Eric Lanlard – award winning French patissier – is a busy man. He runs a successful cake shop, cookery school and baking business which caters for all manner of celebrities – he’s presented four television series – and written five books, the latest – Chocolat – one all about chocolate.
I caught up with him at London’s Salon du Chocolat, right after a spectacular baking demonstration where he’d whipped up a double caramel flourless chocolate cake concoction, dripping with silky ganache and caramel sauce, poured onto the cake – of course – from a pink Himalayan salt brick.
I asked where his interest in chocolate had come from.
“I’ve always been fascinated by chocolate, from when I was a child. I always wanted to be a pastry chef, but chocolate was my other obsession. So I set out to discover more.”
It was a chance meeting during his national service, some 26 years ago, that provided the spark for his future career. Eric managed to spend his time training as a pastry chef on the French Navy flagship, turning down the chance of working in the Elysee Palace because he wanted to travel.
The ship docked in Trinidad, and he got talking to another Frenchman. “It turned out he owned a plantation, and showed me around.” The plantation, it turned out, produced exclusively for French chocolate firm Valrhona. The seeds of that chocolate obsession were sown.
Now, after more than two decades in patisserie, he’s finally managed to write his chocolate book. “Lots of the books out there are really designed for professional pastry chefs. If you’re an amateur baker you really want something much more accessible. I’ve given a bit of history, a bit about technique, but it’s mostly about the recipes and things can easily make at home.”
It’s doing well: even in America, where the book has only been out a couple of months, but is well into its second reprint. That’s because, Eric says, he’s setting out to dispel some of the mystique.
“Chocolate is a very complex ingredient. If it was a real person you’d have a hard time being its friend.”
“Chocolate is a very complex ingredient. If it was a real person you’d have a hard time being its friend – it doesn’t like heat, it doesn’t like cold, it doesn’t like water. And it’s expensive too, so if something goes wrong and you have to throw it away that can be frustrating.”
So what’s the secret? “You have to be gentle with it. Look for a good quality brand, of course – but you don’t have to spend a fortune – you can get good kinds now in the supermarket. Just don’t get it from the baking section!”
But let’s get on to the really serious stuff. “There’s something quite sexy about a ganache. And chocolate fondant – I love anything with a surprise in the middle.”
Ah, the notorious fondant – the bane of many a TV cookery contestant: or perhaps not so tricky after all. “Fondants are so easy to make!” Eric insists. “You can make them in advance and keep them in the fridge all ready in the moulds. Then when you bake them, because they’re cold in the centre they won’t overcook”.
So what’s next for the master patissier? Disney world, somewhat bizarrely – he’ll be cooking for three days at Epcot in Florida as part of his US book promotion. Isn’t America notoriously bad for the quality of its chocolate, though?
“There’s no excuse nowadays: you can find it anywhere. I went there once and made brownies – can you believe that, a Frenchman teaching Americans how to make brownies? They kept telling me how amazing they were, but it was because I’d used a good quality chocolate…”
After that, there’s a new recipe app to launch, 80 recipes and videos explaining how to make them, all very high tech and interactive. And there’s still his cake shop in Battersea, South London – Cake Boy – and a fully booked roster of cooking classes, which he loves to teach.
Eric Lanlard is a busy man indeed: he leaps up, ready for the next assignment – while I manage to sneak backstage to try some of that double caramel chocolate cake – which as you can imagine, was dense, sticky, and rather sinfully rich.
No wonder Eric has made a name for himself as pastry chef to the stars.