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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.
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 2005-2020 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.