Pierre Gilson – Production Manager, Princi Kitchen
Pierre Gilson talks about his beginnings in France, the different European and Chinese food cultures and his experiences with Chinese bakery products.
A Q&A with Pierre Gilson – production manager at Starbucks China
You have worked as Chef Pâtissier, Chef Boulanger, Baker Chef, and today you work as production manager in China. Where does your passion and love for the kitchen come from?
I decided very young to become a pastry chef and baker. As you know, I am French and food is everywhere in France. Your mother or grandmother cooks a delicious dish for you every time. Every weekend I went to the bakery to get croissants or cakes. At that time the taste was very intense and the color amazing. When I looked around, I saw all the people who enjoyed buying and eating these delicacies. That was also the time when I decided to make people happy, too.
How did you start?
My first love has been the bakery. I really love the patience in the daily work that you need to bake a bread that meets your expectations. Also, the bakery is more raw. Making a new bread is very difficult. Only the daily perfection can improve you.
When I was 14, my father did not want me to go in the professional way. He preferred to study in the general way. Since I was stubborn, I really wanted to become a baker. So he decided to cancel my school vacation and took me to a bakery. Every morning, he woke me up and took me to work at 2:00 am. At that time, it was very hard for me to wake up and I could not imagine doing it my whole life. So I decided to become a pastry chef (pastry chef usually starts around 7:00 am). Later, I came back to my first job – the bakery. After all, I thank my father for strengthening my wish and helping me develop my pastry knowledge.
In 2015 you moved to Shanghai to work as Chef Boulanger/Baker Chef. France has a long bakery tradition. How is the situation in China, was it somehow trendy – like the consumption of cheese and wine?
When I arrived in Shanghai, I discovered a very interesting city. The bakery was not very popular except one. At this time you can find more Korean or Japanese bakery with soft bread. While today there are more and more Western bakery and the majority of them produce French bread. Chinese are more and more studying overseas. They learn our habits and knowledge about food. It is still difficult for them to continuously improve or develop products, but they are developing a taste for it – like for wine or for cheese.
If there was less awareness of different types and qualities of bread, what spectrum can you find in China today?
Actually, there are some small Asian bakery with Japanese or Korean taste, but also some western bakery. Chinese are still learning from our way of baking. They are not used to eating crispy bread or sweet Danish. Their bakery tastes spicier and softer. We are constantly improving. Some MOFs (Meilleurs Ouvriers de France) come over to China to teach and it is our job here to teach them.
Light or dark bread – What is preferred in China?
I would say light and buttery. For them, a sourdough is too sour.
What type of grain is most popular in China today?
There are many types of cereals in China. Most of them are imported from France, Germany or Italy. Chinese wheat is too light and does not have the strength you are looking for if you want to make western bread.
Traditional baking with sourdough and slow baking – Is that also something for China?
We process this with some liquid or hard sourdough. But here it is difficult to sell it. Chinese do not like the sour bread.
Today you work at Starbucks China for the production and development of the Princi Kitchen. What is this job about?
Yes, I moved to Starbucks 2 years ago. In fact, Starbucks is building a Reserve Raostery around the world. In each Reserve Roastery they add an Italian bakery called “Princi”. I’m actually responsible for Princi’s kitchen for the bread, cake and hot kitchen. I am responsible for the quality of all products Princi.
Starbucks in China, with some Reserved Roastery outlets, offer much more “glamour” and a wide culinary spectrum. How does the bakery/pastry fit into this concept?
They really fit perfectly. Starbucks was looking for a bakery to pair with their coffee shop, and Princi can offer this all day, from breakfast to aperitivo (kind of aperitifs in Italy) but as well the lunch part. I was very impressed when I saw it because it was really not easy to find.
If you have your days off in Shanghai, how and where do you enjoy them culinary?
Of course, I love Chinese food, it’s really similar to French food – with specialties in every region. The food will be totally different if you are in Shanghai, Beijing or Chengdu. They have some amazing skills!
There are many cookbooks, but only a few about bakery. If you had time to write your own book, what would it be about?
It is still a wish of mine and I will do it for sure. But not just one – two minimum. A very general one about bread and all learning, and one specific about Danish. We currently miss a lot of books on Danish and only a few MOFs have written some.
Thank you very much, Pierre!