Besides romance, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, Paris is known for its indulgent pastries. No wonder that one of the up and coming French pastry chefs works and lives in the French capital. Bérénice Leconte is the pastry chef at one of Paris’ latest vegan restaurants, the Gentle Gourmet. The young chef is a true artist and her plant based creations of French classics are creative, delicious and mind blowing. You will never crave butter again, guaranteed 😉 I had the chance to ask Bérénice a couple of questions so read on and find out all about her passion and her take on veganism in the cheese and meat dominated French culture.
ps: all pictures below are taken by Bérénice.
- How and when did you get into vegan food?
I am a food and health engineer and so I have always had an interest in food and its availability for everyone, particularly people following a certain diet for health or ethical reasons (gluten free, egg free, lactose free etc).
Everything started with my lactose intolerance, that was diagnosed in 2013. This really triggered my interest for the culinary world as, in order to cook for myself, I needed to know exactly what I was eating. As a big pastry fan, I decided to start a pastry blog called ‘Gourmandieses sans Lactose’, with the goal for everyone with similar problems to be able to still enjoy desserts. This really pushed me to become a pastry chef and make it my job.
Today I focus on both vegan and gluten free desserts, in order to really permit a maximum of people with dietary restrictions to indulge the pleasures of pastries.
- Do you ever feel judged by non vegan pastry chefs?
This immediately makes me think of my pastry teacher, who told me that pastry without milk, eggs and cream isn’t real pastry. Of course there are always pre conceived ideas and opinions. Have a try and talk to a friend about vegan pastries and you will see that his/her first reaction is rarely curiosity but most of the time gentle mocking in the lines of: so it’s cardboard?
This is exactly what motivates me, this permanent challenge. Prove to non vegans that my pastries are exactly like traditional pastries when it comes to taste, while actually being lighter.
- How did you end up at the Gentle Gourmet and in the pastry area?
The Gentle Gourmet has been my favorite Parisian restaurant for a couple of years. At the end of my pastry training, I decided to order their famous raw lime coconut cheese cake, in order to make my colleagues and teachers discover vegan pastries.
It was a true success and through Instagram sharing my current boss Caroline found me and hired me for my current job (that I just got in May 2015). My initial challenge was to develop a recipe for vegan and gluten free macaroons. Having crossed this off the list, I am now in charge of the daily desserts, the catering and developing new recipes (such as meringue and choux pastry).
- What’s your favorite thing about your job?
It’s the challenge. There is no real base for vegan pastries. We constantly have to create new things. And then, making your passion your job is incredible. Finally, what motivates me the most is creating delicious food for my guests.
- What’s your best creation and what would you say are the biggest challenges in veganizing desserts?
Looking at the feedback from our guests, I would say the vegan and gluten free fraisier (a strawberry cake with custard). I worked a lot on the pastry cream recipe in order to create something that has the same taste as the traditional one, while having a lighter mouth feel.
My biggest pride are still the macaroons. Developing this recipe and finding the right baking temperature wasn’t easy.
I remember a guest with an egg allergy that hadn’t eaten macaroons for years…she had tears in her eyes when she tried mine. This pleasure that I brought to her is really something that motivates me every day, and pushes me to be better every day.
My current challenge is the ‘pâte à choux’ (choux pastry) and being able to offer éclairs, religieuses and the paris brest (all different types of choux pastries)…! I am working hard on it and I think 2016 will be the vegan ‘pâte à choux’ year! 🙂
- Do you think that vegan food will and can have a future in France?
The vegan cuisine has a future in France and in the world. First of all, more and more people suffer from allergies and sensitivities. This way of cooking permits to cover numerous dietary restrictions.
The second reason is the increasing education of people. Climate change is an international topic and for years now we have knows that animal agriculture is a major reason for the emissions. In addition there is of course the exploitation and suffering of the animals.
- What are your plans for the future?
In the future, I hope the near future, I would like to start my own vegan and gluten free tea place in France, and abroad. With a hidden dream of moving back to Montreal in order to start a business there.
My education in both food engineering and pastry could also permit me to work in research and development for companies and hence let me develop vegan foods in France.