Nadege Nourian on how she turned a few tiny cakes into an em­pire

Sharp - - CONTENTS - By Chef Tommy Mchugh

Chef Tommy Mchugh finds out how Nadege Nourian built an em­pire out of lit­tle French pas­tries.

IN THE SPRING OF 2002, I was work­ing in Lon­don at The Ivy, then con­sid­ered one of the best restau­rants in the world. The base­ment kitchen bri­gade was al­most ex­clu­sively English, but one voice stood out. It was strong, fe­male, and ex­tremely French. The pas­try chef be­hind it stood shoul­der to shoul­der with the tough­est cooks, chew­ing them out with their own quintessen­tially Bri­tish ex­pres­sions: “Stop be­ing a wanker” and “Are you tak­ing ze piss?” This was my in­tro­duc­tion to my fu­ture sis­ter-in-law, Nadege Nourian.

Fast-for­ward to 2009. At the height of the re­ces­sion, Nadege set out to in­tro­duce Toronto to “true French patis­serie.” She ren­o­vated an old photo stu­dio on a then-gritty cor­ner across from Trin­ity Bell­woods Park, cre­at­ing a mod­ern show­room for colour­ful mac­arons. Word spread. Nadege now has four lo­ca­tions, plus a mail­ing ser­vice that de­liv­ers cakes any­where in Canada. As her pas­try shops inch ever closer to achiev­ing to­tal dessert dom­i­na­tion, I sat down with the chef to find out her recipe for star­dom.

What were some early re­ac­tions?

Peo­ple didn’t get it at first. They looked over our dis­play case of per­fectly linedup cakes and asked if we were sell­ing soap or can­dles. We re­al­ized we were go­ing to have to change the way peo­ple thought about pas­try.

What kept you go­ing?

Ar­chi­tects, de­sign­ers, and artists were some of the first to sup­port us. We started to see them com­ing back and un­der­stood that there were peo­ple who ap­pre­ci­ated our vi­sion.

What’s the big­gest chal­lenge of ex­e­cut­ing French recipes in Toronto?

I only want the best, and it was a real strug­gle to find in­gre­di­ents that met our stan­dards — es­pe­cially but­ter that had enough flavour and fat con­tent for us.

So­cial me­dia can make or break to­day’s restau­rants. What role did it play?

When we opened, Toronto’s on­line com­mu­nity was far more es­tab­lished than that in Europe. We re­ceived a lot of pos­i­tive re­views on­line, but we also had some bru­tal at­tacks. It was in­tense to tran­si­tion from be­ing a reclu­sive chef to be­ing a pub­lic fig­ure in con­ver­sa­tion with ev­ery­one.

What was it like be­ing a fe­male pas­try chef back in France?

It was tough. There were very few women in the kitchen. To get changed, I had to block the bot­tom of the bath­room stall be­cause men would get down on their hands and knees to look un­der the door. It wasn’t un­til I moved to Eng­land that I saw other women in the kitchen. Still, I would phone to do a job in­ter­view and a res­tau­rant owner would think I was call­ing for a wait­ress po­si­tion.

What’s the at­ti­tude to­wards fe­male chefs here in Canada?

We re­cently did a study, and it turns out most peo­ple think Nadege is an older busi­ness lady who’s never worked a day of her life in a kitchen. Peo­ple still find it strange to imag­ine a strong chef as a woman. But I worked up to the day I gave birth to my son. He was born on a Wed­nes­day, and I was back to work for a meet­ing on Mon­day.

How will the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try be af­fected by the ris­ing costs of in­gre­di­ents?

I’m wor­ried only big op­er­a­tions will be able to af­ford to stay open. Dairy in Canada is the most ex­pen­sive in the world, and that’s a base in­gre­di­ent. Vanilla has gone up 1,000 per cent in four years.

What’s the big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween French and Cana­dian eat­ing habits?

In France, we eat ev­ery­thing, but in small por­tions. So over­all we eat lighter and much more bal­anced — with lots of veg­eta­bles and fruits. Here, peo­ple em­brace ex­treme eat­ing trends. They ei­ther eat su­per clean or a lot of fast food that’s heavy and deep-fried.

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