Chef Lionel Villaron from Marseille in France has had a 20 year long association with India. He keeps coming back here to train the young pastry chefs in the country whom he believes have the ability to put India on the world map through their skills By Sudipta Dev
Chef Lionel Villaron grew up in the south of France in the port town of Marseille. He got interested in the craft of pastry making from a very young age. It was at the age of 10 when he started going every night to the pastry shop of his father’s close friend to do odd jobs like cleaning the tray, making pastry cream, etc, that he realised what was his life’s calling. Villaron did his apprenticeship in Marseille for three years. Following this he went to work in Lenôtre in Paris as a pastry chef. “Lenôtre pastry is the best in the world. I spent four years there, and after that went to Guy Savoy Restaurant, which is a three star Michelin in Paris area,” says Chef Villaron. The urge to travel to different countries, live and work there and spread the fine craft of French pastry making led the chef to work in Greece, Egypt, Italy and finally India.
His first stint in India was with the Taj Group of Hotels. He joined the company in 1994 and worked for almost five years. He was the executive pastry chef who created and developed the pastry lab, trained young pastry chefs, and conducted quality supervision. Though he left the Taj Group in 2000, his association with India continues. He joined a chocolate company in Chennai and drove the initiative to open chocolate shops for the organisation. Following his year long stint in Chennai, it was homecoming time for the chef who returned to Marseille and opened his own pastry shop. “I live in my hometown Marseille, though sometimes I travel to Paris to interact with other chefs and taste the new pastries being created by them,” he mentions.
Despite shifting his base back to France, his association with India continues and he keeps coming back here. In 2014 he worked for a year in New Delhi as the executive pastry chef / R&D manager for L’Opéra India – French Bakery.
Chef Villaron was recently invited as a consultant by Gaylord Bakeshop and Bread & More to do training for their chefs for five weeks. He has introduced a whole new range of delectable creations at Gaylord that includes Chocolate Choux, Coffee Choux, Baba Au Rhum, Baba Mojito, Chocolate Mille Feuilles, Chocolate Crunchy Mousse, Cronuts, Raspberry and Blueberry Bavarois. “I have introduced some modern pastries, including recipes I made in my shop and came here to show the chefs how to make the same,” says the chef.
The evolving scene
Having witnessed how the whole world of pastry craft has evolved in India in the last two decades, Chef Villaron acknowledges that the situation is now very different, “From the material, ingredients, even staff are now more aware of confectionery and cakes trends in France.” He feels that with more and more Indians travelling abroad they are becoming aware of the new international trends and have started demanding the same in India. This has been one of the most significant factors for the development of the sector. “It is also easier for us because when we do the same cake as in France or England, we are appreciated. Indian people are travelling more so they know the taste, the sweetness,” he remarks. Things have changed so much in Indian pastry scenario that he believes that it is more like eating in a French restaurant in France. “The quality is much better now than 20 years back, now many young chefs get trained by French pastry chefs and are keen to learn and enhance their skills,” adds Chef Villaron.
One of the major part of his responsibility during his years in India has been to develop the young talent in this field. Acknowledging the fact that while India has seen many celebrity chefs, the country is yet to see the emergence of celebrity pastry chefs, he feels that the day is not too distant when pastry chefs would also receive the accolade and the limelight they rightfully deserve. “There are many young boys and girls who are interested in becoming pastry chefs,” states Chef Villaron, acknowledging that about one and a half decades back there were not too many girls who actually wanted to learn the fine craft of pastry making in India. Now there is a significant percentage of girls (almost 30 per cent), which was never before.
For many Indians pastry is just a decade old phenomenon. The changing profile and preferences of the consumer has obviously impacted the emerging trends. “Now people from India are more conscious about their health. So the range of pastries that I have launched is lighter, less sugar or some times sugar less, also the texture has to be very light. The consumers are also more sharp when it comes to the taste. For instance if we say raspberry mousse, it should include more taste of raspberry than sugar,” states the chef.
As India is almost a second home to Chef Villaron, he wants to keep coming back here. In France his future plans are to open a boutique hotel in Marseille, following which he also wants to launch a boutique property in Mauritius.
Chef Villaron is sure in the next decade India’s pastry scenario is going to be one of the best in the world. “Because it is growing so fast. It has taken a long time to arrive and now there is no stopping. In the next five to ten years, renowned pastry chefs from India will make a mark,” he states with great optimism.