Behind The Apron: Gontran Cherrier (Tiong Bahru Bakery)

Celebrity French baker Gontran Cherrier loves and knows his breads. The best croissants, he says, are the ones that are moist in the inside.

The bread guru behind the Tiong Bahru Bakery brand was born into a family of bakers and pastry makers. He is known for his innovative, modern incorporation of flavours, while staying true to the tradition methods of French bread making. Having worked at the Michelin-starred L’Arpege and Lucas Carton as well as training apprentices and setting up production centers in Russia and Romania, this fourth-generation baker shows he is unafraid to venture into the unknown.

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The 33-year-old gamely tried sambal chilli at 10 in the morning. While admitting it was rather spicy, this resulted in a creation of sambal egg mayo, char siew slice with bits of carrots and cucumbers on top of miso rye bread, a surprisingly savoury combination. He offers a simple rule: Always pair stronger flavoured breads with stronger tasting ingredients to bring out the flavours.

For Gontran, Asia is an exciting place for a baker like himself because of the different flavours it offers. However, he confesses that he hasn’t been to Asia for a holiday. “Whenever I am in Asia, it is always for work,” he reveals. Nevertheless, he found some time during this trip to Singapore to visit the wet markets, discover new ingredients and savour our local delicacies. We hear that his sambal egg mayo with char siew concoction may be on the menu in Singapore soon.

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How did your love for bread start?

I started when I was 14. I spent a lot of time in my family’s bakery and was surrounded by lots of good flavours – butter, croissants, brioche and baguette. I always wanted to be in this line. When I was about 18, I wanted to travel and spend time learning new techniques. I didn’t want to open my own bakery then. I only opened my first bakery four years ago.

How does food in Asia differ from the West?

My first bakery was in Paris. After that, I wanted to expand overseas. I had the choice either to open a bakery in the US or Asia. For me, the US is more boring. Asian food is more interesting because I prefer all kinds of spicy food. Here in Asia, you have lots of food and herbs. People in Asia are more open minded so I can be free to create and suggest crazy ideas!

What is your favourite Asian dish?

My favourite Asian dish is laksa. There are lots of flavours in the dish with laksa leaves and coconut milk. The combination is very flavourful and interesting. I like it a lot.

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What do you enjoy doing outside of baking?

I enjoy good restaurants. When I am on a holiday, I also enjoy doing water sports like surfing and jet-skiing. I like water, I like the sea. I recently visited Corsica island. There’s hardly anyone there, plenty of sun and lots of squid!

What is Gontran Cherrier’s style?

I try to imagine my bread as part of a meal which I plan from start to end. For each step and dish, I try to propose a suitable type of bread pairing. For example, you can pair a strong cheese with miso rye bread, it is very nice. For starters, traditional baguettes make good options.

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What is one piece of advice you would give to budding pastry chefs?

You should be passionate and curious. Take your time to visit places, learn and share with different people you meet.

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For more on Gontran Cherrier’s breads and pastries:
Tiong Bahru Bakery Launches New Lunch & Tea Sets
Tiong Bahru Bakery by Gontran Cherrier

Interview

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