A visit to a steakhouse changed the course of patissier Masamitsu Sakimoto's (left) life.
The founder of Japanese cheese tart chain Pablo used to run Patisserie Brothers with his two brothers in Osaka, turning out treats such as creme brulee and cakes.
Though business was brisk, Mr Sakimoto realised that his staff were too busy churning out pastries that "did not put smiles on faces". He started researching and developing new products in his central kitchen, but had his eureka moment in a steakhouse.
There, he got the idea to bake cheese tarts in varying degrees of "doneness", like how a steak is cooked. He came up with the idea of making cheese tarts as it was something that "could be freshly baked in stores".
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He named his cheese tart business after famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, as he wanted to "revolutionise cheese tarts" the way the artist impacted art with Cubism.
In 2011, Pablo's cheese tarts made their debut in Japan, with "rare" cheese tarts that ooze molten cheese when cut, and "medium" versions which wobble with a custard-like cream cheese filling.
The dapper 37-year-old tells The Straits Times at the opening of Pablo's first Singapore outlet at Wisma Atria: "Delicious products are a given, but I wanted to create a product that could surprise customers with a special melt-in-your-mouth texture that nobody can replicate."
Over the past six years, Pablo cheese tarts have attracted legions of fans, including Singaporeans who travel to Japan. They thronged Pablo's maiden outlet here yesterday, sparking a two-hour wait for the signature 15cm-wide tarts that also came in flavours such as matcha cheese with shiratama and azuki, and chocolate cheese, and mini baked cheese tarts.
Customers joined the queue from as early as 9.20am - close to three hours before the tarts went on sale at noon. About 70 people stood in a line that stretched outside the mall during lunchtime yesterday.
The price of each regular tart starts at $15, while each mini cheese tart is $3.50. About 2,750 tarts were baked for opening day.
Besides tarts, the 78-seat restaurant offers other cheese-based confections, such as smoothies and ice cream.
First in line was tourism student Grace Lew, 24, who fell in love with the tarts while on a holiday in Osaka in 2015.
"The tarts are creamier than the ones I tried in Japan, so I wouldn't mind joining the queue again to buy more tarts," she says.
Administrative executive Rosemarie Lim, 34, says: "I finished a whole 15cm tart by myself when I was in Tokyo last year, so I had to queue up for these tarts here on my day off."
Engineer Chua Hao Chai, 27, who joined the queue after coming off a night shift, says: "The tarts taste quite similar to what I tried in Japan. I love the unique soft texture of the cream cheese."
Mr Sakimoto will replace the "raw" version of the 15cm tarts with a new product, Pablo Nude, in its outlets in Japan from Aug 26. The tart, which does not have a pastry shell, will be housed in a paper casing.
He says: "I noticed that a lot of female customers just eat the filling without touching the crust. Perhaps they are concerned about getting fat."
He adds that the cream cheese used in the filling comes from two farms in Australia.
Other changes he plans to make include turning the firmer "medium" version into a "medium- rare" tart, like what is served in Pablo's nine overseas outlets, in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
He says that by standardising the textures of the tarts across the outlets, he can have greater creative leeway to experiment with more flavours, such as using seasonal fruit.
Why is the popular "rare" version of the cheese tart available only in Japan?
"The water in Japan is much 'softer' and less acidic, which gives the cheese filling a more desired molten texture."
Apart from Singapore, Pablo will also open in Australia, Hong Kong, Canada and China by this year.