As I write this, I’m sitting in a quaint café along the Champs-Elysées in Paris, savoring a delectable breakfast of pain au chocolat and mille-feuille layered cream puff pastry.
“Might as well indulge while I can!” I say to my friends. “Can’t get these back home in Pittsburgh.”
But, wait. Ce n’est pas vrai. It’s just an excuse for my decadence. Fact: Anyone in Pittsburgh can enjoy the same sweet delicacies, thanks to three authentic French bakeries in Allegheny County–each
Jean-Marc Chatellier’s, Millvale
Jean-Marc Chatellier’s in Millvale is “one part Brittany (France), one part ‘Burgh”, since the proprietor married a Pittsburgh native. “Sandy and I met in a bar in LA, which sounds cheesy but, hey, it worked for me!” says Jean-Marc, showing his lighthearted nature.
Jean-Marc was “born in the flour”—a third generation baker from Brittany, a town in northwest France renowned for its buttery pastries. He apprenticed with a master pastry chef in Chateaubriant before crossing the pond in 1983. Once in the US, Jean-Marc spent some time in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, but had never visited the Steel City. In 1987, when his new bride insisted they relocate from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh, Jean-Marc had no clue what to expect.
“When we got here, I loved it!” he says. “Not too big, not too small. I love the sports, and it has a great airport.”
After stints as executive pastry chef at the former La Normandie in Oakland and Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Jean-Marc, then 28, decided it was time to “open a shop in a little town like in France.” In 1992, with a business loan from PNC Bank, he bought a building in Millvale that once housed a butcher shop.
“People sometimes ask, ‘Why did you come to Millvale?’ I say, ‘What’s wrong with it?’ The location is perfect: 5 miles to downtown, to Oakland, to everywhere. It’s like a typical European village: not fancy but so charming. Wait and see . . .Millvalle will be the next Lawrenceville.”
Chatellier’s was the first bakery in Pittsburgh to offer macarons, a quintessential Parisian delicacy from Ladurée. Not to be confused with coconut macaroons (two “o’s”), they are intensely flavored, bite-sized circular cakes made from ground almonds, sugar and egg whites (so they’re naturally gluten-free). According to the Parisian bakers whom I asked personally, macarons have been in vogue there for about 10 years.
“It’s a fashion,” Jean-Marc says. “It used to be cupcakes. Now it’s macarons.” Chatellier’s sells about 100,000 of them a year. They also do a good business in wedding cakes. Flavors range from chocolate and raspberry mousse, black forest, burnt almond and German chocolate to fresh strawberry, tiramisu, carrot and a ridiculously detailed 10-layer opera cake.
Jean-Marc draws on his classical French training to create authentic pastries like croissants, brioche, Danish, palmiers and strudel. If you happen in on a weekend, try the Kouign Amann (“kween a-mon”), a supercharged croissant encrusted with caramelized sugar; or the Sacristain, a glorious twist of puff pastry with almonds, sugar and almond cream, said to resemble a corkscrew once used to open sacramental wine in the monasteries of Provence. Amen to that.
Chatellier’s has grown over the years, yet Jean-Marc prefers to keep it small and humble, in the tradition of a French village patisserie. That way, he can closely interact with his customers and oversee all aspects of production. It’s a labor of love, and running the bakery means long days; but Jean-Marc still finds time to follow his two favorite sports: Penguins hockey and European football.
Jean-Marc Chatallier’s is located at 213 North Avenue in Millvale. They can be reached at 412.821.8533 or Chatellierbakery@gmail.com.
La Gourmandine, Lawrenceville
Fabien Moreau is another Frenchman who fell for a woman with ties to Pittsburgh. He and his wife, Lisanne, were both born and raised in France, where they met in secondary school. Lisanne’s mother, though, is from the 412 area code. Fabien studied at the famous Lenôtre culinary school in Paris and, after they married, the couple moved here.
“My first thought was to open a French restaurant, but I realized that there wasn’t a traditional French bakery in Pittsburgh,” Fabien remembers. The Moreau’s discovered a storefront along Butler Street in Lawrenceville that was perfect—well, after a few renovations, which took longer than anticipated. Finding the right specialized equipment for French bread making proved challenging at first, as did sourcing the best quality ingredients.
“It was expensive to bring what we needed here from France. For example, French butter would be 50% more expensive than good American butter because of import taxes and other restrictions, so I began developing relationships with suppliers who could get them for me.”
La Gourmandine opened its doors in June 2010, and the hard work began to pay off almost immediately. “Our cases emptied out pretty quickly every day. Nothing is out of the box. It takes a lot of time to make, so when there is no more, there is no more.”
Like Jean-Marc, Fabien works 12-hour days, seven days a week. “It got too big for just me, but it’s a good problem to have. We realized that one or two people working was not enough, so we added people out in front.”
La Gourmandine is a true artisan bakery, where each dessert, pastry and loaf of bread is handcrafted from scratch and baked fresh daily. Yet simplicity is Fabien’s signature style. “I grew up in the countryside, where we keep pastries as simple as possible.”
Fabien focuses on breads, croissants and danish, and because everything is homemade, the varieties are endless. Get your daily carb fix with their baguettes, buckwheat bread with raisins and walnuts), pain aux cereales (sesame, flax and sunflower seeds), black olive focaccia, ciabatta and country sourdough. Sink your sweet tooth into their patisseries, viennoiserie, and special petits fours such as the Marquise (dark chocolate mousse with crème brûlée and crispy caramel), assorted fruit tartelettes, mini eclairs, and Paris Brest (choux dough filled with a praline-flavored cream).
Fabien travels back to France often but the Moreaus have no plans to leave Pittsburgh. “I like this kind of city,” Fabien comments. “The people are really friendly and it’s a good place to raise a family.”
Look for the opening of La Gourmandine’s second location at 300 Cochran Road in Mt. Lebanon within the next few weeks.
La Gourmandine is located at 4605 Butler Street in Lawerenceville. Contact them at 412.682.2210 or email@example.com.
Gaby et Jules, Squirrel Hill
Authentic French food lovers in Pittsburgh know about the award-winning Paris 66 in East Liberty. After owners Frederic and Lori Rongier opened a patisserie inside the restaurant, it immediately started getting accolades of its own. “This opened my eyes to the realization that Pittsburgh had a need for a French patisserie,” Frederic says.
Gaby et Jules opened in August 2013 in Squirrel Hill. The Rongiers brought in award-winning master pastry chef David Piquard from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. One look inside their sparkling glass vitrines, and it’s easy to why this was a good move. Piquard’s edible creations are works of fine art. The pièce de résistance is—you guessed it—macarons.
“David has perfected the recipe,” Frederic shares. “He eats, sleeps and breathes macarons.” The shop offers 17 flavors, as well as a new flavor every month. Every ingredient is premium: French lavender from Provence, sea salt from Guérande, vanilla beans from Madagascar.
“David works for weeks to get exactly the right look, feel and structure, as well as the complex yet subtle flavor that our customers tell us is unique. After that, it’s a four-day process just to make them.”
I suggest you run—not walk—to Gaby et Jules before September ends because, trust me, you don’t want to miss this month’s macaron called “The Pittsburgh.” Once there, take a guess at what flavors comprise this black and yellow confection. “We will not say the flavor. We are keeping it a secret, and are asking our clients to tell us what it is,” Frederic explains. “The taste is going to transport you to Paris.”
The shop is Piquard’s creativity lab, where he constantly tests out new sensations. Currently, he’s taking the macaron concept from appetizer to dessert. “We have varieties that are not sweet—flavors like foie gras, salmon and champagne.” But if you want sweet, you’ve got it: cakes, pralines, eclairs, napoleons and tartes to die for. Their breads are divine as well.
Gaby et Yules’ décor is ultra-moderne. From its glossy red façade and spotless white-marble counters to the exquisite product packaging, it oozes class. Exceptional customer service is de riguer. “When you come in, we don’t give you your bag over the counter,” Frederic explains. “We go around the counter and hand it to you. Pittsburghers deserve the best.”
And what’s next for G&Y in Pittsburgh? They’re slated to open another location right downtown before year end, just in time for holiday party prep and gift-giving.
The experience of shopping at Gaby et Jules, Frederic says, is “exactly what you will have when you are on the Champs-Elysées.” With that comment, he proved my point at the start of this article. Yes, you can get authentic French temptations locally.