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  • Writer's pictureThe World Digested

Paris S’eveille: Limited palette, unlimited palate

Cafe Tonka @ Paris S'eveille

Tokyo is a restless kaleidoscope of colors red, blue, green, yellow, orange. The neon signs flashing, the fluorescent blazing, Tokyo is inundated with colors, to which, the tired eyes have long become numb, developing thick callouses as a shield. Hence, the young and the old can doze under the unforgiving white light of the subway cars, seeking a moment of fleeting oblivion. However, amidst this jungle of colors, have we forgotten the beauty of the shades, the subtleties and the depth, which only exist in the shadows?

Paris S’eveille. Paris awakens.

Paris awakens in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo, at Paris S’eveille, a pâtisserie owned by Pâtissier Kaneko. Jiyugaoka is a world of its own – a Disneyland of sweet pastels, choked with cutesy cafes and charming cake shops, serving vividly colored sweets to prematurely cataractous patrons, who take the meaning of “eye candy” literally.

Paris S’eveille is a dark wakeup call.

Pâtissier Kaneko’s palette of gateaux, evoking Rembrandt’s restrained palette of pigments, is defiantly severe and somber, in various shades of brown – yellow ochre, burnt sienna, Cassel earth, madder lake and umber – dotted with cochineal, lead-tin yellow, Tyrian purple and ivory. A palette of brown means a palate of chocolate, which reincarnates in many of his creations; however, considering that Pâtissier Kaneko had not only worked at Arnaud Larher, but also my favorite chocolatier, Patrick Roger, his obsession and mastery of cacao should come as no surprise.

Rembrandt lived in the era of The Dutch Golden Age. The Dutch East Indian company brought back immense riches back to the 17th Century Netherland, not only from India but also from Japan – the latter due to the monopoly of trade. In spite of which, the wealthy Protestant merchants shied away from the ostentatious and gaudy and clad themselves in austere black and white. Yet no one was fooled; the texture of the velvet and the intricacy of the ruff collar spoke as loudly as any colorful damask. It was a time of wealth; it was a time of death. The expanding middle-class eschewed the traditional religious paintings, but hanged still lifes of imported citruses and fine goblets, juxtaposed to skulls and dead rabbits. Called vanitas, they reminded themselves of the inevitable truth.

With the reserve and confidence reminiscent of the Dutch masters, Pâtissier Kaneko paints Café Tonka – one of the masterpieces at Paris S’eveille – a simple brown square with coffee and chocolate. Simple, certainly; but simplistic, definitely not. Truth needs no ornaments: the skillfully placed coffee-flavored Chantilly cream and the chocolate copeaux recall the silken fur and refined ruff collar of a Dutch noblemen. The rich ganache is infused with tonka beans[1]; tonka acts as an evanescent light, which guides the tongue through the bitterness of coffee and the dense and dark chocolate. Yet, as soon as it arrives, Pâtissier Kaneko’s tonka withdraws; the more you try, the farther it eludes, leaving a memory that will haunt, long, long after.

(Image courtesy of The Frick Collection:$0040:237)

Similarly, his figue orange is deceptively plain – a dark layered rectangle of dense chocolate biscuit[2] and bitter chocolate ganache, and dosed with a syrup of Grand Marnier. Nevertheless, it has a luster as rich as the sable worn by the forgotten Polish nobleman; the glint of black fig seeds and the gleam of the orange peel light and enlighten, providing a burst of sensual pleasure to the eyes and to the tongue.

Cafe Tonka & The Polish Nobleman by Rembrandt

(Images courtesy of The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Pâtissier Kaneko’s palette of limited brown is limitless. His Le Suprême is a supremely understated box of glossy chocolate noir. Its varnished surface is as delicate as urushi – Japanese lacquer – hiding an elegant mousse of black chocolate and blackberry and, a graceful cream of blackberry tea. A fragile tuile and a single blackberry can be interpreted as an homage to the Portrait of Woman Wearing a Gold Chain.

Le Supreme & Portrait of Woman Wearing a Gold Chain by Rembrandt

(Image courtesy of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

Pâtissier Kaneko’s career began with a book of pâtisseries in Paris; the beautiful cakes presented so stimulated a boy’s imagination that he went to apprentice at Lenôtre, Japan,[3] at the age of fifteen. His keen sense of the visual had led him away from the sweet world of the edibles to the digital world of graphic design for eight years, working for an advertising agency. However, he has come back, stronger than ever, enmeshing the two worlds into one; now he paints with a palette of flavors and fragrances, contrasting the light and the dark, playing the bold against the nuances.

Rembrandt’s paintings endure, not only for his ingenuity, but also because of the natural pigments, mainly made from crushed earth and ground minerals. On the other hand, Pâtissier Kaneko’s creations – made of freshly ground nuts and tempered chocolates – do not physically last; nonetheless, they leave lasting impressions and forever change the palate of those who have been touched. Both the painter and the pâtissier render a shade of truth, which linger and make us ponder.

In today’s plastic world of easy gains and nonchalant consumption, are we so embroiled in the virtual reality that we have forgotten the virtue of the real? Have we looked at the bright and colorful for so long and have gone blind? The real world is variegated: while the colors fade and pale, left are the dark and grey, inseparable and inescapable. The shadows accentuate and delineate what is real, and the shades are the passage of time, without which, we cannot be.

While the Japanese salary men doze in the train, passing by the lights of Tokyo, do they dream of the electric sheep[4]?

Paris S’eveille Address: 2-14-5 Jiyugaoka, Meguro, Tokyo Japan Phone: +81-3-5731-3230

[1] Tonka beans have become quite popular and yet misused; most pâtissiers fail to deliver its evanescent fragrance, which is not dissimilar to almond essence, only perhaps with a hint of cool spiciness. Its distinct flavor is sometimes described as that of sakura (Japanese cherry) since the latter also contains the chemical substance, coumarin; only tonka is more capricious and elegant.

[2] A type of French sponge cake, which uses solely the power of eggs and humans to rise, as opposed those eaten in the U.S.A. and the U.K., which relies on various additives – baking powder or baking soda – to raise its heavy buttocks.

[3] Terminated its operation in Japan in 2009.

[4] Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Phillip K. Dick. A masterpiece. The movie, Blade Runner, is one of the few instances where adaptation actually worked even better.

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