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.