Taking no. 6 line to Noksapyung station and climb all the way up to the half of Kyounlidangil hill, and then walking inside some alley to get some cakes. And the first thing you see is the pastry chef smoking, sitting at the porch? That shouldn’t be a good thing. As I discussed in this article(yes, it was some kind of precursor for this one. I wanted to clarify my position for the issue. It took longer than I had anticipated to get back to blogging), I wouldn’t really mind cooks smoking. However, it is highly likely for them to look unprofessional when spotted. I don’t really understand the benefit of him exposing the habit of smoking to the public, but he did it anyway. Smoked, then come back to the store for manager’s calling to get some freshly made cakes put on display, and then go back out to the porch again for another. Not really a beautiful sight to look at.
Fortunately, the cakes, the main goal of visiting the patisserie, looked pretty. Taste? Not as good as the look, unfortunately. They were merely good, and that was not enough for the expectation it generates based on context, including location, price, and the credential. My choices were Tarte aux fraises et fruits de la passion(basically raspberry mousse, 9,500 KRW) and Paquet Cadeux(meaning gift package; sort of holiday special with browny, gianduja ganache, feuilletine etc. 10,000 KRW). The first impression was that they lacked subtlety. As I have pointed out all the time, the most serious issue for food here in Korea is the lack of nuance, which can be often and easily derived by olfactory element, mainly herbs and spices. Without it, culinary experience, whether it is sweet or savory, falls flat. These days I do not really seek for it from domestic chefs as in most cases they haven’t seemed to grasp the beauty and logic of it(which, by the way, is a sad thing to say), but I certainly anticipate better experience from expat ones as that is their trick. But I couldn’t find it pronounced or even assertive in both treats. Do we have some example in the form of macaron already? Yes, I am talking about Pierre Herme and Ladurre. They are expensive as hell and the texture is probably a bit compromised from freezing and thawing, but they showcase the ideal flavor combinations which we can expect something from Paris, or at least France. Why can’t we expect such thing from someone from France?
The subtlety lacks in texture as well. For the former, the basic texture of raspberry is very nice and smooth, but I found the bottom layer really unappealing. It was certainly tart crust as it declared itself as such, but I couldn’t recognize. It was very soft as if getting too soggy by absorbing the moisture from the mousse, and didn’t have any flakiness which I expect from the tart crust. Therefore, I almost believed it to be some sort of sponge cake(genoise). Even if that is the case, I don’t think its softness adding anything to the mousse.
And for the latter, it was overwhelming in every aspect. For the texture, it had very nice feuilltine in the middle giving pleasant crunch, but it was almost buried by chocolate layer, not being able to generate enough contrast. Flavor? almost all chocolate, nothing else. It pushed to the chocolate flavor(remember, most chocolates are prescribed products from the manufacturer with all the cacao solid, sugar, and other flavor additions. You can have a blind faith to them if you want to) without adding any nuance to the limit, it didn’t really seem to pursue its own characteristic. In other words, it just tasted the same as some other chocolate cakes from some other pastry shop, like a chunk of chocolate and sugar. Recently I had a chocolate mousse from Bread Fit, and it tasted almost same. Shouldn’t the chocolate cake taste like that? Then why we need to bake the cake? We just can munch covertures from Valrhona, which were lined up in proud manner on the shelf of the very store, as much as we can without going to any pastry shop, or baking our own.
Overall, the cakes tasted very same as something from Macaron, another expat store with European / French touch: thick and rich at the front, and no nuance at the back. The only differences are location(hard to approach) and price(about 60% more expensive).
I wonder if I can read any pattern from these. Are they meticulously devised to taste like this as the expats believe it is enough to wow the public? In other words, is it there strategic approach to the audience and market? Oh, there is a proper word: sabotage. Or dumbing down. Or are they really qualified just this much(or less) to create concoctions merely good? If the latter is the case, they are not really deserve any extra credit just by the fact that they are expats, and we don’t need to climb up the hill to get there.
Speaking of credentials, I am not so sure what to read anymore. Yes, they graduated cooking school; but almost all aspiring cooks and chef do these days. For Maillet, it is said that the chef had cooked in hotel in Paris and high end catering company for ten years. Then what capacity or role? Does working for the catering really add anything up to sophisticated dessert? Is it really relevant? Aren’t we giving too much credit for something not that meaningful?
Let me sum up: the cakes I had at Maillet weren’t bad; it was rather good actually. Considering all the context, however, it should be better than that. And for all other expat joints, the same logic should be applied. If given some expat premium, they better deliver. I am planning to take a long and hard look for other cases.