A Parisian Pastry Chef Has Re-Invented the Croissant
New things are taking shape in the world of Parisian pastries.
Behind a glass counter at Le Comptoir, the new pastry shop at at the Ritz Paris, artful cakes are displayed like fine jewelry next to a spectrum of madeleines in flavors like blackberry, passion fruit, and salted caramel. There are glossy strawberry tarts, liquid caramel-topped barquettes, and croissants like you've never seen them before. Instead of the iconic crescent shape for which the flaky, laminated dough pastries were originally named, these croissants are long, narrow batons, plain or stuffed with colorful fillings.
These newly-envisioned croissants, and the collection of other French pastries and savory snacks, are part of the bright, accessible new pâtisserie now located in the iconic hotel. Opened by César Ritz in 1898, the Ritz Paris has a reputation as the rarefied realm that's hosted the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, and Coco Chanel, but Le Comptoir marks a bit of a new chapter for the storied brand.
Visitors can still make a reservation for the French tea service at Salon Proust, decorated with ornate draperies, tufted velvet furniture, and leatherbound works by the famed writer. But now they can also pop into Le Comptoir and sit in a sunlit space, at a sleek banquet surrounded by mod lighting, gold accent walls, and neutral, peachy hues.
More noteworthy, though, guests can also take their treats to go. While Parisian cafe culture has long celebrated ordering coffee to stay, sipping it while people watching from a tiny table, these days it's easier to order a café Américain and accompanying treats to go. At Le Comptoir, customers can spend three euros on a plain croissant, 3.50 for a pain au chocolat that—thanks to its innovative new shape—delivers chocolate in every bite.
François Perret, Ritz Paris head pastry chef since 2015, is the mastermind behind the pastries, including the new croissant. He actually designed the pastry to be picked up and more easily portable. "The aim and inspiration was to offer a convenience factor to the customers, hence finger food," explains the chef.
At the time, too, COVID-19 restrictions meant France was closed to visitors, and Perret wanted locals who worked or lived nearby to have access to the Ritz's rarefied pastries. "I was lucky enough to keep working during this period, and took this opportunity to try and continue to give locals something to look forward to every day, despite the turmoil around us." Plain or filled, wrapped in a peach-colored paper box, the croissants were a little bit of luxury for locals and, when the country re-opened over the summer, to visitors, too.
"I aim to find inspiration everywhere, in everything that surrounds us," says the chef. "I am very curious and often find new ideas when walking or seeing an original shape." Perret, who hails from Bourg-en-Bresse in eastern France, was named the world's best pastry chef by the restaurant association Grandes Tables du Monde in 2019. The same year, he filmed a Netflix series called Chef in a Truck, in which he roamed the streets of Los Angeles, slinging his refined rendition of classic American desserts to lucky passersby, like the puff pastry-based s'mores, filled with chocolate ice cream, coated in hot marshmallow, and torched.
In fact, even outside of his stint as a food truck operator, the chef has a reputation for creating confections that are both elegant and playful. Famed French pastry chef Pierre Hermé called Perret's desserts "quite unique" and "very vivid." Perhaps the most famous example is his signature madeleine cake. The clever trompe-l'oeil dessert is made to look like a larger-than-life version of the small, shell-shaped cake—one that appears like you could pick it up with your hands—only this version is actually a light-as-air sponge cake piped with honey chestnut filling.
Le Comptoir also allows tourists to do something they weren't able to do with pastries from Salon Proust: Take them home as souvenirs. The madeleines are designed to go, by train or Transatlantic flight. The gift boxes (in the signature shade of peach, of course) start at 19 euros for five, all decked with playful illustrations of Perret alongside César Ritz and legendary chef Auguste Escoffier.
"My main motivations are my love for pastries, craftsmanship, and my gluttony," says Perret. "It guides me, every time."