In Seoul, seeing international brands come in and set up shop in Seoul is nothing new. You want luxury? Dosan Park’s chock full of it. Trendy coffee? Stumptown and Blue Bottle are here to stay. And bakeries? Eric Kayser and Rose Bakery have been here for years.
So when Gontran Cherrier came to town last year, I figured it was news, but not like, news, you know? (Oh ye of little faith.) As it turns out, Gontran Cherrier has been turning heads in the world of baking for years now, but his recent forays into cities across Asia (and soon, Australia) are slowly making him a household name around the world. He’s known for an impressive pedigree (he’s a third generation baker, has worked with Alain Ducasse and Alain Passard, and published several books) and his bakery in Paris opened in 2010 to great success.
Gontran Cherrier stands out amongst other international transplants—not only does he incorporate local ingredients into his baked goods, he’s taken them back to Paris as well. (Bravo.) Gontran came to Seoul for a staff training last week and we sat down with him on a rainy afternoon to talk bread.
What direction are you taking with your bakeries as you open more of them around the world?
My direction is inspired by my travel and food and knowing different cultures and spending time there. I try to adapt for each culture and each country where I open a shop and I try to mix and share with everybody. In Paris, I have some Korean and Japanese products, for example, sesame leaf and kimchi. For quiche. I have some kimchi in mousse form, I have some preparation with eggs and it’s really good.
Kimchi quiche! What do Parisians think?
Parisians like it!
Why did you look to Asia first when expanding internationally?
Because I find more inspiration in Asia and because my French business partner spent 20 years in Hong Kong. He knows a lot of people here in this part of the world and when I ask him to open in other countries, he organized a visit for me and I really like this place.
Why did you choose to come to Korea?
My Korean business partner came to see me in Paris (he visited all my places in Japan and Singapore) and he organized a visit for me here in Seoul. In fact the quality of bakeries here is really good; Korean people like bakeries and you have a good potential here for the market. In fact, I like Korean food a lot and that’s why I agreed to opening here.
Have you tried local pastries, like red bean bread?
Yeah, you know it’s very important for me to taste everything before I open the first shop here, to understand what is the way of pastries, of bakeries, for each country. So of course I tasted it, like the red bean brioche. In fact, I like the bases, like white miso. I think it’s very interesting, and I try to mix them with the traditional baking. I try to make a bridge between both cultures.
How have been learning about Korean food?
My business partner brings me to a different place every day, and every night I taste a new restaurant. In fact, now I know, not very well, but I know Korean food. That is very important for me. I try to go to the fresh market too to see different fresh products and to get some ideas about street food and different fresh vegetables. And after that I go directly to the restaurant to understand how they prepare these different types of products.
Any challenges operating a bakery in Seoul? Sourcing? Hiring? Weather?
Well, I work with French butter and French flour. In fact, it’s quite difficult to find exactly what I want, maybe I need to have more supplier contacts here. But in Korea, the weather is not so much of a problem. It’s really a problem in Singapore. But here it’s fine. Sure when it’s a rainy day, you should adapt your baking, but here it’s like in France.
Last question: your favorite baked good?
Oh, the scone made with white chocolate and matcha. And of course, my croissant.
[Editor’s note: We will vouch for that croissant. And the scones.]