Artisan, MOF, member of Relais Desserts, pastry chef at the palace Le Grande Bretagne in Athens, for seven years, Arnaud Larher has divided his time between France and Greece. Very few people understand the city better than he does.
You are present in Paris, Tokyo, Marrakech, Dubai, and Athens, tell us about your journey from your native Brittany to the Great Britain of Athens !
Dubai is not done yet, we will have to wait until next year ! Otherwise, I started in Brittany, in Brest. I went to Paris to see what was happening in the capital and I never came back ! I discovered beautiful houses like Maison Peltier, Fauchon, Dalloyau. We settled, my wife and I, in Montmartre. Today, we have opened three shops in Paris and we are about thirty people ! We are part of the Relais Desserts association which brings together the best pastry chefs in the world. I also received the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France in 2007. This largely sums up my journey !
Was this passion influenced by your family ?
Not at all ! I am one of the exceptions ! At home, nobody is into food and certainly not into gastronomy !
Shop rue Caulaincourt – Paris 18th
I have always been more sweet than salty. When I started, my chef made me taste my creations which allowed me to see what I was capable of. I wanted to learn the technique, to understand how things were done, how it could hold, all of this intrigued me enormously, I was so thirsty to learn, I did not see the years go by.
You are therefore very present abroad, do you have the traveling soul Arnaud ?
Certainly ! I think I know Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle by heart !
And why don’t you have a corner at Terminal 2F ? We miss you !
I leave that to the big houses who want to work 7 days a week, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. !
Do these different countries influence your creations ?
Completely, it is a real chance. It’s so great to get lost in the markets, to go to the grocery stores, to discover other cultures, it’s an extraordinary richness. Whether in Marrakech, Athens or Tokyo, each time, I bring back lots of things that are often useless ! But I just have to find a product that speaks to me and that’s great !
Is it a smell, a color that catches your attention ?
Yes, or something that intrigues me. And then, whether in Athens or Tokyo, I have a lot of friends there who also make me discover things. In each country where I work, I make between 20% and 30% French products but with local tastes. People appreciate it enormously because it proves that the chef fits in, that he brings his know-how but that he appreciates the country. I think it is an undeniable personal wealth.
And vice versa, do you integrate exoticism into your French creations in Paris ?
Yes, of course, like black sesame paste, with which I make a mille-feuille, chocolate candies too. I love, when I bring unknown products back to France, that my pastry chefs, my chocolate makers ask me “What is it for chef ? » and I like to answer them, « I don’t know ! » For me, those who know everything are not always those who advance. You have to try things which, sometimes, are useless but which give free rein to creativity.
What influence has Athens had on your creativity ?
The first thing that comes to mind is pistachios. When I arrived in Athens, I realized that the Greeks put pistachios everywhere, raw pistachios, not the one we have in France, smoothed, polished, glossy. In Greece, it’s raw pistachios, with the skin on, and I think they’re right. It is a French professional defect which incidentally costs way too much and which is ultimately useless ! There is a real nuts culture in Athens that I wanted to bring back to Paris.
Having already interviewed you four times for different titles, hearing you talk about Athens is always very touching.
This capital where I like to get lost in the streets ! You know, when friends come to Athens and they ask me where to go, I tell them “but get lost !“ You have to get lost in all its little, narrow streets, look at the shops, the grocery stores, you can always find treasures, local products, authentic products. Athens is about craftsmanship, there are so many products that come from the different islands, it’s an incredible wealth. In another register, the first thing that pleasantly shocked me when visiting the islands was the absence of billboards advertising ! You won’t see Carrefour 500 meters away, Leclerc or Jardiland 1 km away ! It reminds me of my childhood when, as a child, my parents and I, we would leave by car for Spain. It was still very authentic, there was a sign every 50 km, we weren’t polluted by all that, and I found this feeling again in Athens. It’s refreshing, relaxing.
What other word comes to mind spontaneously after “authenticity” when you think of the capital ?
Kindness. I find that people are very friendly, there is mutual support, I feel very positive vibes in Athens. You can walk in Athens with complete peace of mind. I never felt insecure, in neighborhoods where I shouldn’t be. It’s one of the few cities where you can get lost. It is a happiness that is rare today.
You said you liked going for walks at night after work. Do you still do it ?
Yes, always ! And then, the climate has a lot to do with it, there is an undeniable sweetness of life. In Paris, everything is selective. Athens is quite simply the opposite of Paris ! Everything I feel in Athens is a bit like what we felt in France forty years ago. Everything is done simply, nothing is complicated. And then, we eat so well !
A favorite neighborhood ?
Around the hotel, Syntagma Square, where I spend most of my time. Otherwise, I often follow the chef of the French Embassy, in the heights of Athens, he is really a very good friend. He introduced me to the ambassador, his wife but also a plethora of Greek chefs. He knows Athens like the back of his hand, speaks Greek like no other ! He is a great person, he has a lot of talent, an incredible relationship. It’s so nice to know someone like him.
Hotel Grande Bretagne, Syntagma Square
How did this collaboration with Great Britain go ?
They came to meet me and we immediately understood each other. Compared to some other chefs in French palaces, I make cakes to sell them and that’s what people liked. It was not necessary to go too fast, it was necessary to take the time to consolidate the teams, to make understand the philosophy of the French cake, to understand the sensations in the mouth, the Greeks did not really know that !
People travel to experience this French touch, what do they like the most ?
The first returns are on the fact that it is not sweet ! And the Greek loves sugar ! But with maturity, we focus more on the product. It was time to offer more digestible, less sweet, less fatty desserts, something that we are also trying to do in Paris.
Where are you going this summer Arnaud ?
I start with Seoul, where I will work a little. One of the most beautiful hotels asked me to perform, my wife will accompany me. Then, we come back to France to do a motorbike trip, in the south ! In biker mode ! Motorcycling is freedom for me.
Arnaud Larher – Hotel Grande Bretagne, 1 Vasileos Georgiou A’ str., Syntagma Square, Athens.