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Waiter, There's Seaweed in My Eclair: Asian Fusion and French Pastry School

Fish, seaweed, miso... these are probably not the words you expect--or want--to find on a patisserie menu. Until you taste the culinary artistry of Parisian-Japanese pastry, that is. The savory flavors cut through the rich, buttery dough of European desserts and provide a sharp culinary counterpoint to sugar and fruit.

Japanese Pastry Arts: A Retrospective

Japanese baking has always been a Euro-fusion of sorts. Sugar is not native to Japan; traditional Japanese confectionery (wagashi) was born in the sixteenth century, when European traders introduced cane sugar. Wagashi are European cake recipes "refined by a distinctly Japanese sense of culinary art." Native flavors dominate: azuki bean jelly, mochi-rice flour, sesame seeds, and Kanten (a natural hardener).

French Wagashi and Pastry Chef School

Today, Japanese chefs trained in French pastry schools introduce wagashi flavors into all sorts of Western classics. Pastry chefs like Hidemi Sugino of Tokyo and Sadaharu Aoki of Paris bring a lighter touch to their school training, by most accounts improving upon the French originals.

The best millefeuille and arguably, the better eclairs, come out of Japanese bakeries. Food critics rave about the surprising savory notes: "every rich chocolate bite was followed by an aromatic green tea after-shadow, slightly seaweedy... but in a good way."

Haute Patisserie, Japanese-Style

Here's a taste of Japanese-accented culinary arts:

  • Eclair au sesame noir: features the nutty, smoky flavor of toasted black sesame
  • Opera au the vert: biscuit and buttercream subtly infused with Matcha, or green tea powder.
  • Fish ice cream (Sanma Aisu): The name says it all. Brandy cuts the fishy flavor of this saury (a saltwater fish) ice cream.

Sweet Fusions

French traditions may dominate pastry chef school programs, but striking fusions dominate the patisseries. You may not choose to "marry the sweet with a good bouillon" or enhance caramel with "added lamb," but you'll find your own ways to update the originals. Tradition and innovation: in the culinary world, this is the fusion that matters.

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