Instagram sensation Garry Larduinat didn’t set out with the goal of having a huge following. In fact, his Instagram feed started as a personal project, where he and his wife simply shared images with friends. Then one day a friend told him something he didn’t realize – Instagram is public, and even people you don’t know can follow you. “I started with just a hundred or so people and they were all friends,” Garry told me in an interview. “I was just posting my cakes and following my friends’ pictures, and I realized, Yeah, I really like this!”
On the day I spoke with the energetic pastry chef from Limoges, France, he noted that he had 218,000 followers on Instagram, and had only shared 218 posts. “That’s just one post for each 1,000 followers!” He exclaimed with a bit of surprise at this ratio.
Garry didn’t get these enviable numbers on Instagram by making it his end-game – the Regional Executive Pastry Chef for Wolfgang Puck Catering has been focused on his passion since the age of fourteen, when he began his apprenticeship in France. The son of two chefs, Larduinat celebrates his 34th birthday this year, a year that also marks twenty years in the industry. And although his enthusiasm and ambition clearly point to someone who can accomplish a lot in his career, even he didn’t anticipate – or plan – to land where he is today.
“It’s very exciting to work with Chef Wolf in the catering, because he’s the chef to the celebrities. It’s never boring, or repetitious, and I’m not going to lie to you, it’s really cool! We do the party for The Oscars, which is like four- or five-thousand people, but then we can do an intimate dinner at the home of some celebrity where we’re just cooking for five people.”
Talking about his work in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills to be precise, rubbing elbows with Hollywood’s elite while fulfilling his creative drive, Larduinat couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. “Even just talking to you now about it all, I’m feeling like, Wow! I can’t believe I get to do this! I’m from a small village in France and I never thought I’d be where I am today. I’m a pastry chef who loves what I’m doing, and I’m a hard worker, I’d work 24/7 if I had to, I’m fine with that. So I feel so lucky to be here, and sometimes it hits me when I’m serving Leonardo DiCaprio or Jack Nicholson, and I think ‘Wow! This is unbelievable!’ I’m so proud, it’s magical!”
For Garry, who came to the U.S. to work for François Payard in New York City, the move to Los Angeles was partly driven by a desire for change. He’d been in NYC for seven years, and with a wife from California, the move seemed ideal. “Plus,” he added, “the weather in California is so perfect, and the produce we have here is just amazing.”
Working with “Chef Wolf,” as he’s called by his team around the world, provides a fantastic opportunity for Larduinat’s creativity to explode. Chef Wolf trusts his people, so they’re given a lot of latitude, but he’s also very demanding. He expects his California team to always take advantage of seasonal ingredients, which means an ever-changing array of desserts.
“Chef Wolf is very particular about wanting seasonal menus all the time,” explained Garry. “And this is only fair. We’re in California, we have great fruits and produce all year long. One of the things I love about Chef Wolf is if you’re going to present him with a dessert that’s, say, strawberry, lemon and basil, it better taste like whole strawberries, fresh-squeezed lemons, and just-picked basil. You better get those flavors on the plate!”
Despite this demand, Chef Larduinat’s creative process often doesn’t begin with flavors or ingredients. The man is very visual, clearly an aspect of what’s made his images and videos so popular in Instagram. “I will think about a dessert and I’ll see it in my mind. I’ll see the colors and the shape, even before I think about the flavor profile.”
When we were talking about his approach to taking pictures and making videos for Instagram, it was clear his brain works similarly to when he’s conjuring a potential dessert. “Before I take the video, I think of how I can best capture the action of what I’m doing from different angles, I think of how I want to start the video. Also with a picture, I think of what I want it to look like first – that close-up angle with that background might be a hit.”
Larduinat has never taken a picture or created a video with anything other than his iPhone – he admits he’s “never used a real camera for this.” Though he’ll do some editing with the tools available on iPhone, he’s never used Photoshop either. This hasn’t limited his capability, his mind works like any talented director or photographer. As he described his approach to photography and videography, his passion for these visual mediums offered insight into his success on Instagram. He really didn’t get into it with the intention of having a lot of followers. Like with his success in pastry, he just loves it, and really, he thinks it’s super fun.
“You got the whole idea 100%,” he replied when I told him my thoughts about his Instagram stardom. “I didn’t go for a lot of followers, not at all, I honestly didn’t think of it that way.” This brought us to that friend who first told him his posts were public, which brought on the switch from a personal hobby to a place to share his work. “I never expected it to turn into that much, and yet I started to get a following. First 900 people, then 1,000, and I thought ‘Wow, people really like what I’m doing!’”
When Instagram moved into video posts, Garry seized the opportunity, thinking “I finally have the chance to really show people who had eaten my desserts to see how they’re made. I knew video was what I wanted to be doing, and honestly I was one of the first pastry chefs to do video on Instagram.”
Much like his unexpected discovery that Instagram was public, yet another friend told him that he had become #1 on Reddit. His reply, “What’s Reddit?” It turned out that a follower in Vietnam had made a compilation video of Garry’s work on Instagram and it ended up on the news there, then it got picked up by thousands of people and shared all over the internet. “It got 9 million hits and people were just talking about it not even knowing it was me! It was crazy! Then I got thousands and thousands of people starting to follow me!”
When I asked him what advice he’d give to pastry chefs who want to grow their Instagram following, he replied “I don’t want to give away my secrets!” We laughed, then he went on to say, “No, I’m just kidding, I don’t have any secret.”
He offered some technical advice he feels is imperative to capturing a high-impact image. “Take a close-up, make sure the dessert is dominating the image, that way it’s really there in people’s hands, like they have the real dessert right in front of them. Use whatever you have to enhance the image. If I’m doing a catering on the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carleton, of course I’m going to use the view as my background. If I’m in the kitchen and I take a photo, if a co-worker is walking past they’ll be blurry but you can see it’s a professional kitchen.”
What’s more important than the technical aspect for Garry is to keep it real. “Don’t fake it. Don’t use some made-up background. Don’t do something like using an image of the Eiffel Tower with your hand holding a cake up in front of it because you think it’ll look good. It just looks fake.”
Whether we were talking about his role as a pastry chef sharing his desserts with clients, or as an Instagram influencer sharing images and videos with followers, it all comes down to a simple formula for Garry Larduinat: sharing his love for his work. “What I’m doing every day with my two hands, I’m really passionate about it. I genuinely love doing pastry. And honestly, I’m not the only one, clearly not, most of us in this job love what we’re doing. So it’s just a matter of photographing what you really like, and giving that the same time and attention you put into your pastry, then it all comes together and you come up with something cool.”