Chef who taught France to love cupcakes
Celebrity pastry chef Chloé Saada did not set out to make her living in the culinary world, she tells Jane Hanks
Chloé Saada is a pastry chef with a difference – even in France. Not for her the classic millefeuilles, macarons or croquembouches. Instead she has seduced the country with cupcakes.
Nine years ago she opened one of the first cupcake shops in Paris. She has written books on the subject and she has her own cookery show, La pâtisserie de Chloé on culinary TV channel MyCuisine. She was also guest judge in an episode of the first series of French TV’s version of Bake-Off, Le Meilleur Pâtissier.
You did not set out to be a celebrity chef. How did it come about?
I actually studied photography and graphic art, but as well as loving everything visual I have always loved cooking.
I discovered cupcakes when I went to New York and fell in love with them – and then noticed that, 10 years ago, the Fifties and Sixties were back in fashion and thought that the time of the cupcake had arrived in Paris.
“There were already some small local shops selling cupcakes, but I was the first to really put them into the media spotlight in France, by writing books and presenting them on TV shows.
Because you can be so artistic when you decorate them. There are many different ways.
At first, I did not like to use butter creams because I found them too sickly, so I used other types of icing, but then I started working to create a butter cream that does not use so much fat.
Visually, the most beautiful are the ones decorated with butter cream. You can colour it, make it smooth, pile it high, but I also like using salted caramel or chocolate spread, things like that.
Do you sell just cupcakes?
During the week I work as a caterer so preparing classic food for different functions and then on Saturday I run my salon de thé.
I make all the cakes that I sell. On Friday I bake all day and on Saturday morning I decorate my cakes.
I have about a hundred different recipes and when you come to my salon you never know exactly what you might find, whether it will be fruity or chocolatey because I decide according to the ingredients I can find and my inspiration on that particular day.
It is always great fun, because people come to celebrate birthdays or baby showers and it is festive.
What do you like about cooking?
It’s a real passion. I love the way you start with raw ingredients and then something almost magical happens when you put them together and cook them.
You have made new textures, new tastes and there is a transformation that happens when your mixture is cooking in the oven.
The cakes I like making are always very colourful and very decorative and it is something very close to art – and also a return to childhood.
You are diabetic. Does this make it difficult to bake cakes?
I taste them when I create a new recipe, but I do not eat them.
For me it is a way to de-dramatise the fact that I cannot eat them by making them for others, because it is well known that when you cook you are less tempted to eat what you have created.
You might think it would be difficult but in fact it isn’t. I do make cupcakes to order for diabetics without sugar, so there are solutions.
I also make gluten-free cakes, so that everyone can try them.
Do the French like cupcakes?
Yes, they adore cupcakes, because they are very visual and very beautiful.
At first I found the American and Anglo-Saxon versions too sugary and too fatty, so I had to work hard to create recipes using the best ingredients and flavours, that would appeal to the French palate.
I think it is impossible for anyone not to like one of my cupcakes!
They are more like the classic quatre-quarts cake (which uses four ingredients: butter, flour, sugar and eggs in the same proportions) and my cream is much lighter.
Can you describe your working day?
It depends on the day. On Mondays I spend the day with my children. From Tuesday to Friday I am cooking either for my catering business or creating recipes, or working on a new book. On Saturdays I am in my shop.
Do you find it difficult to cook for your family in the evenings after a day in the kitchen?
Yes, often I do not really want to cook in the evening. But on my two days off, Sunday and Monday, I love to cook and often prepare food for the week ahead. I love cooking so it does not worry me if I have to spend every day in the kitchen.
You also have a television show. What is it like cooking for the cameras?
It is something I adore, sharing what I know and what I love. You feel you are really with the audience. I like to make it very visual and to show how to make very simple cakes, accessible to everyone.
Do you work out what you are going to say in advance?
I write the introduction and the conclusion but I ad lib while I am cooking. It is a challenge to talk while you are cooking, but I have given lots of cookery courses, so I have had a lot of practice.
Do you think cookery programmes are popular in France?
Yes and I think we have a lot of programmes in France. Perhaps we don’t have as many stars as you do in the UK, apart from Maïté who is the TV chef everyone knows and who had a show in the 1990s.
I was lucky enough to be a guest judge on the first French Bake-Off series. I think people love it because it is amateurs so, like them, they make mistakes.
Do you get much feedback from your shows?
Yes, I get quite a few letters and they are always really lovely. There are just good things that come from cooking. In other areas of TV it is more complicated, but in cooking it is always positive.
Do you have any favourite ways of cooking at present?
I love anything that is Italian or Middle Eastern. There are wonderful flavours. I put sesame in everything at the moment, in savoury dishes and in my cookies.
Do you like experimenting in your cooking?
Yes, I do. Cooking is very rich and varied. You can make discoveries about other countries and cultures. There are an infinite number of variations.
In music you can make so many different melodies and types of music from just a few notes.
You have the same range of possibilities in cooking with basic ingredients.
What I really appreciate in my cooking is its creativity.