When one thinks of French pastries, croissants are probably one of the first to come to mind. And as much as Singaporeans continue to mangle the pronunciation of it (kwa-son, not craw-sawnt, or other variants), over the years, the flaky, buttery pastry has made its way to become a café staple, and a firm place in our heart.
As part of the 2020 vOilah! France Singapore Festival, local café Tiong Bahru Bakery (TBB) has released a limited edition Kaya Croissant, available across all their outlets for the duration of the festival. Combining their in-house kaya cream spread on a fresh baked croissant, the Kaya Croissant is one pastry that represents the best of both a Singaporean and French breakfast. You can even learn to make your own TBB kaya thanks to this guided step-by-step video. We spoke to Sebastien Le Gall, Group Food and Beverage Director, Spa Esprit Group (who owns TBB), to find out more about how this collaboration began, and what exactly it is that makes the croissant so irresistibly tasty.
Bakchormeeboy: Before going into the interview, can we know more about you? Your resume is astounding, having been with the St. Regis and Director of Culinary at Cheval Blanc. Could you share with us briefly about your culinary journey, and how do you intend to continue and bring the Spa Esprit Group further?
Sebastien: I have always been immersed in the business of luxury hospitality, having been trained in 3 Michelin star restaurants and led the culinary team for some of the best hotels in the world, I have a certain understanding on how to turn an operation into excellence, which is what we try to do for our brands at Spa Esprit Group. Spa Esprit Group and Tiong Bahru Bakery in particular are all about creative and quality products. Believe me, maintaining this top quality product with the same consistency every day is just as hard and complicated as running a Michelin star restaurant.
Bakchormeeboy: How and when did the idea for Tiong Bahru Bakery to launch a kaya croissant come about?
Sebastien: Actually this pairing came about very naturally. It’s all embedded within the brand’s DNA. Tiong Bahru Bakery is all about celebrating Singapore’s neighborhoods. What is more appropriate than associating our iconic croissant to Kaya, a condiment that is near and dear to hearts of Singaporeans. We have perfected our recipe to make it light and fragrant, without it being too sweet. To me, the result is simply outstanding and shows how an authentic French product can be closely connected to Singapore’s culture, in Tiong Bahru Bakery’s context.
Bakchormeeboy: How does the kaya croissant make its French half stand out and educate consumers on its French origins?
Sebastien: I strongly believe croissants or baguettes are very representative of the French culinary heritage, be it in Singapore or anywhere else. Maybe the issue is about finding an authentic and good quality croissant in Singapore. Most of them are not hand made. The croissants are often made frozen with low quality ingredients. The French community in Singapore like our croissants because it reminds them of the authentic buttery croissant they used to eat in France. Pairing the best of the two culture was obvious for us!
Bakchormeeboy: It’s interesting how the ‘how-to’ video teaches viewers how to make the kaya and not the croissant. Given TBB’s popularity, is this a precursor of more online recipe videos to come, or even a recipe book to recreate TBB’s signature items?
Sebastien: We are experimenting with new and unique approaches to share our passion with the local community. We will be opening a Sourdough academy next year and this will allow us to connect with passionate bakers amongst the community and share with them our passion for a good loaf of sourdough bread, amongst other signature products.
Bakchormeeboy: Is this the first time TBB is doing a collaboration like this with a major festival to release a limited edition item? Are there any plans to collaborate with other organisations and groups in future to do something similar?
Sebastien: No, this isn’t the first time we have entered such a collaboration. We had a very exciting collaboration with Tiffany & Co prior to this. Tiffany & Co took over our flagship outlet in Eng Hoon, transforming most areas to their signature hue of blue for a product campaign launch. We even designed a blue pea latte with a blueberry and lemon muffin thereafter. It was very interesting to see a top jewelry brand being associated with our bakery, and we benefitted greatly in terms of brand positioning.
Bakchormeeboy: The French, of course, take their pastries very seriously. What is it that makes a French croissant so special compared to a croissant originating from anywhere else, and what exactly makes a ‘perfect’ croissant?
Sebastien: French savoir faire is of course a key component and can make or break a recipe. Our Head bakers have perfected the recipe themselves and train the team to produce the perfect croissant on a daily basis. To achieve good quality croissants, we only use french butter and top quality french flour from an artisanal mill. It is difficult to explain what makes a perfect croissant as all the steps in the fabrication process are very important from the mixing, dough sheeting, rolling, proofing and baking. One wrong step in the process can ruin all efforts and the final result.
Bakchormeeboy: The Spa Esprit Group owns some of the best-known F&B brands in Singapore, whether TBB, Forty Hands or Tippling Club. On your Facebook, you state that the mission is to “respond to the lifestyle needs of the modern soul.” Within the F&B sector, what do you consider as the modern soul’s greatest lifestyle need?
Sebastien: The modern soul’s greatest lifestyle need is self-love. Taking care of oneself is a mindset of eating well, living well, and making time to rest, recuperate and recharge. It’s something that often gets neglected in the daily bustle of everyday life. Living by this philosophy builds a zest for living, invites streams of creativity, and makes ourselves better companions to share positive energy with people we love.
Bakchormeeboy: TBB has a substantial selection on the menu and to me, the passion to consistently deliver the best on a day to day basis. Is it tough to maintain that image of perfection?
Sebastien: This is most probably the most challenging part of our business. Every aspect of the operations, from product to service, back-of-house to front-of-house processes, needs to be constantly monitored and adjusted. Even products such as our croissants and sourdough breads with stringent SOPs are susceptible to external parameters which can impact the final product. As our belief in authenticity commits us into hand-making our baked goods, variants such as humidity, temperature, butter and flour composition (butter is not the same in winter or summer, flour has more gluten depending the harvest) needs to be part of the QC process. This makes our journey fascinating, but requires an everyday focus and adaptation to fulfil our commitment to quality.
Bakchormeeboy: Given this collaboration with vOilah! 2020, do you see the Spa Esprit Group continuing to work together with the French Embassy in future on other events promoting French culture?
Sebastien: Definitely, we are proud to bring to Singapore a piece of France and even more proud to celebrate our local community by adding that little local touch. The beauty behind TBB is a nice combination of France and Singapore which also reflects what vOilah is all about.