It’s not too often guests at any restaurant are invited into to the kitchen to learn how to make the chef’s special recipes. But at Le French Fix, a pâtisserie on Prince Street, chef Geoffroy Chevallier is teaching the art of pastry making to his clients, sharing his recipes for traditional French treats.
During this class, Chevallier is teaching his students how to make mille-fueille, a three-layered puff pastry with a pastry cream between each stratum. Over the 2.5-hour class, the students learn each intricate step, from making the pastry, rolling out and cutting the dough, and filling and assembling the delicate pieces. Donning crisp, long white aprons and holding clipboards with the recipe and notes, the students pay close attention to his instructions. But this is truly a hands-on learning experience. While making the puff pastry, Chevallier encourages each student, with freshly washed hands, to help mix the flour, butter and sugar in a mealy mixture that he’ll later roll out onto a floured surface.
And he’s not afraid of sharing his techniques either. While making the vanilla filling, Chevallier has each student stir the contents in the pot while it simmers on the hot surface, so each of them know exactly what the consistency the filling should be when it’s ready. “I have to show it to you for when I’m not here,” Chevallier explains. “You need to know how to do it.”
The classes are just a recent addition to the offerings at Le French Fix, which Chevallier, who is originally from France, opened with his partner, Alison, in August 2012 after years of working in local restaurants.
To test the city’s demand, Chevallier started selling his pastries at the Seaport Farmers’ Market. He sold a few different pastries each week and they were quickly a hit. He and Alison started saving money and looking for a space perfect for a Parisian-inspired patisserie. They eventually settled on the three-level space on Prince Street, behind the Wooden Monkey, overlooking the big hole that will eventually be the Halifax Convention Centre. They are a staff of three with Chevallier and an assistant making the pastries fresh each day. Alison, whom met Chevallier when they worked at Keltic Lodge in Cape Breton together several years ago, works the front counter and does all the social media and marketing work. “It wasn’t easy,” Chevallier says, “but nothing is easy.”
The effort is paying off, though—the patisserie is building a loyal following. “Although there are a couple of French pastry shops in the city, I believe that I am the only one who focuses on individual desserts and macarons,” Chevallier says. “It is only myself and my assistant, Megan, and we do everything by hand. I believe Halifax is starting to take pride in its eclectic culinary culture, and people are seeking out authentic, artisanal products.”
Inside and to the left of the red front door, is the open kitchen where the classes take place. It’s clean and simple, with shiny stainless steel appliances and white walls. There are large buckets of sugar, a staple in all of the pastries, stored underneath wooden counters. To the right is the front counter and glass display case filled with pastries.
There are rich looking tarts and pastries such as almond tart crousillent, sea salt caramel tart and lemon tarts, plus the mille-fueille the class is making today. And there are colourful macarons in various flavours. Today these little sweet, almond meringue cookies are offered in black cherry, orange blossom, chocolate, hazelnut, vanilla, pistachio, lavender and espresso. These along with the chocolate eclairs, are the most popular treats.
Chevallier makes custom pastries for different seasons: chestnut flavour macarons at Christmas, for example. And while this is a pâtisserie during the summer months, he prepares fresh salads as well as sandwiches on baguettes.
All of the pastries use local ingredients, including milk, eggs and butter. “Everything is made fresh on site,” Chevallier says. “The taste makes people come back.” The coffee is from Pig Iron, a Toronto-based coffee roaster.
Classes were always part of the plan, but didn’t get underway until December of last year. Each class is small, since only a few people can fit into the open kitchen at once. They are offered each Wednesday afternoon and the cost depends on the pastry being made.
This is the second class Guylaine Williams has taken with Chevallier. She credits her French grandmother for inspiring a childhood love of baking, but says Chevallier’s classes helped get her back on track. “[My grandmother] taught me a lot growing up, but I’ve since lost it,” Williams says. “And it’s not something offered anywhere else in the city. And he’s great.”
The first class Williams took was to learn how to make the popular macaron. But the final product didn’t turn out as planned since she had trouble piping the batter evenly out of the pastry bag. “I got too enthusiastic,” she laughs.
For now, Chevallier is content introducing the city to the delights of French pastry. And the clients seem equally happy to indulge. While Chevallier has plans for the business and the building, what he wants to share is his love of patisserie. “It is a way for me to share my passion with others,” he says. “I enjoy helping people discover all there is to know about creating classic French desserts.”