Patisseries in Paris are the best museums in the city. Their exhibits are regal, mouth-watering, and updated daily. Most importantly, we’re talking about works of art that are, most of the time, affordable; perfect for the calorie collector, a role I am willing to play any day of the week.
The obsession started when my Japanese friend handed me a little green paper bag as a gift. In it were the most amazing and surprising mini cakes I’d ever tasted. Amazing is self-explanatory. Surprising, because the flavors were so familiar yet I couldn’t point them out. So after two days of being tortured by the lingering memory of a plain-looking mini cake with an unidentifiable ingredient*, I made my way to Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki (I myself can’t believe I waited two days before heading over!)
I came prepared. I skipped breakfast and was understandably cranky as I stood outside the simple black awning bearing the pastry chef’s name, waiting for the doors to open. The Vaugirard boutique in the 6th arrondissement is Sadaharu Aoki’s flagship store which opened in 2001 and it felt fitting to try out his pastries here for the first time.
Sadaharu Aoki arrived in France in 1991. A graduate of Machida cooking school, he worked at Jean Millet’s and Pierre Couderc’s restaurants before setting up his own atelier. It was during this time that his pastries caught the eye of an impressive list of clients: Kenzo, Chanel, Yohji Yamamoto and Ungaro had him cater their shows during Paris Collection in 1999. His own stores followed shortly after.
Upon entering the store, I was faced with an army of colourful pastries all determined to move me up to the next pants size. The smiling Japanese lady behind the counter, upon my request for the store’s bestsellers, pushed two impressive green cakes towards me – Bamboo and Matcha-Adzuki. I took them to my table and wondered how anyone could slice into such beautiful pieces of art. Bamboo, with its altering layers of matcha (powdered green tea) joconde, green tea-infused cream, chocolate, and matcha buttercream was far by the prettiest pastry I’d ever laid my eyes on. Its taste lived up to its presentation, too: perfectly subtle, and not too sweet. Matcha-Adzuki, with its layers of green tea mousse cake, red bean paste and a green tea macaron, held its own against Bamboo. Slightly thicker and sweeter, it had that exotic taste that made it stand out from all the other pastries I’d ever had in Paris (and believe me, I’ve had plenty).
Since then, I’ve come back for more. They don’t call it an obsession for nothing. Wasabi macarons and bonbons, citron pralinés, black sesame eclairs, and matcha croissants have been ordered, revered, and devoured without guilt by yours truly. I’ve tried his chocolate bars, photographed the extremely beautiful “bonbon maquillage” (make-up candy – stunningly colourful chocolates that resemble pots of eyeshadow, his signature creation), and have eaten matcha mille-feuilles milles fois. There have been some hits and misses – nothing is perfect, although Sadaharu Aoki definitely tries. It will always be a special Sunday dessert place, a pick-me-up after a bad day at work, the best place to get over a heartbreak, and a great recommendation for friends visiting Paris from abroad.
There are now four boutiques in Paris, three in Tokyo, and two in Taipei. Sadaharu Aoki is planning to take over the world by winning us over with his delightful, colourful concoctions infused with red bean paste, green tea, matcha powder and wasabi. Let us all be prepared to surrender.
* The mystery ingredient of the mini cake? Yuzu.
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