For the love of sweet things | French Affaire

A life in search of the greatest sweet treats is a difficult one. RACHEL AGIUS talks to Jesmond Borg from French Affaire about what makes his pastries so special

From home cooks to multi-million dollar franchises, the world seems to have fallen in love with desserts all over again. Sweet things were never a hard sell but a recent explosion in establishments specializing in special treats has people paying closer attention to them.

Hands stained purple from a morning spent working with fresh forest fruits, Jesmond Borg does not immediately strike you as something of a pastry guru. Soft-spoken and shy, he is the French Affaire café’s newest addition. And although this may be his first foray into the café business, Jesmond has literally seen the world through his work with pastry. 

His is a classic tale of hard work paying off. Having started off as a school leaver washing dishes, he worked his way up the ranks, attending the Institute of Tourism Studies and then earning positions with hotels in Malta. He would then use those to get a foothold in others abroad. Dubai, Frankfurt, Berlin, Russia, Jordan – Jesmond has worked in some fascinating places, getting a chance to see, firsthand, just how food and culture interact. So what inspired his move out of the hotel scene?

“There is a lot more opportunity to display my work in a café setting,” he explains. And although there isn’t the massive volume of food to be prepared like in a hotel kitchen, a café has its own challenges. 

One of these is coming up with a menu, a process that involves some element of trial and error. “You have to work out what people enjoy,” Jesmond says. No mean feat, given that French Affaire is situated in the decidedly cosmopolitan Tigne Point. Keeping a close watch on customer preferences is a challenge.

Still, customers here are in good hands. Jesmond has been a pastry chef for the past 19 years and has won several competitions, including the Pâtissier of the Year award in 2001 and several medals in the recent Chef Grand Prix in Istanbul. He continues to hone his craft through courses around the world and by working with other experienced chefs.

Although everyone and their aunt has suddenly taken up baking, few realize just how much work goes into creating works of art like Jesmond makes every day. “This work takes dedication,” he enthuses. “It has almost nothing to do with regular cooking.” Closer to an art than a trade and anyone who knows their macarons from their eclairs knows this to be true. And it’s not just training either – finding certain good quality ingredients may be close to impossible from your regular supermarket and though alternatives exist, you simply cannot substitute the real deal.

So what can customers expect at French Affaire? Some familiar favourites and a few brand new faces, if Jesmond has anything to say about it. “Part of the job is to keep innovating,” he smiles, making it seem like this ‘job’ he speaks of is not so much employment as it is a lifelong passion. 

The display cases at French Affaire currently carry a broad selection of mouth-watering treats, including fruit tarts, chocolate gateaux, walnut pie and millefoglie, Jesmond’s personal favourite. If this is just the beginning for Jesmond, the future looks very bright and very sweet.