Chef Adina Biguine on creating Prague-inspired cakes
Adina Biguine was born in Kyrgyzstan, but spent more than half of her life in Prague. She originally came to the Czech capital to study at the Faculty of Humanities, but instead of psychology, she decided to pursue the art of pastry making. Today she is an executive pastry chef at Prague’s Café Milléme which has become known for its wide variety of international flavour fusions, mixing all sorts of unusual ingredients, from yuzu lemon, matcha tea and wasabi to blueberries and saffron. I met with Adina to discuss her life and work and I started by asking her when she first visited Prague:
“I first visited Czechia in 2006 when I was 15 years old. Prague was the first European capital that I had ever seen. Until then, Europe was something I only knew from films. I immediately fell in love with the place and with its parks, streets and architecture.”
What were your first impressions of the city?
“I remember it was summer and there were a lot of tourists and everybody was friendly and spoke English with me. I was 15 and it seemed like another world to me!
“Everything was different, including the climate and the air, which was much cleaner and not as hot as in Kyrgyzstan. We also visited Karlovy Vary and Český Krumlov and I just immediately grew fond of the country.”
When did you decide to move to Czechia?
“When I graduated from school, there was the question where to go next. I always wanted to study abroad and I wanted to go to Europe, and I was asked to decide between England and the Czech Republic.
“When my parents asked me which I would prefer, I said I wanted to go to Prague, because I already knew it. I had to learn Czech, of course, but that was it.”
What was the most difficult thing about settling down in this country?
“I would say it was the language and the different culture and of course the paperwork. In the beginning, going to the Ministry of Interior or to the post office was really difficult, because I didn’t speak or understand the language. But otherwise, I adapted pretty fast.”
What about Czechs? How did you find the people?
“At first, it was fun, like any other different culture. I simply observed what people were doing, how they behaved or dressed – everything seemed really interesting.
“I think that at the beginning, you like everything about the people and culture, it is something like a honeymoon. Only later, you experience something of a cultural shock and you get a bit depressed, but then you get used to it again.”
You graduated in psychology. What triggered your interest in the art of pastry making?
“When I was 18, I visited Paris for the first time and I was very impressed with the way they dressed plates and by the way the chefs looked, how professional they were and by the uniforms they wore.
“And I am not talking about the most expensive restaurants. It was a bit of a shock to me how beautiful it can be. Afterwards I started to think about the profession and realized that it could be something for me.”
You pursued your dream by studying culinary arts in France. What brought you back to Czechia?
“Actually, I hadn’t graduated yet because I wanted to keep my Czech visa. I had another visa in France, but I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to come back. I also didn’t know how it would turn out in France.
“In the end, they offered me to stay in France, at the place where I did my internship, but I came back to Czechia and started to look for a job.
“I was lucky to send my CV to what was then restaurant Millème. They were not looking for anyone at the time but they liked my CV and they invited me to come for an interview.”
Today you are a head chef at Café Millème. What kind of pastries do you make?
“When I started to work at Millème we mainly produced French recipes but we were also using a lot of Japanese and Asian ingredients, such as Matcha teas and yuzu lemons, because the other two owners love Japan and everything about Japanese culture.
“It was ten years ago, when such ingredients were not that popular in the Czech Republic, so it was really interesting to discover some of these new flavours.
“And then I continued to experiment with different textures and different ingredients to create something new and let people discover something new.
“That’s why I always use the hashtag #discoverthetaste because people come to Café Millème in order to try something interesting and new. It’s like travelling in your mind and discovering new cultures.”
Each of your desserts is like a work of art. Would you say that the design of the pastries is as important as their taste?
“Definitely! I think you should give people the possibility to imagine what the pastry tastes like. So the look should impress. When it is a tender taste, such as peach and vanilla in the Los Angeles cake, we use pale pink colour, which is not bright at all, because the texture is very soft and the taste is not that strong.
“On the other hand, something like yuzu lemon has a very strong taste, so the cake has a bright yellow colour.
“As far as the shape goes, we have different collections presented in different months. The most classic form we make is the so-called cut cake or naked cake, where you can see all the inner layers.
This is one of the biggest challenges for every chef, because it is not easy to make these completely straight lines. When it’s a ball, you can use just one type of filling. But if you want people to see what is inside the cake, it is not that easy!”
You mentioned the Los Angeles cake and in fact you have made a whole collection of pastries inspired by different places around the world, including Praha. So what ingredients have you used for the Prague cake?
“Prague was the first pastry that I created by myself. The shape of the cake is round, inspired by Prague’s architecture.”
“For me, Prague was the first pastry that I created by myself. I made it on the occasion of our second pastry shop on Klimentská Street. I was thinking about what was most important for Czechs and what they like. And for me it was blueberries, because everyone in this country seems to like blueberries. I also used cottage cheese or tvaroh for the filling, and walnuts and cocoa powder for the biscuit.
“The shape of the cake is round, inspired by Prague’s architecture. And the colour is violet because in spring, the sky in Prague sometimes turns purple a bit. And also, I think, Czech people love to wear purple. So purple colour and blueberries seemed like a perfect mix.”
Where do you look for inspiration when creating new recipes?
“I would say travelling, but I actually I don’t travel that much. So it is mostly reading and finding new ingredients and learning about new cultures.
“For example, we buy vanilla sticks from France, and as a present, we were also sent some saffron. So I first made macarons with saffron, which was a big success, because saffron has a really distinct taste.
“I also wanted to use it in a cake, and since saffron is a flower, I decided to use it in our spring collection. It’s called Kashmir, because that’s where saffron comes from, and it has a lots of pistachios and chai spices inside. It’s a very nice cake!”
A couple of years ago, you represented Czechia at a prestigious confectionery competition in France. What would you say is the secret to your success?
“People ask me how I found myself in the art of creating pastry, but I think that if you are motivated enough, any kind of work can be interesting.”
“I don’t know. I think you have to be motivated and passionate about your work. Sometimes, people ask me how I found myself in the art of creating pastry.
“But I think that if you are motivated enough, any kind of work can be interesting. Of course you should choose something according to your character, either more manual or intellectual. What I like about pastry is that it is both. It is not only about manual work.”
What do you like about life in Prague? And what do you miss about your home country?
“I think I am not the kind of person to long for another place. My life is here. Czechia is definitely not my motherland, I wasn’t born here, but Prague is my second home and I have spent already half of my life here.
“I know every street in this city and I feel very independent here. What I also like about Prague is that everybody is free and there are no restrictions - you can wear whatever you like and you can be yourself. It is also very cosmopolitan, so that’s what I like about this place.”