By Olga NEDBAEVA
PARIS, Nov 13, 2023 (AFP) – Nina Metayer, the first woman to win one of the world’s top pastry chef awards, doesn’t believe in cutting back on the butter.
Metayer’s cakes have just won her the coveted “World Confectioner” award from the International Union of Bakers and Pastry Chefs.
This is the first time the award has gone to a woman in its 92-year history.
But you won’t find the 35-year-old following any modern trends or low-fat options.
“I like cakes with butter, gluten, eggs,” she told AFP.
“I work from the principle that you shouldn’t lie to people. When we eat a cake, it’s for pleasure.”
And good quality, tasty ingredients inevitably cut down on the amount of sugar required, she added.
Other aspects of Metayer’s success are less traditional.
She has earned her new accolade without being part of a renowned restaurant or even a shop.
Instead, Metayer runs a delivery service out of an industrial space in a business district just outside Paris.
Busy preparing her new mango tart, she told AFP that the key lay in precision and little twists, not wild originality.
“I’m not thinking up unbelievable recipes that no one has done before,” she said.
“It’s about having an instinct but also being precise down to the millimetre — everything is weighed, calculated… we have micro-scales so that we can reproduce them down to the last piece of zest.”
– ‘No glass ceiling’ –
Trained as a baker, Metayer found it tough to break into the male-dominated world of French boulangeries when she started out 15 years ago.
Switching to cakes “was not much easier,” she said, but with perseverance Metayer landed gigs in the Michelin-starred kitchens of top chefs like Yannick Alleno and Amandine Chaignot, eventually earning her top awards from French guides.
“Nina represents all that is best in modern confectionary. She is really moving the profession forward,” said Marc Esquerre of the Gault et Millau food guide.
Metayer moved into the large industrial space three years ago to build her own business.
It’s a system that allows her to avoid waste and cater directly to customers’ desires, she says.
Often posting videos online of her making cakes with her two young daughters, Metayer says she wants to show it is possible to be “a female chef, entrepreneur, and have a happy family”.
Around her, the sous-chefs are adding touches to mango and passion fruit pavlovas and tarte tatins.
“This atmosphere, with a close team under a female chef, is reassuring for young women starting in pastry work, because it’s not like this everywhere,” said 30-year-old Lucie Martin-Pierrat.
“It’s inspiring. We see there is no glass ceiling.” added her colleague, 27-year-old Mathilde Jeannes.
The team has grown rapidly from three to 30. But while orders are pouring in after last month’s award, Metayer’s husband, Mathieu Salome, who helps run the business, said they do not want to turn into a production line.
“We are artisans, not factory workers,” he said.