LUCÍA MERINO

Robb Report (USA) - - CARIBBEAN: BACK IN BUSINESS -

Lucía Merino’s canelés are del­i­cate, pre­cise, and, like every­thing at her humble patis­serie, hard to come by. “We only have 16 molds, and they don’t al­ways come out ex­actly right,” Merino says of the cus­tard-filled pas­tries, which she makes with or­ganic milk, eggs, but­ter, and dark rum sourced from lo­cal farms. “They are never of­fi­cially on the menu, but we al­ways keep them as part of a se­cret menu.”

Secrets are hard to keep on an is­land as small as Puerto Rico, but at Lucía Pâtisserie, an air of mys­tery pre­vails. That’s be­cause Merino opens her San Juan bak­ery for just a few hours ev­ery Satur­day—from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.—and each week the menu is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Frangi­pane tarts, sweet-and-salty galettes, and hazel­nut pra­line prof­iteroles are here today, gone to­mor­row, re­placed by an­other col­lec­tion of sweet French clas­sics that fly off the bak­ing sheets the fol­low­ing week. Most Satur­days the shop sells out by noon. Then it’s back to a busy week for Merino and her two pas­try chefs, sourc­ing ingredients from all over the is­land and brain­storm­ing an­other menu of care­fully crafted desserts.

Merino’s ob­ses­sive ded­i­ca­tion is no doubt a prod­uct of her train­ing. The Puerto Ri­can na­tive stud­ied for three years un­der Fred­eric Mon­net (one of just a few dozen mas­ter pas­try chefs in the world) and trav­eled to Madrid and Barcelona to ex­pand her craft. But af­ter more than a decade abroad and a stint un­der yet an­other pas­try leg­end— Mi­ami’s An­to­nio Ba­chour—she felt the itch to re­turn home and start some­thing of her own. In Puerto Rico, she saw an op­por­tu­nity to turn the sweets scene up­side down.

“Ev­ery­body here was do­ing tra­di­tional Puerto Ri­can stuff—

pastelitos, rum cakes—and I wanted to bring some­thing dif­fer­ent to the is­land,” Merino says. “I had my doubts be­cause the econ­omy was not the best and ev­ery­one told me not to come back, but some­thing was call­ing me.”

Two years later, af­ter a suc­cess­ful Kick­starter cam­paign

“EV­ERY­ONE TOLD ME NOT TO COME BACK, BUT SOME­THING WAS CALL­ING ME.”

and a few de­lays (in­clud­ing a three-month set­back due to Hur­ri­cane Maria), Lucía Pâtisserie opened last De­cem­ber. The long lines of sweet-toothed pa­trons that snake out the petite bak­ery’s front door ev­ery week­end soon fol­lowed. But the draw, Merino says, isn’t just in the in­tri­cate ex­e­cu­tion of each beau­ti­ful con­fec­tion—it’s in the dis­tinctly lo­cal story each one tells: Her fa­mous tarts are filled with fresh pas­sion fruit sourced from is­land grow­ers, and her flaky crois­sants owe their rich­ness to the but­ter pro­duced by one of Puerto Rico’s old­est dairy farm­ers. And on some Satur­days, Merino even of­fers a new take on that age-old clas­sic, the hand pie, with fresh cheese from Caguas and guava jam from Guayn­abo.

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