Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Grégoire Michaud

Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Grégoire Michaud

Editorial by – Tim Fung

“The term “Urban Explorer” can be used loosely and can be applied to anyone. It’s not just about exploring the city or discovering new places. Rather, it can be anyone who has a hunger for knowledge and is always curious. Curious to learn. Curious to grow. Curious to try new things.”




Grégoire Michaud

Owner of Bread Elements & Pastry Chef




Our Urban Explorer


Could you briefly introduce yourself?

I’m Grégoire but everyone calls me Greg, as it is a little complicated to pronounce for some. I am the Owner of Bread Elements, Entrepreneur, and Pastry Chef in Hong Kong. Originally from Valais, Switzerland, I currently reside in Hong Kong and have been here for over 20 years. I was first offered the opportunity to work in Hong Kong during my stint in the States, but one thing led to another and now, over twenty years later down the road, I’m still here and I’ve made a home for myself here in the city.


At a very young age, you knew you wanted to be a pastry chef ever since you discovered you could make crepes and devour them. How did you first learn to bake at such a young age? Baking pastries has always been my craft. I’ve always had a sweet tooth and very much enjoyed indulging in candy as a child, but my parents would never give me money to buy them. One day, I saw my mother cooking in the kitchen, and in that instance I knew I could make all the sweets I wanted to eat. I loved crepes so I remember making them with my childhood friend and we would experiment with different ingredients, from chocolate to orange and banana. Even as a child, I was constantly surrounded by fresh produce, homemade jams and wines with grandparents who made a living farming. I grew up in a field harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables so I had to make sure that each type of produce was ripe enough to sell in the market. When our livelihood depended on such factors, it was instilled in me ever since I was young the knowledge, training and skills of growing and picking fresh produce. Hence, I think subconsciously, my desire to continue on the path of cooking and baking had something to do with my background.


How do you think you fit into the term ”Urban Explorer”?

To me, the term “Urban Explorer” can be used loosely and can be applied to anyone. It’s not just about exploring the city or discovering new places. Rather, it can be anyone who has a hunger for knowledge and is always curious. Curious to learn. Curious to grow. Curious to try new things. For me, this is something I try to incorporate into all facets of my daily life; be it creating new recipes and items on the menu to exploring unique concepts and ideas for the business. By staying curious, you are open to possibilities and you will always seek out new avenues to explore. That, to me, is a true urban explorer.


With all these hats you wear on a daily basis, what does a day in the life of Mr. Grégoire Michaud look like?

In a typical day, I would wake up and go to work like everyone else. I’ll check my emails in the morning and go into a few meetings to ensure the decisions we make as a team help to drive the company forward. After that, I will delegate responsibilities and tasks to all my staff so that everyone is aligned with what needs to be done. Throughout the day, whether I am visiting Bakehouse in Wan Chai or heading into the office, I take photos of everything I come across that has not yet been done and send them to my staff. As the boss, my job is to be the “bad guy” and nitpick the little things that may pose as a setback for the company. In the afternoon, I will reserve several hours for baking and coming up with new menu concepts. Everything I do, I need to put into my daily calendar or else my schedule fills up quickly! With piles of work on my plate, I also think it is important to have a good work-life balance and make time for family. I will literally schedule in my son’s rugby practise into my calendar well in advance so I make time for him.


With such a busy schedule, juggling between his role as a businessman for Bread Elements and coming up with new concepts for Bakehouse, Grégoire still manages to squeeze in his son’s Rugby practices with a happy-go-lucky attitude.


Passion for Pastry


As a Pastry Chef, you are always coming up with the latest creations in your kitchen. Where do you get your inspiration from? Could you walk us through the entire creative process, from brainstorming to bringing your delightful pastries to life?

My mind is always bubbling with new concepts and my stomach is always talking to me! I’m kidding! But to be honest, I constantly have new ideas in my mind of the different flavours of pastries I want to make and the best way to present it. Believe it or not, music has played a key role in the creative process, whether I am thinking of a new menu or selecting the interior design of a new restaurant project. I enjoy listening to all genres of music and it really sets the mood. If I want to feel more aggression or passion, I’ll listen to rock music. If I want to truly focus or be in a more subdued mood, I will choose some relaxing background music. I will literally put on a playlist, let my ideas flow and put onto paper the concepts in my mind. Once I have a solid idea for a new pastry, I will bake it at least 15 different times, with variations in ingredients and measurements, before I settle on one. Before I let my team try it, I will actually eat the entire pastry as if I was the diner to test out the aftertaste and how filling it may be for the end consumer. It is a very fun and creative process but it takes a lot of time to bring any pastry to life!


Having lived in Hong Kong for some time, do you think Hong Kong baked goods have influenced your baking style? Or perhaps may have needed to fine-tune your recipes for local palate?

Most certainly! Though I take pride in creating a European pastry brand with other pastry shops around the world as my benchmark, I also know that I am creating pastries for a local audience. I find that generally, locals prefer sweeter tasting pastries with a nice glaze of honey brushed onto the outer layer. Not many locals are a fan of breads that have a slightly sour taste so we try to tone down that aspect and dial up the sweetness.


With that said, what would you say is your favourite local pastry? (Egg Tart, Pineapple, Bun, etc.)

I really enjoy the local pastries in Hong Kong, but if I was to only choose one favourite, I will have to opt for the Pineapple Bun with a thick cube of melted butter squeezed right in the middle of the bun. It is a guilty pleasure of mine and I try to control myself from eating it too often but I absolutely love the taste. It is definitely a well-known pastry adored by the locals and tourists.


Catering to your audience: As much as Grégoire takes pride in creating a truly beloved European pastry brand with other pastry shops around the world as his benchmark, he is fully aware that he is creating pastries for a local audience with a local taste.


Is there a certain pastry you enjoy making most? If so, why?

I really enjoy making all pastries, but if I was to choose one pastry in particular it would be the croissant. As one of our signature pastry items at Bakehouse, I think I have made it so many times that it has almost become second nature to me.


Having been in this industry for so many years in Hong Kong, do you source produce and ingredients locally?

It is difficult to say as the temperature in Hong Kong is not always consistent and appropriate for farming. With that said, we do try to use fresh locally sourced produce in most of our pastries but it can be quite difficult because we consume such a high volume of ingredients every day in our baking and cooking that a lot of the time, our local partners is only able to support a fraction of what we really need. So generally, we will take what we can get from our local partners and source the rest internationally.


So what inspired you to start Bread Elements and Bakehouse?

I’ve always been an independent thinker, a rebel if you will, with my own vision and values. And so I always wish to seek new challenges that will push me forward and take me to the next level. At the time when I was the Executive Pastry Chef at Four Seasons Hong Kong, we were doing very well and we were honoured with many recognitions. However, after 14 years of working with the hotel I felt that I was at the point in my career where my progression was at a plateau, and so I had the idea of selling my pastries to various restaurants and hotels. I found a partner to expand the business with me, who happened to be my baker at the time at the hotel. Looking at the bakeries at the time, there were numerous local pastry shops but not many European style bakeries, so there was a niche market for bread that we saw a market for and wanted to tap into. Also, I wanted to put bread onto the table as a signature element of dining created by Michelin star chefs that diners would appreciate, rather than as just a side or starter.


What are the challenges of running your own bakery for 10-20 hotel and restaurant clients, etc.?

There are numerous challenges in all facets of my work every day as a business owner, from logistics, packaging and storage to engineering. It’s my responsibility to drive the company forward so that is generally my focus, but when you own a business, there are always problems arising which you have to find the solutions for. I remember when I first opened Bread Elements, we were moving into a facility in Chai Wan and I needed a pen to jot down some notes. I never had the need to buy a pen before when I was working as a pastry chef at the hotel because I always had a secretary that would handle these matters. So when this happened, it was my first wake-up call that as a business owner, I needed to handle everything on my own, starting from square one.


You first worked as a full-time pastry chef, now you are running your own business. Do you feel that you have to compromise your passion for baking since you may be more concentrated on handling the logistics side of the business?

Of course, when you are the business owner, you touch all areas of the business. I try my best to stay away from Operations but when there are problems that arise every single day at work, you need to find a solution and solve the issue at hand. But with that said, I always make time to practise my passion, which is baking. For the past few months, I have been working on the new concepts and revamping the new menu selections for Bakehouse, and so I will draw out the concepts I have in mind, then head into the kitchen to experiment with the different ingredients and start baking. Baking is in my blood and it is my true passion so I will always make time for it, amidst all the other operational work I have for the business side of things.


No matter how busy he gets with the business side of things, Grégoire always make time to practise his passion, baking. As he says, “Baking is in my blood and it is my true passion so I will always make time for it.”


A Home in Hong Kong


Hailing from Valais, Switzerland, what was your initial motivation for moving to Asia (Hong Kong, specifically)?

I am constantly looking for new challenges to propel me forward, and when I was living in the States at the time, I was getting bored of my job and wanted a drastic change. I felt that I had already seen much of Europe and lived in the States, so I thought why not explore the possibility of living in Asia. With that in mind, I applied for literally over 20 positions across Asia at various hotels in Japan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and China. I got my break in Asia when Regent Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui approached me for an interview in Houston so I went down there just for the interview. When I received news that I got the offer, I moved to Hong Kong two weeks later so it was a very quick process. A funny but embarrassing story I must share with you is that when I got the job offer, I actually thought Hong Kong was in Japan so I told my mother that I was going to Japan. Of course, now I know better but back then, my geographical knowledge of Asia was quite limited so living in Hong Kong now has helped me learn and appreciate all that Hong Kong, and of course Asia, have to offer.


What were your first impressions of the city and how do you think your view of Hong Kong has changed after living here for over 25 years?

One obvious and impressive change I’ve noticed from when I first moved to Hong Kong till now is the knowledge and level that people have nowadays about food. For instance, back then, there may have been only a few types of very basic cheeses to select from in the city and diners would enjoy them even if the quality of cheese was not up to par. Today, with the variety of imports coming in and out of the city, there are limitless choices to choose from and consumers have become smarter in knowing what is good quality food and being more health conscious of what they are putting into their bodies.


What do you enjoy about living in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is a very international destination with a melting pot of cultures, people and intensity here. There are close to 8 million people packed in the city and the fact that the road structure, transportation, and network of the city is able to support and sustain this is such an incredible thing. From an urban planning perspective, it is very well-built and very well-run.  Another thing that I love about Hong Kong is that you can find anything you want here. There is such a dynamic mix of urban cityscape and lush hills, where you can be out of the city in a half hour and onto the foothills and mountain trails of the countryside overlooking the ocean.


In 3 words, how would you describe Hong Kong?

Resilient, Intense, Amazing