Tenwest Mandarin School

GoKunming Articles

Video: Zen and the art of patisserie with chef Igor Nataf

By in Features on

Editor's note: This article is a sponsored post. If you would like to find out more about GoKunming promotional articles and videos, please get in touch via the Contact Form.

Recently we've met up several times with Igor Nataf, one of the many foreign business owners in Kunming who has thrived here in Yunnan. He is a former French-Italian chess master turned pastry chef, and has spent the last few years creating a thriving bakery here in the Spring City.

His meandering journey has taken him from his Sicilian mother's pastry kitchen through markets in the Alsace region of France, to working at world-class hotels in Shanghai and New Caledonia, all before he eventually settled in Kunming. This circuitous route was interspersed with three of Igor's favorite pastimes — long periods of travel, playing chess and meditating.

All in all, he has more than ten years experience of living and working in China. In Kunming's Panlong District you can find his light and airy café — aptly called Igor's Bakery and Coffee Shop — with seating downstairs and spotless kitchen facilities located above the shop. There is a pleasant buzz, with delivery drivers picking up cakes, staff busy at work behind the counter and customers enjoying chats with coffee and, most likely, a croissant or baguette.

The café serves pastries and great coffee and you can pick up a loaf of bread or a cake to take home or have it delivered straight to your door. In the bakery above the shop Igor and his employees work their magic, creating small and elegant pastries alongside the seemingly simple blending of water, flour and leavening that leads to delicious traditional French baguettes or pain campagnard. Igor stresses the importance of time and harmony in making bread, and this brings us to his personal philosophies.

Just as Robert M Pirsig's exploration of the amalgam of western, eastern and native American philosophies is reflected in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Igor's personal blend of Taoist philosophy with his life-long education as a French gourmand finds expression in his bakery's atmosphere and food.

Much more than just running a business, he provides a welcoming space for people from all walks of life. Chess-players meet for games, or a raclette attracts people for a dinner party, bringing people from all over Kunming together over a shared love of soft cheese. Guests peruse his books on meditation and Buddhist philosophy, while enjoying a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

In the background, the café team works in harmony, and as Igor is fluent in Mandarin, his collaboration with his Chinese employees is a lovely example of East meets West, or yin and yang, as Igor might prefer. He lives and works guided by Taoist philosophy, which was one of his main motivations for originally moving to China.

Igor is nearly always in the café, greeting and welcoming guests and invariably up for a chat about life, a discussion of geopolitics or a spirited game of chess. The café is something Igor has worked hard for years to create pouring all his experience, a life of passion and his personal philosophies into the place.

While quality and tradition are the hallmarks of his business, Igor considers the bakery his home, and a place we all are invited to visit and enjoy. When we visited the bakery, Igor talks to us about the travails and triumphs of his life alongside the choices he made that eventually brought him to become an entrepreneur in Kunming.

He's always interested to hear similar stories from those who come to visit Igor's Bakery and Coffee, hopefully over some fresh-baked bread, coffee and a game of chess. Below are some of Igor's favorite recipes, and the ones he's spent the most time perfecting.

French croissant
Made with butter imported from the Brittany region, which gives this croissant a flavor and a taste that will transport you back to France.

Mille-feuille, aka Napoleon cake
Crispy puff dough infused with a delectable Madagascar vanilla flavored pastry cream make this traditional French pastry a must try.

This is not a lemon
It is far better than that! made popular by French pastry chef Cedric Grolet, the addition of local peppermint and lemons from Thailand are worth coming back for.

Passion fruit mango mille crepes cake
If it takes ages to make this crepe with more than 25 individual layers, it will take a lot more restraint not finish it in seconds.

Short film: Giorgio Giacomelli

© Copyright 2005-2019 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Share this article

Comments

Good sponsored post.

Looks like we found a place for chess players to meet over coffee and pastries. A chess master awaits your next move.

Igor's may be a sight for sore eyes. I'm tired of the gastronomic staleness of mainstream bakery chains in JustHot, Breadworks, BreadTalk, Holiland (though their warm fresh-out-of-oven almond danish isn't bad), and particularly Jiahua Bakeries.

Look, the place may be great and the guy may be a genius and I'm glad to hear about it, but couldn't you guys publish objective reports of anything?? An ad is an ad is an ad, but not having been born yesterday, I naturally won't believe.all the hype. Public service(?) and commercial hype are not the same thing. So either rewrite with simple honesty or have this guy post his ad, marked as ad.

Located at very top in editor's note, this article is clearly described as a "sponsored post" which is a win win win for expat community in Kunming, Igor, and GoKunming.

My only critique is the name "pain campagnard"... such a added-value fancy way of saying country bread to mark up the price of bread.

But like tasting omelets, gauging the skill of a chef sometimes requires tasting their simplest goods, such as the French bread tucked between the owner's arm.

I hope Igor is eating that one himself, cause I worry about the hygiene.

Gokunming "articles - features" include sponsored posts.

Right.
OK, right, what did I expect? Everything tends to be more and more like everything else.

Capitalism. Don't be fooled. Even the words you just expressed came at a price.

When someone objects to French people speaking French that's what I call weird.

Igor is a super nice guy and he makes great cakes. His customers are mainly Chinese as far as I can tell. I guess the video is intended to get his business better known among the foreigners living in Kunming. Not sure what Ishy's objection is. GoKunming is a what's on site. It's basically all ads plus a few blog articles. It's not pretending to be the New York Times. There's a paper in America that does that.

Super nice as Igor may be, labeling as 农村面包 won't garnish le charme for his Chinese customers.

@gokm
Thanks much for the ad, sponsored or not. I've been meaning to drop by Igor's since he opened - so thanks for the reminder. Difficult to find authentic (aka not laden with a kg of sugar) French patisseries, so hope I find the culinary delight I seek (wait for the review).

A talented guy and an all-round gentleman!

Awaiting the belated Michelin Michael2015 review.

Four random positive endorsements for the chef. Must be a popular, equanimous guy. So I take back my tongue in cheek hygienic comment. The featured baguette was obviously protected in paper wrapper.

Chef Igor probably burns the souffles because he's happily married to his passion. Unlike a few forumites who constantly forget to turn on the oven. (Subtle nod to late and great Audrey Hepburn)

Almost seems like he is one of the few owners who have not been indoctrinated by YFBC. Rather, the lone wolf buries himself in the space-time of zen, the gaps within paton layers of pate brisee.

Speaking of which, that scrumptious croissant also caught my eye....

mastering humidity in maintaining buttery flakiness is an art for a patisserie. Not too dry, not too humid. Despite the relative dryness of Kunming, most aforementioned bakeries in town would botch puff pastry, or the French call it pâte feuilletée.

Went here one morning after grocery shopping in nearby Walmart.

No surprise, shelves were less than half-empty like they are in all upper scale bakeries I've visited in Kunming, specifically in the mornings before lunch.

They all seem to get stocked up few hours after lunch time, which for me is too late because I like to consume my sweets at home(=office) couple of hours after lunch, without making a separate trip for it.

Thus my staple bakeries remain from big and soulless chains like Just Hot, that have their donuts ready before 11am.

Hi guys, just got off my plane! Comments are quite funny to read, especially yours suzuwupom! 乡村 no 农村!

It's an advert for a cake shop not a homework assignment.

Some say the world is your oyster. That world, which I with sword will open, is also a classroom. Even a cake shop ad. And all things, animate or inanimate, are your teachers. Especially students who manage to burn souffles without turning on the oven.

JanJal is living the good life. Munching on donuts while watching the Premiere League. All the while providing for family at home. As mentioned in the fourth paragraph of this article, Igor's delivers to your door. Just in time for your afternoon sugar fix.

Glad you disembarked safely China Biz. The sound of 乡村 definitely has more rustic appeal. Association of natural wholesomeness. While 农村 is often used disparagingly by Chinese urbanites.

Well, anyway, the bread is really good and I'm not paid to say that.

@sezuwupom : "JanJal is living the good life [...] Igor's delivers to your door."

You forgot to mention that I recycle and care for environment, which is why I would prefer to pick up my bakeries on my way rather than have someone on scooter deliver it wrapped in plastics. Even if it would leave the plastic maker and the scooter driver jobless. They could find new jobs in Just Hot, which I keep in business.

But I wish best of luck to Igor's. If location is everything, they have some catching up to do to reach out to potential customers like they are doing in this paid review..

I notice recently there's been a whole new level of twaddle appearing in GoKunming comments at the same time as an avalanche of spam adverts. Are the two related?

Connecting Buddha to pastries seems a bit over the top.

Just Hot Jan, the carbon-footprint-less man.

Bon Appétit is a rising star among higher end bakeries in Kunming. Located near you at TPK shopping center, B1 level near the MRT tunnel.

Saw a new Bon Appétit bakery at today's grand opening of Spring 66 (opposite Dongfeng Square). Also B1 level..

dolphin, connecting the Dharma teachings of the Buddha to pastries is apropos.

Lets do a thought experiment where Siddhartha Gautama sits down at Igor's.

The awakened one is served a croissant. At the moment of immersing in this pastry, like sitting beside the death bed of a dying elder or a woman giving birth to a child, the Buddha is only focused on what is in front. Be it bitter, sweet, or bittersweet.

The sound of his teeth breaking the layers of crispy, lamented crust is what his mind would be completely focused on. Not the thought of comparing this croissant with those of Just Hot, but tasting the buttery, crisp texture in his mouth without dwelling in the past.

Nor the thoughts of which monasteries to visit afterwards, but the smell of the sweet aroma permeating the cafe., or the rich scent of coffee brewing behind the counter.

That is original teachings of the Buddha. Not just chanting mantras or burning incense. But to embrace suffering as you would the pastries of life in the present moment.

All of us can be enlightened to this state of mind. Awaken the Buddha nature within ourselves while simply eating pastries.

There perhaps was a time, when embracing reality same way you would savour the croissant, could have been beneficial to achieving an enlightened state of mind.

But today, many would call such view on life quite the opposite of enlightened - it could be called ignorance or covering your eyes from all that is wrong. Perhaps that's suitable in Chinese context.

There, I connected the croissant to politics.

The croissant looks great. Can you do delivery?

[Buddha nods in silence]

The God of Yunnan is the tiger, Siddharta Gautama is this anthropocentric lesser character in Yunnans pantheon. We need to see the tigers reaction to the croissant.

Tiger is currently taking his 5000th post leave. You may react on his behalf.

Buddha sits calmly in front of the croissant when Yunnans tiger God passes by, Tiger God smells the croissant and says "all things must pass", then he eats Buddha and takes the croissant as a dessert.

I couldnt care less about any expat character here, a girly man to say the least. The tiger in the story is the tiger of Yunnan. The more you learn Yunnan the more you find the tiger.

cafe closed

Sorry it was unnecessary picking i did, cant delete it from here,

Yea, sorry tiger u too, i just got annoyed seeing tigertiger pushed on every second thread, even in my yunnan story, can moderators delete pls.

@sezupom wrote: "My only critique is the name "pain campagnard"... such a added-value fancy way of saying country bread to mark up the price of bread."

"Pain campagnard" (or more commonly "pain de campagne") is a specific name used by bakeries in France for a particular type of bread. Just calling something "country bread" in English could mean anything.

Hear me now, We know. I already made the point that sezyou objects to French people speaking French. There are even some foreigners in Kunming who seem to object to the Chinese speaking Chinese. They think it's an inconvenience. People come on here every day to display their arrogance and ignorance.

herenow, you are a bit late to the French sourdough party.

Straw man cloudy is clinging on to erroneous assertions.

But to piggyback off his point, the bulk of Igor's patrons are Chinese. They probably don't understand the word "croissant" unless you label it as 法国羊角面包. Same with the Chinese equivalent name for pain campagnard. We are in Kunming after all. It wouldn't be unreasonable to converse in the local language, as you would say in the outskirts of Paris.

Presenting delicacies with all their international glory, be it slapping a French pastry name, sticking a mini French flag on the bread, or being greeted by an accented, foreign face... may justify the price of an "imported" product or service in the eyes of the typical Chinese consumers.

I get that pricey French cuisine restaurants sporting all French menus come with the territory. The elegant aura of French authenticity in dinning experience... which to my point, is added to the final bill.

Meanwhile - back to Igor's, the video was quite nice also...Thank you.

Inside the belly of the tiger god, the Buddha calmly speaks.

Restraint is not a sign of weakness. Compassion is true strength. By showing compassion to your perceived enemies, they may become your friends. Lacking compassion, your friends may turn into your enemies.

On that note, the Tiger lies down to unclench its jaws, whereupon releasing the Buddha.

Buddha slowly walks out. He turns to the beast and speaks the following:

When you subdue an opponent, a thousand more are still to be overcome. Instead, crush your negative emotions, or samsara, which are enemies dwelling in your mind.

The prostrating tiger nods in understanding. The Buddha bows back.

The Buddha and Yunnan Tiger God walk their separate paths.

The tiger turns for final glimpse of the enlightened one, only to find an empty road ahead. The tiger realizes that echoing conversation manifested in own awakened mind. Buddhahood permeates the tiger, and to all living beings it encounters henceforth.

In a real jataka Buddha feeds himself to the hungry tiger. More realistic.

Sezu are you seriously suggesting that the Frenchman Igor is craftily using a French name for a French bun to fool unsuspecting Chinese people into paying over the odds? That's ludicrous and contemptible. As for using the local language, as a matter of fact, Igor's Chinese is impeccable and his Kunminghua is also impressive. And a little less of the pseudo erudition, please. We know what croissants are called in Chinese thank you - actually either 羊角or 牛角面包 if you want to be pedantic. I wonder what your motive is but 'dinning' is a bit of a giveaway. .Why don't you find a better use of your time?

Sure, i'll humor the one who habitually engages in straw man arguments.

This time, inferring that I am painting Igor as a crafty chef trying to fool Chinese people. The reflection in your mirror is the actual culprit throwing ad hominem stones inside a glass cafe. One am I am actively bumping out of goodwill for Igor.

Yes, it is rather pedantic of you to digress and misconstrue my point repeatedly.

First by informing us the French, or half-Sicilian, chef's superb Chinese proficiency as if I was implying otherwise. This subtle name-dropping 411 is another red herring from my argument that Chinese language use is apropos for the Chinese market as locals may not understand French, such my croissant example.

Second, you writing out the more common Chinese term 牛角面包 as an opportunity to boost your own personal ego, while generalizing that everyone knows it as a side swipe to the many expats who may not, in an effort to Cloud my point. But more strategically, to set up your go-to grammar police mode... which is, to dwell on spelling mistakes in not seeing forest for the trees. In your case, actively cutting down saplings in a Brazilian forest fire. Hypocrisy for someone who tells others to find better use of their time.

Spend your 五毛 wisely.

Actually wu jiao is the equivalent of five cent.

Zen and the Art of Arguing Online

Ok, grab a coffee and croissant ... time for another buddhist fable ...

On his sixteenth birthday a boy gets a horse as a present. All of the people in the village say, "Oh, how wonderful!"

The Zen master says, "We'll see."

One day, the boy is riding and gets thrown off the horse and hurts his leg. He's no longer able to walk, so all of the villagers say, "How terrible!"

The Zen master says, "We'll see."

Some time passes and the village goes to war. All of the other young men get sent off to fight, but this boy can't fight because his leg is messed up. All of the villagers say, "How wonderful!"

The Zen master says, "We'll see."

> There perhaps was a time, when embracing reality same way you would savour the croissant, could have been beneficial to achieving an enlightened state of mind.

One thing that just occurred to me is that savouring the croissant helps to cultivate appreciation. ie appreciating simple things rather than always feeling discontent that you don't have enough, which is what creates a lot of hostility and dog eat dog in the world. appreciating simple things and not taking simple things for granted is helping to attain a more enlightened state.

Agreed with dolphin completely. Well said. And if your mind meanders off track, just gently bring the focus back again. Repeat as much as necessary. No need to blame oneself when incessant thinking mind reverts back to default monkey mode.

Like preparing for a marathon, our mind needs training as well. You don't suddenly decide to race the Boston after waking up one morning, nor become a meditation zen master overnight.

That goes beyond mindful eating of croissants, but also preparing them.

I'm assuming that "zen" extends to Igor's kitchen. The very act of kneading the dough can be envisioned as massaging the cosmos. The flour contain seeds of wheat nurtured by photon particles from the Sun, waters & soil nutrients of Earth. The wheat flour is the embodiment of elements spawned by cosmic supernova explosions. Not just microorganisms involved in the leavening of bread, but the smaller quanta wave particle interactions of energy packets. To make a sourdough from scratch, you must first invent the universe (rip Carl Sagan).

Even washing the baking pans afterwards can be synonymous to bathing the Buddha himself. Being tasked with something so precious, one can't afford to indulge in mental chatter and risk dropping the baby Buddha. Rather, being in the 'zone' like a free climbing mountaineer. Feel the weight of the pan. Passing it from one hand to the next. A symbolic gesture of altruistic giving. Feel the cold or lukewarm water caressing your skin. The scent of the detergent. The zen of dish-washing can be as blissful as eating or debating pain campagnard.

Just Hot Jan, I need to inform you that Just Hot is the subsidiary of JiaHua Bakeries. Although TKP's Just Hot targets higher-end market segments, the apple doesn't fall from its tree... it's no wonder their ginormous croissants can't compare with the croissant quality of their direct competitor, Bon Appétit, which is situated not far from them on the same B1 level.

I'm not a big fan of croissants anyway, and donuts I have not found in either of the establishments you mentioned.

@Dolphin: "savouring the croissant helps to cultivate appreciation. ie appreciating simple things rather than always feeling discontent that you don't have enough"

Perhaps, but it equally helps to cultivate ignorance of all the labor that has been put into creating that experience for you. At least I would allow you to feel discontent on behalf all the people who don't have enough, whether they had part in creating the croissant or not.

I't shouldn't anymore be about what you have or don't have, but what the other 7.7 billion (minus 1) people have or don't have. That's where the musings of Buddha (as quoted above) go wrong in this day and age.

I think even Einstein said we should give gratitude to all the people who put in the labor when eating something ... if I recall.

But feeling discontent that others don't have enough doesn't serve much purpose. Other than if it motivates you to be charitable, then that's great. But even being charitable isn't enough. I believe people need to develop a philosophical belief system surrounding money. What's the reason some people don't have enough? And I'm not talking about politics, but rather metaphysics. But I ain't getting into that.

But yeah, what this town needs is a Krispy Kreme!

Website owners rely on people putting in unpaid labour while they graze on snacks or watch telly. Took geniuses much greater than Einstein to work out how to get billions working for them for vanity alone not wages. Then came the so-called influencers. A whole new generation of ponces And parasites. At least we're not working down the pit. GoKunming is excluded because unsuccersesserfully :)

Bumping the bun.

Returned from a renowned, luxury French resort in SE Asia. For breakfast, they humbly labelled sourdough bread as "French Village Bread." No other language, just plain English despite quite a few occupants being French. Even two upper management employees were French. But majority of guests were from all over the world.

Login to comment Register to comment