Patrick Roger is a French chocolate artist who never ceases to amaze with his eccentric chocolate sculptures that you can admire walking by the windows of his shop in Paris. Giant Easter eggs, chocolate polar bears, astronauts walking on the moon…there seems to be no end to his creativity and what he can do with chocolate.
Anthony Courteille is a traditional French baker trained under chef Guy Martin and founder of the artisan bakery Sain Boulangerie in Paris. He has a perfectionist approach to making bread and enjoys sharing his passion, and this week we sit down with both of them and learn what the City of Light means to them.
Meet Patrick Roger
GLH: Hello Patrick. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. Let’s start with a quick introduction. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Patrick Roger: At base, we are chocolatiers. I say “we” because everything we do is a team effort even if the original passion is mine. I started my career in the field of aesthetics and looking back, I can see that’s given me an advantage in the attention to detail I was able to bring to the world of chocolate.
It’s a tough space to be in since our products are created but we never know when they will sell, unlike say cooking in restaurants. And I added another layer of complexity to that…the art of chocolate sculpting, which is pretty unique.
GLH: And what has your path been like so far?
Patrick Roger: I’ve been in the world of chocolate for 36 years. In a way, I was born to it since my parents were bakers. It’s something I have in me and it comes easy. The same is not true for other things, like say my English. It’s not a big problem because my way of expressing myself is my art and my sculptures, and that’s a form of communication that’s all about feelings and very little needs to be said.
GLH: Is there someone who inspired you or contributed to making you the person you are today?
Patrick Roger: I come from a small village of 80 people or so, so I can’t really narrow down on someone who’s had a great influence on me. I took my first flight at the age of 22 and visited my first museum at the age of 24, and I feel that not knowing much gave me a fantastic freedom.
Nobody pushes me to do anything, but I do look up to some artists and wonderful people I met over time, like Jean Paul Gaultier and Gérard Depardieu. There are certain emotions I draw from these abstract dimensions and channel into my work, sometimes rather unconsciously.
I also believe myself to be incredibly lucky to have done all of this without asking myself any questions. Personally, I like people who are always on the move, like my plumber, my electrician, those brilliant researchers or engineers … Very few people in our society today are about letting their actions talk.
GLH: So what made you choose to get in this field? And where do you find your inspiration for new creations?
Patrick Roger: I’ve always believed that we are made the way we are and we’re destined to do what we do. I don’t belong to any one group but there are always things to pick up from the world around us. You can draw inspiration from any field, like music for instance.
When I start on a new creation, everything goes very fast. It’s a bit like haute couture. I do a pencil rendering in a few minutes and I know right away if it’s going to work and have an impact. It’s this approach that’s difficult to transmit. We start with the mineral, which leads to the vegetal and takes us to the human and that’s how a sculpture is born. We then return to the mineral when the sculpture is done and that closes the loop.
When I create something new and it’s going well, it’s easy to know: I start to whistle.
GLH: You have been described as a “chocolate sculptor”. Do you resonate with that?
Patrick Roger: The term “sculptor” is rather hard to resonate with because it compares you to another profession, which is that of sculpture and no longer chocolate, and in this profession you can quickly and easily feel like you’re all alone… Picasso used to say “Ah yes, I did all of this! Oh dear!”.
GLH: And why do you like to make animal chocolate sculptures?
Patrick Roger: To be honest, it’s not animals that I represent in my work but human. The animal is only a vector between plant and human. Today, when we kill hundreds of sharks, it raises questions, when we use wheat as an energy source, it raises questions … We prefer to let Africa die while we drive cars with ethanol and wheat. It’s these human actions that I put forward in my creations.
Architecture also inspires me a lot and the goal with my creations and store displays is to create a unique experience that no one can. The idea is to transmit a message through our stores, an emotion to the tens of thousands of people who walk by or love chocolate. The challenge is to continue to create this emotion in a system that’s going through many changes and questions.
GLH: What’s your link to the city of Paris? Why did you choose to settle here?
Patrick Roger: Paris came late in my life, some 30 years ago when I started to understand its influence on my work. France is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and Paris has a monstrous cultural level, and a tourism that’s crazy. No matter what happens, Paris will always be Paris, and there is no capital in the world that has this culture and this past. Parisians have such a reverence for beauty: they want the best education, the best medicine, the best arts, and that’s what makes it so rich. Its level is up there, and that just gets channeled in my creations.
GLH: Is there a well-kept secret of Paris that you know and would like to share? Or a secret address perhaps?
Patrick Roger: I would say it’s what lies behind the closed doors of its ateliers. It’s where most things are hidden, with parts to a story that nobody sees and nobody knows.
And the big question right now is how do we highlight this part? If we don’t have a place that is dedicated to art tomorrow, all this will remain forgotten. Depardieu once told me “there are no patrons anymore” and if there is no patron, there is no art. This is a great challenge for tomorrow.
GLH : If you had to choose a favorite place in Paris, what would it be and why?
Patrick Roger: My favorite place at the moment is our boutique in Saint-Sulpice with its two floors. Unfortunately, people don’t tend to go upstairs a lot and that’s a shame because I usually have some great pieces there.
GLH: And finally, what would a perfect day in Paris look like for you?
Patrick Roger: My perfect day in Paris starts with a cycle ride through all our stores and if I come across someone interesting, I stop for a quick chat. I often start with Victor Hugo in the 16th arrondissement and then I go from place to place. I can sometimes stop in a gallery on the way. But what I find the most charming are the people in the stores…our customers we do not know but they know us. There is something about meeting people, and this is Paris so the whole world passes through here.
I also love La Réserve and the restaurants in the capital, and the Univers Du Bronze gallery near Élysée Palace in the Golden Triangle.
Otherwise, beyond Paris, at the end of August we’re opening a new store in Moscow and that will allow us to take our art there.
Meet Anthony Courteille
GLH: Hello Anthony. It’s an absolute pleasure to be speaking to you. In a few words, could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Anthony Courteille: My name is Anthony Courteille. I am currently the artisan baker, patissier and founder of Sain Boulangerie in Paris. I used to be a baker and patissier before but then I became a chef. I am now back to doing what I truly love.
GLH: And what has your path been like so far? Are there any encounters that left a mark on you and contributed to making you the person you are today?
Anthony Courteille: The first people who truly influenced me were my uncle and great uncle who were bakers and pastry chefs. I was very small and I didn’t even realize the influence they were having on me until I was 15 and I made the choice to become a baker.
Then there was my year working in England where I found myself in a completely different universe…that of luxury hospitality. Afterwards, when I arrived in Paris, I met chef Alain Dutournier of Carré des Feuillants, and a friend, Anthony Rocher, who gave me the desire and opportunity to become a chef.
There was also my year spent working in Spain as a cook, and which later made me nurture the dream to one day open a restaurant.
Then there was the meeting with chef Guy Martin of Le Grand Véfour, and he introduced me to so many new dimensions of cooking…teaching me how to delight customers and how to open the kitchen to the guests seated just beyond.
After acquiring all this knowledge and experience, I felt ready to open my restaurant, Matière A, with just one large table of 15 and a completely open kitchen.
GLH: What made you return to the world of bakery?
Anthony Courteille: At the restaurant, we would make homemade bread every day and the infatuation with the whole process came quite quick. This is where the idea of opening a bakery came from.
I wanted to bring to life an old-fashioned bakery with a real selection of sourced products and nothing close to the conventional bakery offerings.
GLH: What motivates your qualitative approach to food?
Anthony Courteille: I really think it’s not a motivation to want to serve good products but a duty and a conviction. Every cook, baker, pastry chef, butcher, grocer and cheese maker should make an oath on this.
I also do it to diversify and, to some extent, defend the work of craftsmen and artisan producers who are concerned about what we eat and what we will be eating in the future.
Our first medicines, our first defenses, is the food we eat, and we might as well make sure we eat healthy.
GLH: How do you feel when you create a new product? And what has been your greatest pride or satisfaction all these years?
Anthony Courteille: What I feel is difficult to describe, but I think you’d call it excitement, and above all else, very good stress. It gives you that energy boost.
I love the moment when you make something you have been thinking about happen. It’s also a real moment of sharing with the staff: Nicolas, Lionel, Eve and Emily. Then comes the organization to put the new product in place for daily production.
And I can’t really pick a favourite project or product either. My happiness comes from sharing the achievements of our bakery with my colleagues. This is a true feeling of satisfaction.
GLH: How do your other skills and passions, like once being a graphic designer, journalist and TV presenter, resonate with your career today?
Anthony Courteille: Well, they make up my past, and that makes me the person I am today. My past gives me the confidence, assurance, eyes and skills I apply to my career now.
GLH: And is there a secret address in Paris that you know and would like to share?
Anthony Courteille: My secret places in Paris are its terraces. All the terraces in this city are magical places of life and stories. I don’t even have a favorite terrace; each one has a magic of its own. It’s in the moments, the instances, the mood…
GLH: And what’s your link to the city of Paris? Why did you choose to settle and work here?
Anthony Courteille: Paris is a city of multiple landscapes, and from one neighborhood to another, nothing is ever the same. This is beautiful and enchanting to me. I didn’t really choose Paris; it was the opportunities that brought me to Paris and the city’s got me hooked since. I’ve been living here for 20 years. Despite a year spent on the Balearic Islands of Spain, beautiful and exceptional, surprisingly, I missed Paris.
GLH: If you had to choose your favorite place in the city, what would it be?
Anthony Courteille: Honestly I don’t have a favorite place in Paris, I love the city and I love to just stroll around . My favorite activity would definitely be this: Strolling the streets of Paris… on foot or on bike.
GLH: And what would the perfect day in Paris look like to you?
Anthony Courteille: Wake up, have a coffee on the terrace, go to the swimming pool, go to the Carnavalet museum, take a nap in the Luxembourg Gardens and end the day just like I started it: On the terrace with a tray of oysters and white wine.
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