Été, by Chef Natsuko Shoji, is home to the most sought after cakes in Tokyo. There is a perpetually long waiting list for those who wants to place an order at this esteemed patisserie establishment. Luckily for Hong Kong gourmands, Chef Shoji has teamed up with Chef Shimono from à nu to also offer her cakes for sale in Hong Kong.
Chef Shoji's culinary journey started in middle school when she was making cream-puffs in Home Economics Club. "I was extremely thrilled seeing the puff pastry rise up in the oven" says Shoji. She continues, "My friend was very impressed and told me that I should open a cream-puff shop when I grow up." This provided the motivation for her to nab a position at Le jue de lassiette after three years of learning the basics in her Food Science major and obtaining her cooking license in high school. It was at Le jue de lassiette that she met Chef Shimono with whom she is now partnering with in Hong Kong for her cake business. After two years at this restaurant, she started to work at Florilege, Tokyo's progressive French restaurant that holds two Michelin stars and is ranked number 14 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list. Surprisingly, Shoji says she stopped cooking after Florilege to become a floor staff in a hotel. However, after receiving a large number of requests from her previous customers she started her own private catering service. As the requests expanded exponentially, she founded her own patisserie, Été, in 2014, and Été quickly rose to become one of Tokyo's most sought after patisserie.
A special, made to order gift
"Usually cakes sold in Japan are around a few hundred yen for one piece, packaged in a white plain paper box" Shoji explains. Unlike these standard cakes, each cake at Été is unique and made to order in HK they must be pre-ordered at least three days in advance.
"I make sure the cakes are fresh out the oven, just as how food is served in the restaurant. I prepare the cakes making sure it is ready perfectly on serving time", says Shoji. Emphasizing the freshness, the expiration date for all her cakes are the day it is made. She continues, "Some may think that it is such a hassle to have to make an appointment, pick up the cake and consume it the same day, but this is exactly the reason why it would be the perfect gift for someone special". Keeping the idea of a present, Shoji carefully designs the packaging to be reminiscent of a jewelry box by giving it a special texture. Shoji says that her style is something you will not see in other cake shops.
Fashion inspired design
Été's cakes are delicate, elegant yet very dynamically decorated with a variety of seasonal Japanese fruits. Her signature dessert is the mango rose cake, as pictured above, which is formed with sliced mango petals, diplomate cream and a sable cookie base. Shoji's cakes are inspired by iconic fashion accessories such as bags and clothes. She explains, "My peach cake is inspired by Channel's matelassé bag and its diamond patterned stitching". She artfully arranges the peaches in a similar pattern to reflect this inspiration. Shoji often gets inspired by fashion collection shows, saying "I think this is very rare, to bring fashion into dessert and it's a unique characteristic of my cakes."
Chef's ambition and challenges
Shoji has become one of Tokyo's few well-known female chefs, but her journey has not always been easy. She says that the launch of Été was the most challenging time she ever had. "To set up and run the store I first needed financial resources. In Japan, the social status of women was low, so I had a very hard time obtaining loans". She continues, "Coming up with products was fine, but the hardest part was to set up an environment where I can actually sell them. I worked by myself so that I could maintain my style."
Shoji expressed her hopes that more young people today, especially females, will dream of becoming a chef. Shoji wants to prove that there are many exciting possibilities as a chef and she shares with us her ambitions, "I want to become a role model for the next generation, proving that even a small shop can become a successful one. I hope my story of expanding to Hong Kong will encourage other chefs to follow suit and expand as well." She says, "Japanese chefs cook the most detailed and delicate dishes. I want to promote this to the world."
Été cakes are now available first time in Hong Kong. Purchase can only be made online via FeedMe Guru. Limited quota everyday. Please click here to order.