (éclair au chocolat) or coffee (éclair au café).
*** Yuzu: a lime-sized citrus fruit from Asia that tastes like a cross between a mandarin orange and a grapefruit.

  • Ava

    Hi Clotilde,

    What a wonderful blog and utmost congratulations on the release of your first book (I attended your talk at the French Library in Boston, buried in one of the last remaining seats in the back). I write to ask if your objection to “foodie” is a matter of semantics, or raw aesthetics or ??? Just curious!

  • Matthew

    couldn’t agree more about the use of the word “foodie”, but i must one-up you with a new one i’ve been hearing. more than making me cringe, it makes me retch. “fooderati”. as if the world of food is glamorous to the extent that one could be “glitterati”.

  • Yum! I wonder if you have a favorite place for pastries in San Francisco? I’ve discovered Miette in the Ferry Building (http://www.miettecakes.com/), and of course there’s Tartine Bakery, but do you have any others you adore?

  • MrMark

    I am sooo jealous you got to go into the kitchen and meet this culinary artist. I just posted a topic in the CZ forum (on Parisien Food Memories) — which included a stop at Aoki’s shop in the 6th. His pastries are jaw-dropping beautiful.

  • Lord Daniel

    What an interesting opportunity, did M. Aoki give any indication that he is aware of the diabolical nature of his confectionary goodies? Many arteries cry out in terror at the mere mention of his name.
    Glad to know I’m not the only one who despises the term ‘foodie’. I often find myself in the unfortunate position of reprimanding friends and such who use such a disgusting term. I am a gourmet, and one day I hope to graduate to gastronome. I am not, and never will be, a foodie.

  • I totally understand your reaction to Sadaharu Aoki. I recently met a renowned chef at a party and was all a flutter. Don’t think any superstar would get that reaction from me!

  • camille

    i’ve been reading this blog for a while now, even though, as a student, and an english girl, a lot of the recipes don’t work so well here [such as the salicorne idea, of course]. right now, i am spending 8 weeks in paris as part of my degree [working at disneyland…] and read each reference to paris avidly to track down new places and things like that. i was so excited to be finally visiting rose bakery with my boyfriend on monday. the only problem was, it was shut! it seems the english philosophy of ‘of course it will be open, it’s monday morning’ doesn’t really work in france…

  • Gosh Clotilde I’m a little surprised at your reaction to the word foodie. The word has been around for so many years, perhaps even before you were born, although it first appeared in the media in 1984. You might be interested to read this line from Wikipedia on the difference between gourmet and foodie.
    “Gourmets simply want to eat the best food, whereas foodies want to learn everything about food, both the best and the ordinary, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food”.
    You may not like the word but by it’s definition you are a foodie.

  • Quelle chance !

  • Hi ya. I wasn’t much jealous of J.Law, but on reading that you visited S.Aoki at his lab? well, missus, I certainly am jealous this time! ;-) Funny, I was writing about his fruit tart for my next blog post! What a coincidence!

  • Joan

    ‘supernatural precision’ ~ Clotilde with those two words you take us into that room!

    I posted a review of your gorgeous book..on amazon uk…’n have used the word ‘foodie’..not in connection with you:-)..rather in connection with it being a lovely gift idea for foodie friends..now I’m wondering how to edit the review:-))))))

    The colour and texture of the photo is quite wondrous..

  • gingerpale

    LOL poor Mr. Law! Reminds me of the song– “Hey Jude don’t make it bad…make it better.. Na na na na na na na..”
    Wonderful pastries and handsome actors, both scrumptious!

  • Dear Clotilde,

    I love your blog and I love Sadaharu AOKI!

    Matcha, and other types of Japanese teas like hojicha (green tea roasted until its brown, over charcoal) are used all the time in desserts here in Tokyo especially around this time of the year. They are often mixed with gelatin and made into refreshing, beautifully wiggly jelly and cut up into various shapes and sizes to be used as accents on parfaits or poured and set into glass containers and eaten just like that. Cold-brewed coffee jelly is prepared the same way and is a favorite summertime afternoon dessert. Are jellies popular in Paris, too? What are your favorite flavors?

    Looking forward to many more great posts!!

  • rainey

    What a fantastic opportunity and what a step on this exciting ladder to who-knows-where!

  • Ugh, the word foodie! It drives me crazy too, and yet when I recently launched my own blog I couldn’t figure out what else to call it except The Vegetarian Foodie (http://vegfoodie.typepad.com). The problem is I’ll be writing everything from restaurant and book reviews to recipes, and I wanted it to communicate that it is about seriously food, not the lentil loaves hippie stuff that people think of when you say vegetarian! If anyone has a better suggestion (either for the blog name or just a better word in general) I’d love to hear it.

  • Marina

    YUZU MACARONS? What a wonderful idea! Yuzu is only the most fragrant of fruits, almost floral in its scent. I’m going to miss it so much when I leave Japan.

  • I don’t know-hard to beat that apple crumble!

  • Oh, what an amazing opportunity, meeting and observing Sadaharu AOKI!! I’ve read so much about him in the media, and he really has worked so hard to become a success, with his passion for pastry.

    I was talking with my boyfriend about your book this morning, Clotilde, and he was paging through it and saying how hard you must have worked to make it happen — and I told him that absolutely, and with your talent and focus, you have really made a name for yourself! Félicitations encore une fois !

  • Rachel

    Clotilde, girls may not be what they used to be but this girl agrees with you… Jude Law I can take or leave (regardless of his apple-crumble-making skills), but Sadaharu Aoki? I’m matcha-green with envy!

  • veron

    What a great opportunity! I would be excited to be in the presence of a great Pastry chef!

  • I might swoon over a British actor, but I’d certainly take notes if I met a famous pastry chef!

  • Clotilde, speaking of yuzu, have you ever tried Citrus limetta, which I think in France is called limette à mamelles, or limette d”Italie? They”re nearly impossible to find in the United States, but they”re quite wonderful and I wondered whether the taste or scent is anything like yuzu.

  • B

    Pastry and Indian food have long been two culinary mountains I somehow fail to climb every time I attempt them. Whether the Gods are conspiring against me in some way that I will understand in the future or whether I’m just unusually clumsy on days I have attempted them, I can’t get it to work.
    I don’t believe that after a day in the Kitchen with Mr. Aoki I would be able to make a passable crust, but I would enjoy being physically close to someone who could make not only a passable crust, but is world renowned. What a joy for a ‘lover of food’ (non-foodie) like myself.
    Fun read!


  • I’m so jealous Clotilde! Spending a whole afternoon with Aoki-san. Same here, actors don’t have me swooning, but when I met Michel Roux Jr my knees turned to jelly and I only managed some incoherent stammering.

  • gobbling up Aoki-san’s macaron shells sounds like heaven to me…and would love to taste your chocolate blob eclairs anytime, Clotilde

  • Clotilde, I can’t tell you the relief I felt as I read your post – I thought no one else was uncomfortable with that word! What does foodie mean? You like food? So are dogs, goldfish, and trees, for that matter, foodies too? What happened to: “I love to cook?” or “I love gourmet food” even?
    Rant finished. Congrats on the tv appearance by the way! Aoki’s fascinating, and you were already lovely on the Today show!

  • PS

    I’m going to have to put myself squarely in the minority here and agree with Barbara above. Sorry, Figs Olives Wine, “I love to cook” and “I love gourmet food” don’t even begin to capture what it means to be a foodie, and “I’m a gourmet” does so even less. “Foodie” is a much broader term; I haven’t come across a decent substitute for it. I’m from Malaysia, where fewer and fewer people cook seriously these days because our lifestyles are changing but eating out continues to be cheap and very, very good (which it has always been), yet we are a nation of foodies. We talk almost exclusively about food, we think about it constantly, we have more websites, blogs, and online forums devoted to where to find the best X or Y (insert street food of choice) than any other country I’ve visited. We think nothing of driving 3 hours to lunch. Ordinary people devote themselves to years-long quests to find the very best X or Y, and none of this food is “gourmet.” What, then, would you call us? We didn’t have a word for this phenomenon before “foodie,” but I was glad to finally have that word when I first came across it.

  • Thanks for posting this entry about Sadaharu Aoki! I’m from America so unfortunately I don’t have access to his patisseries (he SHOULD open one in New York), but I do have a friend travelling to Paris next week and I told her to stop in at his patisserie just because of this entry :) His matcha green tea delicacies sound like heaven!

  • foodie isn’t a favourite of mine either. sort of lacking in romance.

  • About the foodie debate: I know what the original definition is, and I agree that the concept of “someone who devotes an inordinate amount of time and energy to learning about and enjoying his food” needs a word to express it.

    However, “foodie” doesn’t cut it for me: I find the word itself mildly ridiculous, it’s been overused to the point of exhaustion. I also find the label limiting — there are so many shades to the idea of “having a passion for food” — and it has become almost derogatory to my ear, in part because so many food snobs call themselves foodies.

    I don’t have a better, single word to offer to replace it, but until one comes along, I simply choose not to use this one, and I make do with periphrases.

    Charlus – I’ve never heard of limettes d’Italie, but I’ll keep an eye out for them!

  • Mirjam

    Hi Clotilde,
    What a wonderful experience for you! Did you know that you got mentioned on his website as well? On July 14th there is an item about your visit to his lab and kitchen:
    ‘Présenté par Clotilde Dusoulier, célèbre et charismatique rédactrice d”un des principaux blogs consacrés à la cuisine de l’hémisphère nord venue visiter notre chef pâtissier Sadaharu AOKI entouré d”une sympathique équipe de tournage venue droit des Etats Unis’
    Nice and flattering, isn’t it?
    I will be visiting Paris for 1 day in September and will make sure to go to his shop as well as to one of the shops of Pierre Herme and conduct some in-depth comparising research :)

  • Letchi

    A quand les recettes d’Aoki-san sur Chocolate and Zucchini?

  • I appreciate you taking the time to reply to my comment on the word foodie. It is useful to understand why people actually dislike the word so thank you for explaining your position. People have tended to express dislike of the word without explaining why.

    I suspect for many of us our feelings are coloured by several factors – where we live, our age, the people we meet who refer to themselves as a foodie – to name a few. Perhaps some day I will no longer be happy to call myself a foodie. For now I’m quite at ease with it.

  • Upon further reflection, I think my objection to the word comes – as Barbara suggests above – in large part at least, from some of the people who refer to themselves as foodies. I can only speak to the issue in New York where I live and work. Here, the term is overused and makes no distinction between someone who is a professional in the industry, a non-professional who has built up a body of knowledge based on experience, travel, wine tastings, or chef’s lectures (for example), and someone who has decided they like nice food and cooks a few recipes from Gourmet magazine every month.

    Clearly all 3 of these types are enjoying the culinary arts in a valid, life-enhancing way, but a more sophisticated distinction needs to exist. People who like to go to trendy restaurants a couple of times a month but never cook at home tell me they’re foodies “too.” Through overuse, the term “foodie” has become meaningless in this town.

  • Richard

    “foodies are amateurs who simply love food”

    Our lives revolve around food. while we eat our current meal we think of our next meal. we love the grocery store and would rather go to a market then a museum. We appreciate good fast food as well as fine dining.

    Foodie us a wonderful term which separates us from the rest.

  • Elizabeth

    Sounds like a wonderful experience! I am in complete accord w you on the word “foodie”, if somewhat resigned to the fact that it has settled into our lexicon for good. Since DofAF is aired at an inconvenient time where I live, I managed to catch only a single episode on absinthe; your friend has great presence and authority on television. Less than positive feedback, though, on style of presentation: I like close-up cropped still photographs of food which capture only the upper right quadrant of a bowl of cherries and leave the background in a fuzzy blur as much as the next guy. Transfer that visual trend to video? :grrr:!!!!! Moreover, the show is edited as if a love child of MTV and Godard around the time he shot PIERROT LE FOU. It’s distracting and annoying. While the script and filmed conversations were incredibly informative, I learned virtually nothing since the frenetic pace and overdetermined artfulness (& score? I don’t remember) prevented me from concentrating. It’s a shame since DofAF seems to be one of the rare American productions that does not over-simplify its content. I do hope the program settles down a bit and someone at PBS wises up to the fact that viewers will watch culinary programs in the evening even if they don’t feature cooking demonstrations or celebrity chefs. The concept of the show is terrific and I am so glad you were invited to participate!

  • Douglas

    I laughed out loud when I read that you are equally revolted by the word “foodie.” Maybe it does technically connote people like you and many of your readers, but people who describe themselves as foodies often seem simply more interested in impressing with a list of famous restaurants or expensive ingredients. Some don’t even cook at all. I loathe the day when I actually hear someone say “fooderati!” Eeeks.

  • Grace

    Clotilde it’s wonderful to see humility, humor, and the desire to continue to learn present in such established individuals-who-have-a-passion-for-food (in lieu of that universally ridiculous term we choose to not use). I find your blog to be so refreshing and fun to read… thank you for sharing a bit of your learning experience with us!

  • Hilary

    Great post – and what timing! We’re heading to Brussels in a couple of weeks – where did you stay? Any recommendations?

  • CAC

    I’m so glad that someone else besides me hates the word “foodie” with a passion! I have a hard time watching “Diary of a Foodie” because the show capitalizes on everything I hate about the term.

  • How lovely that I’m not alone in cringing to utter the “f” word. Hence, I’ve adopted the word “foodist”, which, to me, has such a more interesting ring to it. Meanings of ‘ist’: (a)advocate of, (b)user of/expert in, and (c)detractor of. I think all can be pertinent to describe what we do and who we are, pertaining to food.

  • Amanda

    I love the discussion about the term “Foodie.” I discussed this same topic in depth with my friends. I find Foodie elitist and it’s quite strange that people give themselves that label. The problem is, there’s no suitable word to replace it. Before this discussion, I considered myself as someone who loves to eat. As per the discussion above, I will regard myself as an amateur food lover.

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