The Prince of Pastry
Lauded Pastry Chef Nicolas Lambert of Four Seasons
St. Petersburg talks meringue, Instagram and how he satisfies his sweet tooth.
You would expect a pastry chef from France – homeland of croissants, canelés and profiteroles – to be at the top of his buttery game. But Nicolas Lambert, the new Executive Pastry Chef at Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg, has talents that can only be called edibly extraordinary. He captures the results, bite by bite, on his popular Instagram account, where more than a hundred thousand followers await each delectable post – for example, that of his strawberry fraisier, made with Tahitian vanilla, Champagne rose sorbet, marmalade and lady’s fingers. “What I prefer to do in this job is to work with seasonal fruits in all their forms, flavours and textures,” Lambert says. “But my favourite part is piping the cream and meringue.”
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After years as Pastry Chef of Caprice, a Michelin-starred restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, Lambert was promoted to be the new Executive Pastry Chef
at Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg, where the 19th-century former palace is an exquisite match for his creations. Guests can dine on their rooftop terrace overlooking St Isaac’s Cathedral, which is plated in real gold, but they shouldn’t pass up afternoon tea in the glass-roofed tea lounge. The aptly named Tsar Tea Time includes assorted finger sandwiches (don’t miss the quail egg and smoked salmon), blinis with salmon caviar, Moët & Chandon Impérial and, of course, Lambert’s pastries – coconut soft cake with passion fruit cremeux, coriander and lime sorbet, perhaps, or carrot cake with celery cream.
Long before Lambert assumed his starring role at Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg, he was a little boy in the Vosges mountains of Épinal, France, infatuated with baked goods. “I became a pastry chef because my parents bought a bakery,” he says, in a story that reads much like the film Chocolat. “My twin brother, Julien, who is also now a pastry chef, and I started at a very young age helping my dad do simple things, like marzipan. Becoming a pastry chef was something very logical – with time and experience, I became less and less drawn by sugar and more by taste.”
A Day in the Life of a Pastry Chef
Lambert’s myriad offerings are stand-alone works of art, each created with cinematic precision that starts in the early morning. “My typical day begins at 7:00 am, when I arrive to check on the kitchen’s organization for the day, including preparations for any VIP special orders,” Lambert says. “Subsequently, I look at my emails and test the quality of ingredients.” He then sets out to create a daily lineup of wondrous treats, such as coconut and mango balls with coconut mousse, mango, passion fruit and dacquoise biscuits.
And while his Instagram account makes it look easy, being a pastry chef is no cakewalk. “It’s a job that requires a lot of rigour and especially a lot of patience, because there’s quite a bit of rest time involved (for example, with pastas and creams). It’s a highly manual job as well.” Lambert’s favourite part of the day is interacting with guests. “I ask what they liked or didn’t like,” he says. “It’s the spirit of Four Seasons I love the most – the exchange with my team and with the customers. It’s really a lot like a big family.”
If choosing your favourite pastry proves difficult, imagine what it’s like for a pastry chef. If forced to choose, however, Lambert would select the most intricate creation in his repertoire. “My raspberry looks like a very simple dessert, because it looks like one big raspberry,” he says. “But it’s something very technical. When you see the cut inside, you realize there is a multitude of textures that make it really exquisite.”
As for the chef’s dearest places to enjoy dessert around the world, all roads lead to France, where his first order is either a chocolate éclair or strawberry Paris-Brest, a ring of choux pastry filled with cream and topped with a dusting of almonds and powdered sugar. “They’re very simple things, but they are so good when they’re done well,” he says. Another beloved baking destination is in Japan, where the Mont Blanc, a sponge cake with chestnut cream, is his indulgence of choice.
“Inevitably, when I think pastry I think first of France because I was born there, but now that I’ve been able to travel I realize that everywhere in the world we can discover incredible things.” Life can be sweet indeed.