The translation of "éclair" is “lightning,” which is also the speed at which the Parisian pastries were devoured by guests at Le Méridien Philadelphia hotel. On an early Wednesday morning, the hotel invited guests to a sweet soirée to showcase their launch of their new culinary program, Le Méridien Éclair. The program is part of a brand-wide program where Le Méridien hotels and resorts worldwide will offer their guests the opportunity to indulge in a variety of modern twists on the Parisian treat, including both classic flavors and unique creations inspired by the destination. As part of the program, each hotel will also offer versions of three signature éclair flavors — coffee, chocolate, and vanilla — as well as one locally inspired flavor.
The hotel’s ethos calls on creativity and flexibility, which is apparent in the hotel’s interior design, as well as the creative freedom the chefs have. Guests entering the hotel can see that — we were greeted by a long, white, glossy, high-top table decorated with a buffet of éclairs, customizable with bowls of assorted toppings. We were invited to make our own éclairs as well as taste Le Méridien Philadelphia’s chef Sonny Ingui’s fully decorated éclairs. A variety of flavors to satisfy everyone’s taste buds was made available while pre-made éclairs lay at the end of the table for those who were not in a very creative mood.
A new perspective on éclairs is a neat idea, but it’s nothing unique. Sure, individualizing éclairs early in the morning is fun and exciting, and allows amateur bakers to fantasize about the “what if” possibilities, but the creativity required is comparable to what you’d need for a coloring book. As I surveyed the given flavor options spread across the table, I chose a coffee piped éclair, on which I brushed a thick coat of chocolate ganache, and garnished with some fresh strawberries, basil powder, and finely chopped nuts.
Flavor pairings play a vital part in making or breaking food, and my chosen flavor combinations did not satisfy my sweet tooth, even though they were aesthetically pleasing. So, I hopped off of my chair and picked up Chef Ingui’s locally inspired éclair flavor: an éclair with a Philadelphia strawberry cream cheese mousse piped inside, and a thin layer of cream cheese icing underneath fresh strawberries that were lightly sprinkled with basil powder.
The crème-based éclairs were light and fluffy and the pastry shell was not as firm as it should have been due to the humid weather, but regardless, you could eat several of these éclairs and still have room for some coffee. In contrast to the classic, custard-piped éclair, chef Ingui’s éclairs were delicately made with hints of sweetness, but were short of being memorable. In the initial bite of the locally inspired strawberry cream cheese éclair, you’re hit with subtle strawberry flavor, which is then quickly overcome by the richness of its cream cheese counterpart. As the cream cheese flavor slowly dissipates, you are then left with the pastry flavor, which was reminiscent of a glazed doughnut due to the softness of the shell. Chef Ingui executed this layering of flavors well, but failed to leave a lasting impression. Thinking a double chocolate éclair would provide some sweetness, I was quickly proven wrong, yet again. The layers of flavor were present as always, but rather than the indulgent, cavity-inducing sweetness I’d hoped for, I was left with plain pastry flavor.
Recently promoted to executive chef, Ingui focuses most of his time on the line, creating dishes for all six of Le Méridien’s menus. He started his culinary journey at age 14 watching his parents cook, and Ingui transformed from an amateur baker to an educated pastry chef after studying Culinary Arts at ACCC. As Ingui paced the éclair table, excited to answer questions, he confessed that although he started his culinary career as a baker, he would not trade the creative side of cooking for exact measurements of baking, for his “antsy” personality thrives on the busy kitchen tempo. Hopefully, his entrées are more satiating than the presented éclairs.