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Sweet Surprises

There’s nothing sweeter than something made with love.

Life is short…which is why you should always have dessert first. If that’s a mantra you live by, you’ll definitely want to check out the range of sweet treats and artisanal pastries available at Tanjong Pagar Centre. To whet your appetite, we sit down with Mr Daisuke Ishioka, the CEO of Hattendo, and Mr Kenji Yokota, head pastry chef of Henri Charpentier, to talk passion, rigour, and sweet, sweet pastries.

Mr Daisuke Ishioka, CEO of Hattendo.

Hello Mr Ishioka! Could you introduce us to Hattendo?

So Hattendo first started in 1933 in Hiroshima, Mihara by our founder, Mr Kaoru Morimitsu. During this period, we’ve had a lot of experience as a Japanese confectionary. The third-generation, the president of Hattendo Japan now, is creating a new fusion of styles between Japanese and European. So you could say we’ve been doing something new from the beginning.

25 years ago, we have started working towards the bread, the bakery shop. But a lot of new bakeries were coming up at the same time. We’ve always believed in having no preservatives, local ingredients. That was new to people at the time, but 5, even 10 years ago, it had become common to use those words. At that point, we decided to focus on our cream buns. Nowadays, we no longer want to consume tangible things; we want to consume experiences and emotions, and we hope to convey that to our customers. We want people to feel a sense of warmth and happiness.

 

What’s one challenge you’ve managed to overcome?

I’ve been with Hattendo since 10 years ago. At that time, we had 23 shops in the entire of Japan. When I joined, that number was rising little by little. I remember 3 months after joining, the number of buns we were making a day went from 3000 to 10000, 3 times more than when I joined. [In Japan], we actually bake the bun in Hiroshima and send it over to Tokyo, so everything has to be done before 5pm. And this was done by people, not machine, so it was really a group effort.

 

What’s the biggest difference you’ve had to adapt to with Hattendo in Singapore?

In Japan we have a lot of shops inside of MRT stations. 60-70% of our sales comes from these small retail shops. People always want to get [our cream buns] a gift for somebody else, it’s quite a big part of Japanese culture. In Singapore, I do know of customers who want to bring a gift to somebody else, but it’s less common.

 

They want to eat it themselves.

-Laughs- Exactly.

 

What’s your philosophy towards leadership?

Before we can get customer’s satisfaction, we first have to get our employee’s satisfaction. I always have to think about my employees’ happiness…which is my happiness too. I still don’t think I’m a people-focused sort of leader yet, but it’s something I’m constantly working on. Whenever I have time, I like asking them out to drink, talk, get to know each other better. We are not just co-workers, but I think of us as more of a family.

 

What’s the most popular flavour of bun at Hattendo?

It’s always been our custard signature bun.

 

And do you have a personal favourite flavour?

It’s always changing…because I really do eat [a Hattendo bun] every day. But right now it’s the whipped cream bun.

Mr Kenji Yokota, Head Pastry Chef of Henri Charpentier.

Hello Mr Yokota. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Myself, I've been working at this company Henri Charpentier for 15 years. I've loved making pastries since I was a child, and making cakes with my mother for my brother's birthday. When I was a university student, I decided to work in Henri Charpentier, because I wanted to dedicate myself to pastry making, and I had a wonderful impression of Henri Charpentier. The way they made cakes was beautiful, precise and efficient.

What was it like starting out?

My company has many shops in Japan, so every day we have to make many, many cakes. Especially during Christmas, where you may need to have 10 sessions or more a day. It requires a certain level of speed, which made it a little difficult for me to adapt to that situation at first. We have many excellent chefs at Henri Charpentier, so I owe a lot what I’ve learnt my boss (who’s still in the company). He was an excellent chef but he was very strict –laughs-.

 

What skills or personality do you need?

Our cakes tend to use special ingredients and can be very complicated. So we need to master quite a diverse range of skills. Even [seemingly] simple cakes require a lot of effort. Our company’s signature pastry is the financier, and that’s a very simple cake [in terms of ingredients]. But for me, I want to make these cakes as perfect as possible, and that requires a lot of hard work. There’s nothing that makes me happier than making our customers happy.

What roles do you have as a head pastry chef?

Teaching the staff, ensuring that we maintain a high standard…patience is quite necessary.

 

Have you had to modify your pastry recipes to suit Singaporeans’ tastes?

We’ve changed some of our recipes by making the cakes fluffier and less sweet, as well as larger. Our Raspberry Chocolate is something that’s been made specially for Singapore, and can’t be found anywhere else. We also use local produce in some of our pastries to ensure freshness for our Singaporean customers.

 

3 Fascinating Factoids About Henri Charpentier

1) From October 2013 to September 2014, Henri Charpentier sold over 24 million (!) financiers, winning it the Guinness World Record for two years running. The patisserie chain has been making their trademark pastry since 1975.

2) Henri Charpentier’s name was inspired by a famous French pastry chef of the same name. The titular chef was famous for creating the crepes suzette (by happy accident!) in 1895, for the Prince of Wales. The dish is set on fire, which makes for an exciting and delicious culinary experience.

3) The patisserie chain was first established in 1969 as a small coffee shop in Ashiya. Since then, the establishment has since grown to over 80 stores across Japan.

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