Back when I was a boy, my favourite part of the year was being a real cowboy in the Swiss mountains. I had to look after five or six cows by myself and I was feeling very much in charge of these half-ton animals. It was also my favourite time because it was the harvest of the Charlotte potatoes, when I could sit on the winch and just control the machine instead of picking the potatoes by hand, a far more strenuous task. Summer vacation was all about the traditions left by our ancestors; everything we did was for a sole purpose: food.
My grandparents lived from farming, foresting and ski teaching. Growing up in an environment where the quality of food is the focus makes you learn, you become impregnated by values and principles; you're breathing food all the time. Picking the eggs in the hen house, milking the cow or the goat, planting carrots, smoking ham and bacon, etc... was all part of our education.
Of course, at home, everything was homemade and everything tasted so good. Naturally, that food etched my brain with indelible stains of contentment. And the day the odd question came on the table: "So Grégoire, what do you want to do when you grow up?" My rather complex answer, accompanied with a huge smile was: "Cooking!"
The crème pâtissière and the tarte aux pommes converted me from cooking to the world of bakery and pastry; and so I embarked on a lifetime adventure that took me to the four corners of the world, working with some amazing people earth and although I am not (yet) the CEO of a large multinational corporation with hundreds of devoted employees, I wouldn't change a speck of anything I did so far.
Baking bread eventually became a very central topic for me. I gladly blame it on the remarkable rye sourdough baking days we had at the old banal oven from the village. At that time, I wasn't too much into bread as it was way more hard work than looking after a few cows, but this whole bread thing did something to me and nearly 20 years later, I am so thankful it did. I now find myself as the head pastry chef at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong, with three books published and a fourth about to come out.
In 2005, together with the opening of the hotel, we gave birth to our very own sourdough tradition. It's not a light decision to take in such a large and ever-changing operation. It implies constant care and a fair understanding of baking sciences to be successful. The odds were with us; the team that came together at that time still is the same today and that bunch of (very) passionate bakers were ready to take on the challenge.
Even before the traditional first handful of raisins was rotting in water, we had committed to uphold natural sourdough for good. Right now, I probably sound like a dramatic heart surgeon making a life-changing decision, but in fact, our decision did change the face of what the breads of the Four Seasons hotel in Hong Kong would be for the many years to come.
Our six-year old mother dough is still being cared for three times a day by our team of passionate bakers and is healthy and strong as never before! We feed her with water and French flour type 65 to keep our wild yeast culture going.
When you look at it, it's just a small piece of dough in a huge plastic box and you would probably go: "mmhh... that's it?" Well, THAT piece of dough will triple in size over a 24-hour period, get kneaded into baguette dough, proofed and baked to end up in the bread basket of our 3-Michelin star Caprice restaurant.
Bringing my youth traditions to that sort of standard is a true achievement, no matter the awards or the rewards, going back to nature is just something money can't buy.
Photos are taken from Michaud's latest book, La Boulangerie - Baking at home with Grégoire Michaud.
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