Pastry Maestro Paco Torreblanca on Keeping Humble and Staying on TopMay 6, 2015
We are next in line to interview Paco Torreblanca. The guy is the definition of legend, one of the foremost pastry chefs of this century, a guy who has inspired people like Ferran Adria and a younger generation who continue to push the envelope marked desserts. We have been nervous for this since realizing that we’d gotten a spot with the legend—more recognizable personalities such as Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz and Elena Arzak have been garnering all the attention at Madrid Fusion, but for now, we are hyper-focused on Torreblanca, more nervous than ever.
The current interviewer is a seasoned journalist from an international publication, but even years in the field won’t prepare you for this moment: she is crying, explaining to Torreblanca how he has inspired her, and it is heartwarming and nerve-wracking to watch. You know that feeling when you meet your idols and instead of letting you down (as is wont with these situations), they turn out to be an even more perfect version than what you’d imagined? This is what it was like for this journalist. And we had a feeling that that’s what it would be like for us, too.
Our Senior Editor Pamela, has a little sister who is a pastry chef. She has spent 4 years concentrating on the art for her college degree. We admit we hardly knew much about Paco Torreblanca, who he was, and his body of work, until she revealed to Pamela that this guy was probably one of her biggest idols, and how desperately she wanted to ask him a few questions or even just a few words of advice. Their industry is cutthroat, with a lot of aspiring young chefs, and not as many jobs, whether basic or well-paying. It is hard to even carve a name for yourself in the industry, and work will always start with you doing the standards—soufflés, crepes, cakes, etc. Sometimes you have no choice but to be stuck with the classics, no matter how diverse, intense, and dazzling dessert can truly be. Only a few truly make it into the big leagues, allowing them to riff off of staples and create worlds that are truly their own. Paco Torreblanca is the pinnacle of those in the big leagues.
“It was not vocational, it was accidental,” Torreblanca says. “I got sent when I was 12 years old to the house of the friend of my father, Jean Millet who was a French master in pastry. He became my master from 12 years old to 24 years old. I fell in love with it then.” Torreblanca has had a long history with the craft since then, evolving from a humble pasteleria to a high-end patisserie, to one of the most renowned culinary schools in the world. His cookbooks have become bibles, but the man absolutely has no sense of how famous he really is. He is humble still, 20 years on. “To do what you really want to do at any time every time you wake up and that serves the purpose for you to eat, the money, it takes a secondary place.” Even passing on the torch is natural, now that his son, not him, has been named the Best Pastry Chef in Spain. “It is perfect because he is pious, very quiet, very reflective. He is like a continuation of a part of me. Thank God he’s here, because if not, I wouldn’t be.”
When it comes to his pastry artistry, Torreblanca is incredibly candid about it as well: “A reporter once asked me before, when he was talking about my unconventional technique: Are you an artisan or not? I replied to him—What is today, nowadays, the artisan? Someone that does something with the hands? A person who takes out the egg whites or one that has the machine to separate them but creates something out of those egg whites? If to be an artisan like me means to be a mechanised artisan, I’m ok with that. To me, what’s most important is the end product, and what is inside that product, if it is natural, if it is organic, if it is good.” In such a definitive career, is there really anything left for him to accomplish? Torreblanca is surprisingly reflective. “I never think about what is going to happen tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day. We’ll see. Because if everything is just planned out before, there are some things in life you cannot control. I didn’t even know a year ago that I was gonna be here today and today, I’m here.”
After his talk, Torreblanca receives the only standing ovation of the whole conference. He showed off some of the most unique creations, including a spiral notebook fashioned out of chocolate, a dessert with weed, and award-winning sugar architecture. Francis Paniego, one of the chefs from Madrid with quite a pedigree of his own, stands up during the question and answer portion, but quickly tells people he’s here to make a statement rather than a query. “If people are wondering why Paco is the last speaker, this is it. He is the summit. He is the pinnacle.” Truly, he may not know it, but he is.