In episode 9, Maxime Pouvreau, founder of Petit Pot, a delicious, sweet, creamy pudding line, shares a lot with us! His journey from being a little kid with a big dream to a successful food entrepreneur, his favorite tool in the kitchen as well as his current favorite places to eat out in the Bay Area and which recipe book gives him some inspiration at home.
Here is the transcript for those who would rather read:
Hello, everyone, and welcome to what gets your cooking the podcast giving you a new way to look at
it and share it. This is Virginie, your host. And every Thursday I’m publishing a new episode. Solocast or interviewing a food expert to share our experiences and tips to simplify your cooking.
Today , in episode 9, my guest is Maxime Pouvreau, founder of Petit Pot, who’s going to share with us his perspective of food and his journey from an ambitious kid with a sweet tooth to a food entrepreneur. Hello, and welcome, Max. And thank you very much for being our guest today.
Thank you very much for having me. pleased to be here.
So we first met a couple of months ago at the food innovators forum in San Francisco. And you were one of the experts invited to share your experience with other food entrepreneurs. Why don’t we get started? Can you tell us more about how it all started for you? How did you get interested in cooking or baking?
Yeah, so I actually have this picture that my mother took when I was six or seven years old and I was making a cake and there’s a picture of me pouring sugar into a mixer at my grandmother’s house. I’ve really been surrounded by food my whole life, and I always had a sweet tooth. And, and so it was just kind of, in me since day one. And when I was 12 I started to actually be interested in being a pastry chef, professionally and so I would visit the local pastry shop where I grew up in the south of France. And during the school vacation, I would actually go there and work and, then at 15, I started my apprenticeship. In France, we have this kind of vocational system where you can can be an apprentice and you work three weeks of the month at a pastry shop or whatever trade. For me it was pastry. And then one week of the month I would go to a pastry college. And I did that for about two years, three years. This is kind of where my culinary career started. And then eventually I moved on to work in other pastry shop around the world. I traveled quite a bit. And then I moved on to the restaurant industry and worked in fine dining restaurants in Paris, and then eventually in England. Then I moved to San Francisco about 10 years ago. I came here to work at a Michelin star restaurant as well.
That was a really early vocation. That’s so great.
Yeah, it’s kind of how it is in France, when you do an apprenticeship, you start very young. It’s has its pros and cons, but it worked for me pretty well.
how did you realize that? What was the turning point for you? Did you always kind of grow and went along the path or were there really important moments?
I kinda always knew. From a very young age, I was very determined to be a pastry chef. And, that was the thing, and I wanted to be the best. And I worked at the best places I could possibly work at and learned from the best chefs. I was…, I am pretty stubborn and so I knew I wanted to be a very good pastry chef and so that’s kind of what I went for. But then I did burn out a little bit. I mean, seven to eight years working as a chef, I was realizing that I don’t think I could physically do this my whole life. It’s physically really difficult.
How many hours a day were you cooking?
You cook for 12, over 12 hours a day. It was definitely long, long weeks. I’ve had weeks when I was I remember being 16 and it was my first Christmas week at that pastry shop. I remember working 80 – 85 hours or something like that. It was just crazy.
Very intense. Yes.
But I always wanted to start my own business. This is why I kind of moved on to do what I’m doing now and started this Petit Pot business, which is not quite the same. I’m not cooking as much as I used to. I’m cooking for me personally, but I don’t cook professionally anymore. And I have a business where I’m more of a businessman than a cook.
So how about did that transition go for you? I’m interested.
It was very organic. When I moved to San Francisco, I realized that I couldn’t find the creamy desserts that I find everywhere in grocery stores in France. And this is kind of how I had the idea that something was missing in the US for premium puddings. I was working at a restaurant and used the kitchen at night, when the restaurant was closed, to develop the product and the recipes and the packaging. And then during the day, I would go sell it in the grocery stores in San Francisco. And I did that for a few months. And then eventually it kind of grew. And then I just couldn’t manage to have the job at the same time. So I moved down to the commercial kitchen to make the product. And I quit my day job. And then it evolved and then eventually I got a bigger kitchen. And then we moved to a big factory. It’s a 20,000 square feet factory in the bay area.
That’s was pretty fast because you started what, four or five years ago?
Five years ago. And now we’re in 5000 grocery stores in the country.
Well, that’s an amazing story. Stubbornness can be a real strength.
As a French person, I do agree with you that was missing in the aisles of the supermarket. So thank you for that. So, can I ask you what’s your inspiration? What food do you like in general nowadays? Like our like to cook? Is it depending on the season?
I’m very busy at work, I have to say, so I don’t have time to go shopping much, except on weekends. So my girlfriend usually shops, she goes to the grocery store. And then when I come home, I open the fridge, see what’s here and I just come up with something. I that’s kind of how I doit: I open the fridge I say there’s some vegetables. It is seasonal because we tend to buy seasonal vegetables. And we’re also trying to eat less meat than we used to. I love meat. But I realized that it’s not so great for the environment, so we are pushing towards a more vegetarian diet, even though we’re not vegetarian. So, I would open the fridge and see what’s there and then just try to come up with something that is tasty and fresh.
And do you think that it comes from good habits? Was it because a lot of people were cooking in your family when you were younger?
Because I know that I see a lot of people were struggling and having ideas. So…
Absolutely. I mean, I also have some time where I just don’t know what to do. And I do open a cookbook. But yes, I think the fact that the family I grew up in was cooking a lot. And the fact that I’ve worked in restaurants my whole life makes it so that I have a broader knowledge of what could be done with each ingredients. So that makes it a little bit easier for me. But sometimes I get stuck. And actually, in terms of inspiration lately, there is a cookbook that I really like and the chef is called Ottolenghi. It’s a Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s a mix between Palestinian and Israeli food. And I find it very delicious. And the recipes are very easy to make.
That sounds really yummy. I love middle eastern food too. Now, do you share your food with a lot of people? How often would you say that you cook at home? every day or a couple of times a week?
So I don’t like to cook for myself. I love to cook for my girlfriend but the more the better. I like to cook for multiple people. So I love to have friends over and cook for them or family. We have people over twice a month or three times a month for dinner parties. But on a weekly basis, I cook maybe three times a week, three to four times a week. And then the rest of the time. It’s either my girlfriend cooking, or we go out to eat. I love to go out to eat. I think being in the industry of restaurant for so many years, going out to eat is something that I really love to do. So we go out to eat on a regular basis.
What’s your top three, your favorite places to eat in the Bay Area at the moment?
So at the moment, my number one is La Ciccia and it’s been my number one for a long time. It’s a Sardinian restaurant in Noe Valley, in San Francisco. A really small place and they’ve been there for like 15 years, the menu probably hasn’t changed in 15 years either. It’s just very solid traditional food from Italy, Sardinia. And I find it very delicious. So that’s number one. Number two, I would say there is a restaurant called Rich Table in San Francisco that I really like.
And they do farm to table, right?
Yes, it’s farm to table. And the chef is a chef that I used to work with when I was at Coi in San Francisco. Then, on more like a lower price range and just kind of casual, I really like Chinese food, and there’s an amazing Chinese restaurant in Oakland called Shandong that I think is amazing. They make their own pasta on site, and you can see them do the job. And it’s fun, and it’s very delicious.
I already had lunch, but now I’m hungry again. Now, what is the tool that you that you use at home most to cook? Is it like just a pan? Or do you have a special thing or special tip maybe for people cooking at home and trying to simplify the way they just envision cooking?
I actually I do have something that I think is key and that every French house has but that’s very hard to find in the US sometime, a garlic crusher. I think that’s super useful. Because when you crush the garlic, it brings out so much more flavor, it grinds it much more finely than cutting it with a knife. It’s also so much faster. When you take a clove of garlic and try and chop it really finely. It takes so much time and effort. But if you have the garlic press, you just put in there and crush it. And it’s very quick and delicious.
Yeah, it is true. I’ve seen that in a lot of families in France, but I don’t see all my friends having that and using that here.
Yeah, it’s very useful. Very, very useful.
And garlic is very healthy as well.
I wanted to go back into what you shared with us about how you always had that dream to become a pastry chef. I want to ask you what did it mean for you as a child? What did you envision when you were thinking about being a pastry chef?
Eating lots of desserts!
That was just the appeal of sugar!
Yeah, the appeal for sugar. And there was also the fact that I was never excited by the regular school system and I wanted to get out. So I decided to learn a trade. And that’s also part of it. But mostly, wanting to make desserts, and knowing how to make delicious desserts. That was something I really wanted to know. I was wondering how do you make eclairs? Those eclairs looks amazing! How do you make that so I just wanted to learn all these things.
And later on when you got into Michelin restaurants, how did you get that, that will to go and push through because, as everyone knows, or can probably guess, it’s very intense. And you need to work, as you said, very long hours, and it’s extra competitive.
The drive to be the best, the drive to be good and learning from the best as well. When you get into those restaurants, they see it as you it’s a treat for you to work for them. Like they’re gifting you that opportunity. And in a way they are, because you work with the best chefs in the world and you learn from them. So it’s learning that trade, learning how to cook that was very motivating, and driving. You work alongside the best pastry chefs and chefs in the world. And then you learn from them. It’s just, it was amazing! That was definitely what I was looking for, to learn those skills, and learn how to make certain things and learn to make delicious food. But it is draining and it was very tiring.
And it was like, Well, I don’t want to say emotionally but you know how it can really be a struggle for certain people because it is really demanding.
Well, even emotionally. Physically, it’s difficult because you work long hours, but emotionally it’s difficult too, because the people, your chefs, your supervisors… there’s this culture of putting down people and screaming and yelling and it’s emotionally is very difficult.
So how did you make it through all that?
Just stubbornness, and drive to learn.
So learning was really what mattered most? To get more tools etc.
Yes, and the passion for food! I mean, you still love to cook at the end of day and that kind of overcomes all the difficulties that come with the training.
That’s one of the things I was curious about. What’s your favorite food? In this season in the fall?
It’s funny, there’s so many things that I used to find kind of weird… like pumpkin pie for example. Actually I love a good pumpkin pie now! There’s some really bad ones, but a good one is delicious.
The whole thanksgiving thing is awesome! I’ve been here for 10 years I have family here now.
Do you cook a traditional Thanksgiving meal?
Yes … I mean, traditional but upgraded. For instance, the turkey, I think the turkey is often very bad, very dry. But there’s ways to make it taste better, by brining it or doing a barbecue. So you can make a much tastier Turkey.
That sounds great to me. My husband and I are both French, so we took about a couple of cooking classes around the Thanksgiving turkey because we were really afraid of that dry turkey.
Yeah, brining is key.
Well, with all those tips, I just want to thank you and ask you how we can know more about Petit Pot.
So you can look on our website: www.petitpot.com. That’s where you’ll find our information. Also, you can find it at your local Whole Foods. It’s in every Whole Foods in the country. And most of the safe ways as well. And you can find the product out there. And you can go on our social media, Facebook and Instagram pages where you can find some more information.
Okay, well, great. Thank you so much for being with us today. And have a great rest of the week.
Thank you very much for having me.
Thanks, Max. Bye. Thank you everyone for listening to our weekly episode of What Gets You Cooking. If you liked it, review it on Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast. That’s the best way to support it. Thank you and see you next week.
PS: all comments only represent my own opinion and there is no affiliated links