How far can you push your boundaries? Patisserie and chocolate: can you actually export those products? Definitely, was Lucio Bellavia’s answer when we spoke to him in his eponymous pasticceria in Naples just recently. He uses special packaging, dry ice, pallets and couriers to distribute Bellavia’s pastries all over the world. But there is another way. Wittamer has proven that; the world-class, Brussels-based patissier introduced the Japanese to the Samba®. Pastry chef Christophe Roesems on exporting, tradition and innovation.
Maison Wittamer and Japan: A love story. And a long one at that. Around 25 years ago, the famous Belgian patissier (established in 1910!) started looking for a partner that could export its patisserie and chocolate. Towards the end of the 90s, the initial contacts with the East started to develop and they blossomed into flourishing relationships. Wittamer has since become a household name in the Land of the Rising Sun, and has about 15 sales outlets. A great example of cross-pollination, as we can see from Christophe Roesems’s story.
Christophe Roesems, pastry chef at Wittamer:“Japanese professionals come to Brussels to train.We adapt the flavours and techniques to their way of working.”
Wittamer patisserie and chocolate for the Japanese market is actually produced in Japan, not Brussels. Trainees come to Brussels regularly to absorb the Wittamer identity.
Why this approach?
“It's easier to recreate our identity in Asia than to produce here in Brussels and export frozen goods. It was a deliberate choice to produce in Japan, so that we could prevent a drop in quality and avoid complex administration processes.”
Translated into Japanese
Timeless classics like the Samba® are given a local flavour profile, but they are still a typical Wittamer product. What does Wittamer actually change for Japan?
"For the Japanese market, we adapt the taste, not the style. Take the Samba®, for instance, a mythical creation filled with various chocolate mousses. The Japanese version is not as sweet or as bitter. Japanese people are less familiar with aggressive taste patterns. Not all ingredients can be used.”
Can you give us a concrete example?
“The Japanese love strawberries and whipped cream in pastries, and not so much sugar and tart flavours. Sometimes it's not clear what they don't like. Even I only found out after some time that they don't like meringue. So we made a whipped cream version of some creations.”
“The Japanese way of thinking and working takes our creations to an even higher level.”
What's the next step?
“The Chinese market has opened up. But the Middle East is an expanding market, too, with a great deal of potential: Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia... We used to think the Japanese came to Europe to copy us. That idea has long gone. I now see cross-pollination and a transfer of knowledge between the two cultures.”
The Japanese story is just one example of the huge challenge Wittamer is taking on: preserving classics and at the same time responding to the demands of other markets and new times. Christophe is responsible for keeping an eye on this delicate balance. And he’s been doing it successfully for over 30 years.
Get inspired by Wittamer’s innovative creations, such as the Bombe Yuzu by Christophe Roesems, with yuzu crémeux, milk chocolate mousse and citrus fruit crunch.