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PEOPLE

Taikoo Place Insiders: Alexandre Talpaert of Maison Kayser

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French-born chef Alexandre Talpaert has been working dough around the world for more than 15 years, in London, New York and here in Hong Kong as General Manager of Maison Kayser. Amidst the expansion and renovation of Maison Kayser’s Taikoo Place shop (re-opening in September), he had a rare free moment to sit down with The Mag and share his thoughts on the culture of bread – and his secret for keeping a French loaf crusty and delicious in one of the world’s most humid cities.

 

Is there life without bread?

People have been making bread for over 12,000 years, and in many civilisations, bread has been the centre of the daily diet. Every country/culture also possesses their own type of bread, from tortillas made by the Aztecs, to the Challahs developed by the Ashkenazi Jews, the different baos in China. The list is endless. So it is very difficult to imagine a life without bread. And can you imagine how sad such a life would be!

You’ve been a pastry chef in New York, Europe, the UK and Hong Kong, and for some of the top names in the culinary world. What influenced you to specialise in patisserie?

I have known from quite a young age that I wanted to be in hospitality. But I was attracted by many different aspects of the industry, and didn’t really know which career path I wanted. During my first internship, I became interested in pastry. Pastry combines science and creativity; which was a good match for my personality.

“[At the renovated shop,] there’s a larger and more comfortable seating area… and we’ve added power points for laptops too.”
Alexandre Talpaert

Can you tell us a bit about the renovated shop that Maison Kayser is opening in Taikoo Place? What do you hope it will bring to the Taikoo Place community?

Our shop has been in Taikoo Place for more than three years. It’s a busy location and it was time to give it a fresh look. Two Taikoo Place is opening, along with the footbridge access, and we wanted to make sure the shop integrated nicely with the new flow and gave a better customer experience. Now there’s a larger and more comfortable seating area, a bigger cashier area for easier checkout, and we’ve added power points for laptops too.

Speaking of Maison Kayser – up to now it’s been “Eric Kayser” here in Hong Kong. Can you share with us the reason behind the re-branding?

We thought it was time to use “Maison Kayser” instead of “Eric Kayser”, to match the branding in Japan, Taiwan and Singapore. It puts a little less focus on the man and a bit more on the brand.

Until Maison Kayser came on the scene, it was pretty difficult if not impossible to find a decent bâtard in this town. How was Kayser able to do what no other bakery was able to accomplish? (And how do you deal with HK’s notorious bread-destroying humidity?)

It was difficult, not impossible! The main technical reasons for this success are probably the use of levain (sourdough) in most of our products, and the slow fermentation method, instead of the more commonly used direct proofing method. These two techniques allow us to produce breads that have a longer shelf life, better aroma, and better digestibility.

Obviously the humidity is still a major problem here, but I would say it is more a problem for keeping the bread than for producing it. For the keeping part, we use wood in most of our displays. Wood absorbs humidity when the weather is damp, and releases it if the air is too dry.

 

"When I’m in the Taikoo Place neighbourhood, you’ll find me having lunch at…"

Treehouse for a quick, healthy lunch or Brass Spoon for–in my opinion– the best pho in Hong Kong.

“In some respects, the French way of eating bread can be compared to the use of rice in Asian cuisines.”
Alexandre Talpaert

If someone was coming to Maison Kayser for the first time, and had never tasted real French bakery items, which product would you choose for them to try first, and why?

Our sourdough loaf. It’s one of our best-sellers and by far my favourite type of bread. It’s also got a better shelf life in humid HK than products such as the baguette. For me, it’s the best example of the magic of bread baking: the fact that four simple ingredients (salt, water, flour and some kind of yeast) can produce something with such complexity and depth of flavour.

My next choice would definitely be our croissant. It is a more technical and skill-intensive product, but again a great showcase for bread making magic, showing how we can create multiple layers in a dough by using fat.

What’s your impression of local Hong Kong pastry and cakes? How is the French palate different from the Hong Kong palate when it comes to bread and patisserie?

Local breads are quite different compared to French breads. one of the main differences is the use of fat in the recipes. Most French breads will never use fat (except for Viennoiserie of course), and if we do, it will most likely be butter (sometimes oil). Local Hong Kong bread almost always has some kind of fat in it, either vegetable oil or sometimes pork fat.

I think the two styles should not really be compared. I see local breads being eaten more as a snack on their own, whereas French bread for me is often a tableside bread that accompanies something else (like cheese, salad, soup etc). In some respects, the French way of eating bread can be compared to the use of rice in Asian cuisines.

"When I’m not near dough and ovens, and have some free time, you’ll find me …"

Working out to burn the calories accumulated by eating too much bread and cake – or relaxing on the beach if the weather allows it.

 

"I most admire…"

People who do great things genuinely and in a humble manner.

In a world where many people tend to do things just to post or brag about them on social media, I most admire people who are making great things happen quietly.


Maison Kayser is reopening in September 2022
Kiosk A, 1/F Dorest House Taikoo Place, 979 King's Rd, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong
5994 0238


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