We’re launching our Gluten Free Guest Chef Series with none other than Nicolas Vergnole, a French Pastry Chef who has trained in restaurants across the globe, from Sketch in London to the 3-Michelin Star Odette right here in Singapore. His skills in Pastry have seen him lead Michelin Star teams and open La Dame de Pic in Raffles Hotel Singapore.
As part of the Guest Chef Series, Nicolas has created a Gluten Free Raspberry Streusel Muffin with Batak Berries, inspired by his grandmother’s love of freshly picked raspberries. To put his own spin on the traditional Raspberry Muffin, not only has he endeavoured to make it Gluten Free, he has also added an interesting ingredient hailing from Indonesia. The aromatic Batak Berry is both citrusy and spicy, and adds a level of contrast to the sweetness of the muffin and raspberry coulis, perfectly balancing the two flavours.
We spoke to Nicolas about his experience working with The Whole Kitchen, his inspiration for the recipe, and how to remain relevant in a world that is constantly changing.
If you haven’t already, why not order one of his delicious creations here to try for yourself, available for a limited time throughout the month of July. For every order we will be donating one meal to FoodBank and their Feed the City initiative to help those in need. And if you have yet to read our first blog post about our Guest Chef Series you can do so here.
Hi Nicolas, welcome! Let’s dive right in, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your specialty and how you got into pastry?
I've been a chef for more than 10 years and I specialize in chocolate and ice cream. However, since I’ve been working in restaurants, my specialty is the plated dessert. I got started when I realized that when I went to a restaurant and I ate ice cream it was already half melted when it reached the table. This motivated me to explore different ways of stabilising ice cream and desserts.
Where would you say you’ve learned some of your biggest lessons?
Odette, for sure, working with Julien Royer. And then in 2006 I worked at Sketch in London, I stayed for a year, but it was more than enough. It's like a cat, you work there one year and it's like you’ve worked for seven. And finally, where I did my apprenticeship in Avignon. I was crying a lot over there, believe me, it was very intense, but the chef taught me a lot. Above all he taught me to always be curious and observant.
Let’s talk about your creation, can you briefly explain to us what you made and maybe give us an insight into what inspired you to make it?
I decided to create a new flavour around one of my favourite pastries, the muffin, if I could I would eat one every day for breakfast. The idea of the muffin is simple, but simple is good, it allows you to really explore the flavours. One of the world’s best Pastry Chefs, Pierre Hermé, only ever focuses on one ingredient at a time, but he tries to extract the best of the product in different ways, by taking something simple and bringing out the best flavours. To get the most from my Raspberry Muffin I decided to pair it with a berry from Indonesia called Batak Berries. They have a really nice, elegant fragrance that adds something slightly different to the flavour of the raspberry.
What was the inspiration behind the Batak Berries?
I had the chance to work with Anne-Sophie Pic who uses a lot of different spices, citruses and coffee as well, and I really like this kind of flavour because it goes well with all the berries that we can find in summer, like strawberries and raspberries. I remember when I was young, I would go pick the raspberries in my grandmother's garden, so it's a mix of childhood memories and “palate memories” which I learned about with Anne-Sophie Pic.
What was the process you went through and what were some of the challenges you faced with making the “Gluten Free” muffin?
When you're a chef and you think about changing from gluten to gluten-free, you think you just put one type of flour and it's finished. You realize that it's not. Every type of flour has an absorption ratio, every kind of hydration is different. You put one and the structure won't be nice, so you need to blend different kinds of starch and flours. You cannot put only gluten-free flour because you realize you need a certain starch to have a certain elasticity in your recipe. And of course, for the sweetness, something that everybody likes but nobody likes to have too much of is honey. Honey is a natural sugar that helps a lot in terms of moisture.
As we all know, COVID-19 has disrupted a lot of lives, what would you say have been some of the biggest challenges for yourself personally and for restaurant owners?
For me, the worst has been having to stay home because of the closure of restaurants. As for the restaurant owners, things are going to be different, the new social distancing regulations will change things but the chefs and owners of the restaurants will find the best way to keep a great dining experience. But for chefs adapting is nothing new, for example, allergies a decade ago were not really taken into consideration, but due to the growing number of allergies, chefs have started to adapt their cuisine to find the best way to match it. (Odette now offers a complete alternative Vegetarian menu called “Nature and Découverte” alongside their “Earth and Sea” menu).
Having worked in so many restaurants, how do you manage to find a good work/life balance?
Working in a restaurant is intense, and it can be really difficult to find that good work/life balance, but for me the best thing to do when I’m off is I try to focus on personal life and not think too much about work. I focus on the things I’m grateful for, like my family and my friends.
And finally, closing statements on your experience working with the whole kitchen. How was it?
It was interesting. Interesting in a good way. It was good to work with Susan and Anne. Especially with Susan because I spent more time in the kitchen with her. I developed a different way of thinking about how to use different products which aren't the products I’m used to using every day in the kitchen, like all the gluten-free flours. I liked it. It was a good experience and every experience is good when you're a chef because you always need to update. Being a chef is comparable to technology, you have to update all the time. You can’t just take a break for six months and stop educating yourself in terms of knowledge and skills, otherwise when you come back to the market, you will be obsolete.
Do you have advice for our passionate cooks at home reading this article?
Be passionate about what you do, be curious, observant, and do what you love.
Thank you so much!
Click here to try one of Nicolas Vergnole's delicious muffins yourself!