(Almost) Too Pretty to Eat
If ever there were a single plate worthy of sharing on social media, it was Executive Pastry Chef Sylvain Guyez’s dessert at last New Year’s Eve’s Black and White Masquerade Gala at Hotel Arts Barcelona: a chocolate- and caramel-drenched treat that, quite literally, melted away the past year. When servers poured a pineapple and green-apple sauce over the cotton candy-infused “2014,” the numbers “2015” were dramatically revealed.
Of course, showmanship in the culinary arts is nothing new for this Spanish city. But that’s exactly what makes Guyez remarkable. Catherine Hong sat down with the chef to find out just how he’s taking desserts to new levels of wonder.
His path to the culinary arts:
Guyez grew up in the small village of Bonnay, France, where his parents ran a dairy farm. When he was 13, he began a weekend apprenticeship at the bakery in the next village. “On Fridays I would get off the school bus and go straight to the bakery until the evening. And then on Saturday I would have to wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning to start baking the bread,” he recalls. “We learned the hard way.” After five years apprenticing at a local bakery at the age of 18, he earned his pastry diploma.
A baking family:
Although baking comes naturally to several members of Guyez’s family, it was his uncle, Roland Mesnier — executive pastry chef to the White House for 25 years — who changed his life irrevocably. Soon after Guyez received his pastry diploma, Mesnier gave Guyez a call. “He asked me if I was interested in going to America. At first I said, ‘No, I am a country boy!’ But my mother encouraged me, so I agreed. At the time, I only spoke a few words of English.”
The influence of Spanish cuisine:
Guyez says his embrace of foams, spherification and other molecular gastronomy techniques has been a natural result of working in Barcelona for the past 16 years, in addition to his lifelong push to challenge himself.
“People expect creativity in Barcelona, so we’re always challenged to create something new and surprising,” explains Guyez. As for some of his most memorable creations, he cites a fashion-themed banquet that required 300 “lipsticks” to be made out of strawberry and rose gelatin, and stiletto-inspired centerpieces sculpted from pure chocolate. At another event, Guyez filled large chocolate eggs with liquid nitrogen, revealing a dramatic fog as each was cracked.
The most critical aspect of baking:
“I am a traditional pastry chef. I like batter, I like basic flavors, and I think that the most important thing is that the food should taste good,” Guyez says. “The one thing I am constantly asking my staff is, ‘Did you taste what you made?’ Too many chefs don’t.”
The upside of downtime:
“I don’t take much vacation because I worry about being away from the hotel for long. I like to be on top of things,” Guyez explains. However, he says there is one welcome aspect to spending a few days away from the kitchen. “When you are here every day, your nose becomes so accustomed to the air you can’t smell anything. But when you come back? The scent of baking is incredible.”
From the sophisticated Mediterranean gastronomy at Enoteca and the traditional Catalan cooking at Arola to our Marina restaurant’s al fresco dining by the pool, some of the finest dining in Barcelona can be found at the Hotel Arts.