Updated: Sep 18, 2020
Passionate about quality locally sourced ingredients from farmers who practice sustainable agriculture, Claire Heitzler advocates for an ethical pastry that reconnects with the land.
Claire Heitzler learnt pastry with Thierry Mulhaupt in Strasbourg before sharpening her skills by working with prestigious Chefs such as Troisgros, Georges Blanc, and Alain Ducasse. From France to Japan, England to Dubai, Chef Heitzler has taken French pastry around the world. Sustainability has always been part of her DNA. In 2016, she became creative director for Ladurée where she was able to work on quality, seasonality, and profitability. Internationally acclaimed and renowned, she has been a jury member of a TV cooking show in France, she is vice-president of the organizing committee of the World Pastry Cup, and a co-writer of several books. Inspired by nature and driven by a desire for exploration, this committed pastry chef likes to bond with farmers and producers. These special relationships allow her to teach responsible pastry to younger generations. In September 2018, she created her consulting and training company to bring her expertise and creativity to professionals around the world. Today, she shares with us her advice for a sustainable gastronomy reconnecting to the Earth.
Welcome Claire to Chefs for Impact!
By Claire Heitzler as told to Chefs for Impact
What's the status of sustainability in pastry?
"Over the last ten years, we have observed a sustainable movement in the kitchens that is getting closer to the producers, cooking with less fat and less salt. In pastry, we are at the very beginning of the reflection, but things are slowly starting to change. It is possible to make a meaningful pastry; it depends the way you have been educated and trained.”
How will the new generation of chefs stand out?
"The new generation is looking to work in committed restaurants and with mission driven chefs. They pay attention to sourcing and the environment, and they aspire to be actors of change. The profession is therefore driven by these young chefs who are working in this direction.”
What’s your definition of sustainable pastry?
"I'm no longer interested when I am making a cake to make a cake. I’ll do it if there is a meaning behind it. I aim to help the planet by creating strong relationships with producers and understanding how they grow our food.
One of the basics, which may seem obvious, is to cook in season. Using local seasonal produce would already make a huge difference. But it's quite a re-education to do because the consumers are used to eating strawberry tarts in winter and lemon tarts all year round. Now we have to explain that everything that has been done wasn’t sustainable. Things are changing and it's time to act. Biodiversity is in nature; it must be preserved. We must systematically ask ourselves the origin and the way in which the product was grown.
Photo @Galerie Tokyo - Chloé Vollmer-Lo
We must banish seeds that are processed. They have been transformed to last longer and to be more resistant to transportation. We must focus on taste and the nutritional benefits that food is supposed to bring us.”
Processed ingredients are still very present in pastry and baking though. What are your tricks to avoid them?
"For example, I don't use industrial flour. I cook with ancient grains that are richer in magnesium and contain, despite popular belief, very little gluten. Gluten is an annoying subject for me because it has been demonized even though it has been the basis of the human diet for thousands of years. Let’s go back to our roots and realize that the problem is not the wheat itself but the way it is grown and transformed. All these trendy gluten-free places where rice or almond flours are used as substitutes are NOT the solution. These alternative ingredients may be just as bad, assuming that they have been processed the same way as industrial wheat flour. Other allergies will then develop in a few years. There is a great lack of knowledge and transparency because of the profitability of the industrialists.”
Is there any challenge to work with these ingredients?
"We have to learn how to work with these products. Not that they are necessarily more complicated to work with, but it's about forgetting all the points of reference we've been taught over the last 20 years. We have to get used to learning how to tame a different texture and consistency, which is less elasticity. It is a challenge but it is so interesting because there is so much to learn.”
Photo @Galerie Tokyo - Chloé Vollmer-Lo
How do you get your message and values across?
"When I train professionals, I always explain my selection of products, their origin, and their benefits. I also raise the agenda of seasonality, locality, and variety. Then, we taste. Unfortunately, at school, we were not taught to taste. We were taught the percentages of fat and water in butter, but not how to understand and describe its taste. Yet, taste is the basis of our profession! Pastry chefs must learn how to work without all these fruit purées and coulis. Let’s stop having a standardized taste for all the raw materials.
Being part of the organizing committee of the World Pastry Cup alongside Pierre Hermé gives me the opportunity to get my messages across and get the lines moving. I don’t want to see all kinds of colorful entremets. If we respect the fruits and vegetables correctly, the colors are already in nature. Food coloring and glittering powders have no place in nowadays’ pastry. However, there is always this question of the sponsors. If we want to ask the Chefs to work more sustainably, it means the organizer has to make sure that all the sponsors propose delicious ethical products. It's going to take time and there's still a long way to go.”
Does this pandemic represent an opportunity to educate consumers about responsible gastronomy? What role do chefs play?
"We've seen great initiatives, such as restaurants that are becoming grocers by selling the produce from the farm. People were almost forced to cook and eat locally for months. I think that opened a lot of people's eyes. It takes no time to fall back into the easy way out.
As professionals in gastronomy, we have a role to play and I take it very seriously. Because it is hard to change habits, some people are receptive and some are not. If in 10 years we want to continue to find beautiful products, we must start moving today. Farmers are suffering. If we don't support them, intensive agriculture will take over and tomorrow's gastronomy will certainly be beautiful but insipid. Is this really where we really want to go? An insta-friendly gastronomy?”
Where will you be in 10 years?
“Sometimes I’m frustrated about not being able to sell my pastries. I love to teach and train but I'm missing something. I want to create a place that I will be proud of, where my values will be expressed, and that it has a real positive impact on people and nature.”
Claire doesn’t like
"Fruits and vegetables that grow in containers controlled by computers off-ground, and soil less. They are the antipode of the terroir. In regions where there is easy access to products that have been grown in the ground, why install hydroponic containers? It makes no sense and is against nature. Moreover, the taste is not there and the produce is terribly lacking in nutrients.”
"To see that some companies, even on a large scale, demonstrate their commitment to the planet and the people. For example, I am proud to collaborate with Valrhona. The work they do with the origins and the longstanding relationships they’ve built with farmers and planters is truly inspiring.”
Photo by Cécile Burban
Learn more: https://en.claireheitzler.com/valeurs