Luxury: let them eat cake

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The pandemic has affected many industries and one of them is the luxury brand market. People are spending less on designer bags, clothes and accessories, and shopping vacations in Europe are now reduced to #throwback Instagram posts.

But they say change triggers invention and that’s exactly what Hermès, the French designer brand, is striving to do: reinvent their relationships with their customers in a way that goes beyond ‘business as usual ”. The goal is to have a meaningful engagement between the brand and its customers in the context of the pandemic. As the culinary arts developed with trapped people learning to cook and most people can no longer travel to France, Hermès has brought a virtual taste of France to India.

Dig into the dough

The “Cook with Hermès” event was a delicious afternoon of culinary creativity in the magnificent Masque Studio in Mumbai. No, there weren’t any fancy scarves or Birkin bags, but we cooked with Chef Elisabeth Thiry, Senior Pastry Chef at Hermès Kitchen, located in their head office at 24, Faubourg, Paris.

With the chef’s streaming video displayed on a large projection screen, you almost forget that she was halfway around the world! It is interesting to see how the pandemic has elevated communication technologies and to a large extent reduced the need for business travel.

“Desserts must taste good and be even better,” the little chef explained in French, while her colleague translated into English.

Crème brûlée

So what was on the menu? A simplified no-bake passion fruit crème brûlée, an elegant mixed berry pie, and a quick almond tuile (a fancy name for paper thin cookies). As French pastry making can get very technical, the menu has been crafted with the varied skill levels of the eclectic mix of attendees in mind.

Chef Elisabeth demonstrated each step at a slow and steady pace, and we followed suit at our well-equipped personal stations, assisted by the enthusiastic Masque chefs, who ensured that we had a smooth flow of ingredients pre -dosed.

The videographer skillfully maneuvered around the work counters so that the chef could approve our every effort, correct mistakes, and come to our aid in the worst-case scenario. She was an excellent teacher and answered individual questions, observing every detail in the workspace and even making jokes along the way. The vibe was very energetic on both the Indian side and the French side, and echoes of chaotic cacophony (in a positive way) filled the air as we dig into our dough and get our hands dirty.

The proof of the pudding

It was a pleasure to cook with the best of local organic produce carefully selected from various parts of India, from free range eggs with fragrant spices and succulent seasonal fruits.

What you need to know about French desserts

“I’m a savory cook, so baking the desserts was refreshing. I especially enjoyed cooking with winter berries and working with organic fruit, healthy milk and sour cream, ”said Sonal Ved, food writer, author and other participant.

After the work of mixing, whipping, kneading and baking, it was a pleasure to finally sink into the delicious desserts I had prepared. The first bite took me straight to pastry shops in France and their impeccable displays of pies, éclairs and desserts. Our families weren’t with us at the baking stations, but we were able to take our treats home in personalized boxes that ensured the delicate pies didn’t fall apart along the way.

If this is how designer brands seek to engage with people around the world, through food and memorable experiences, I totally agree. It doesn’t matter if you’re not shopping for their latest handbag or wearing the season’s high fashion. In the end, what matters is this meaningful human connection.

Natasha Celmi is a chef and food writer. She is the author of the award-winning cookbook, Fast Fresh Tasty. Her mantra is smart cooking: minimal effort, maximum flavor using fresh local produce.

From Brunch HT, December 26, 2021

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