It was there for three and a half decades, but now Rosedale’s Patachou Patisserie has finally gone the way of the diplodocus and the dodo, leaving some of us wondering where our next croissant will come from. Fortunately, the Rosedale area is not short on fancy food dispensaries, especially along Yonge street. So, while none of the places described below is exactly like Patachou, they may each be able to fill the gap in some way.
The original Nadege Patisserie opened in 2009, at 780 Queen St. West, under the ownership of French pastry chef Nadege Nurian and her Torontonian partner Morgan McHugh. The pair opened a second, smaller, Rosedale location in 2011, at 1099 Yonge st, about a block and a half north of Patachou’s old corner at Yonge and Macpherson.
Nadege isn’t as cozy as Patachou was, and it isn’t a restaurant at all (although the one on Queen does have a cafe section). In fact, the place bears some resemblance to a jewelry store, with the flat, bright, glassed-in displays and perfect, colourful wares. The prices are also somewhat reminiscent of jewelry; a single sculpted treat no more than three inches across can be around seven or eight dollars, and a single chocolate ‘bon bon’ is $2.5 – or $16, if you get four in a fancy box. You could pull off a credible marriage proposal with one of these things.
One reason for those often eye-watering price tags is certainly the quality of ingredients used.
“When I look at ingredients I don’t look at the price of stuff. I look at quality.”
Ms. Nurian told me, but she does apparently try to give some financial consideration to her customers;
“The idea is like, yes, it is really nice, there’s a lot of… the best ingredients, but I want to make sure that everybody can still come and feel great.”
I’m not sure about ‘great’, but I did feel pretty good while eating the Nadege pain au chocolat ($3.15 each, including tax), which was moist, flaky, buttery tasting (but not greasy), with a rich, smooth vein of bitter chocolate down the centre.
During my conversation with Nurian, the word ‘passion’ kept showing up, especially when I wondered what had made her patisseries so successful.
“I’m very strong, that’s what I think it is.”
She explained matter-of-factly
“And I’m very, very passionate about what I do. And I think, the passion; I’m able to pass it on to people.”
This passion, it seems, is artistic in nature, for when Nadege Nurian talked about her work, she didn’t talk about ‘baking’ or ‘cooking’, but ‘creating’.
“So, how I create; I create, you know, first on paper, I write ideas, I sketch cakes, I sketch things, I write colour ideas, everything.”
The inspiration for these creations can come from all over the place
“I mean, you know, it’s everyday life. Like travel, meeting people, fashion, reading. And I think, you know, when you’ve a creative mind it just comes. I don’t know, it just comes.”
Of course, there are other, more external sources from which ideas flow. I asked Nurian if her customers ever put in requests for new products. The answer was emphatic;
“All the time.”
“Sometimes there is a lot of customers who want, like, very traditional french. You know, I could do some, but some I don’t want to do, because it’s been so overdone. But maybe there is another way – I try to understand what they like about it, like maybe that flavour that I can shape in a different way.If it’s something that’s really, like, everywhere, I’ll maybe try to put my own touch on it.”
And sometimes, she just goes ahead and does exactly what the customers ask for.
“I remember when we opened, customers, they kept asking me for gateau basque, gateau basque, gateau basque.” recalled Nurian. “And so we did it last year, and I think people are very happy about it.”
Although she is very much involved in the creation of new products, success has meant that Nurian is now much more of a businesswoman than the hands – on chef and baker she used to be.
“I’m still in the kitchen every day”
“but for a very short time.”
The growth of Nadege Patisserie means a few other changes have occurred as well:
“Now, you’re responsible for everyone here; we have an amazing team… we’re responsible for them as well, you know. So we have a budget, and things like that. Things are more draining when you’re the owner than just the chef. There’s a big difference. So it’s important to keep the passion. I think the day you stop, people could feel it in your products, for sure.”
So once again, it comes down to passion.
I’m pretty sure that a few years ago, there was a crystal ball in the window of 182 Avenue Road. Snuggled in between Dupont and Davenport, the spot advertised fortune-telling and other mystical services for years before gently fading out of existence like the face of an over-used tarot card. The vacant store-front caught the eye of Micol Corno, a local pastry chef with an online business called The Chocolate Brunette Pastry Company, and an ambition of running her own store.
The physical Chocolate Brunette opened a little over a year ago (one year and two months, to be precise), and when it started, it ran full-bore with a crew of one.
“I did it for almost a year.”
Corno said of her exhausting one-woman baking act.
“It was a lot of work. But I want the products to be made fresh daily. I wanted to keep the freshness – it’s extremely important to me.”
Now, she has another full-time worker who can mind the shop while she’s “in the back concentrating on the baking.” Everything on display is made on site.
And what is it, exactly, that is on display here? Corno gave me a fairly vague but tantalizing list;
“We have cupcakes, truffles, cookies, individual portion-sized sweets, and then we also offer salads and sandwiches for the businesses in the area.”
Unlike Nadage Patisserie (and a few other Yonge street bakeries), nothing about Chocolate Brunette is even thinking of being French. The desserts are “Italian infused”, to use Corno’s words.
“So for example, we have cookies with nutella, which is Italian. We have crostata di frutta, which is an Italian fruit tart, and profiterole, which is a well-known cake in Italy. But we put our own twist on them.”
I didn’t realize all of this (nutella is Italian?), and assumed – even after looking at the website – that this was primarily a fancy cupcake store with some cookies on the side. Apparently I’m not the only one:
“A lot of people mistake it for a cupcake place.”
Cupcakes are a pretty big deal here, it’s true, but Corno told me she hopes to expand into soups for the cold weather, as well as pasta, and of course, hot chocolate (“With whipped cream on top”). She is also considering a more health-conscious – and for a pastry chef, much more radical – line as well:
“A lot of people do ask me for gluten [free]. The truffles are gluten-free, but I want to introduce, maybe a gluten-free cupcake if possible.”
I expressed doubt about such an endeavour, but was assured that
“It is possible, and they can taste quite good, without the gluten.”
It seemed silly not to ask about the recipes and ingredients involved in the Chocolate Brunette. Name aside, there are lots of things here that don’t involve chocolate.
“I try to keep it as simple as possible.”
“I don’t want to use too much butter, too much sugar. I try to use high-quality ingredients.”
I, on the other hand, tend to work on the assumption that more butter is better, but Corno seems to consider it too heavy, and said that she limits it because
“I don’t want a customer eating a dessert and then they feel like they just eat a piece of brick.”
There wasn’t a crumb of brick in the nutella cookie and ‘molten lava’ cupcake Corno was kind enough to send home with me (but for a baker’s beneficence, $1.50 and $3.00, respectively). The cookie’s texture was unusual but not unpleasant, and its flavour a fine mix of both chocolate and hazelnuts. Oddly enough – given Corno’s care with sugar – it was too sweet for my taste, but the cupcake was just right; moist and fluffy with a blob of rich chocolate ‘lava’ embedded in the bottom.
I asked Corno what the worst part of her business was. Her answer was instant;
“The long hours. No sleeping. I haven’t slept in a very long time.”
From our conversation, I’m guessing that – along with sleep deprivation – another hazard of the baking business is Chronic Sampling Syndrome. When I asked Corno if she tried a bit of each batch just to make sure it was up to snuff, she gave me an adamant
“No no no. I wish. No.”
Before adding that
“It’s quite hard to stay away from the chocolate.”
Despite all the trials and temptations, Corno seemed quite happy with her work. If failing to get any sleep is the worst part of it all, then the actual food creation is the high point.
“I love being in the kitchen and baking.”
she assured me
“That’s the best part.”
Looking at her welcoming but tiny venue, I asked Corno if she had any plans to expand in the future.
“If possible, yeah, I’d definitely like to expand and have another Chocolate Brunette in the city. Definitely. But we’ll work on this location first. One thing at a time.”
Baking is a busy line of work. While Nadage Nurian and Micol Corno were both able to take a little time off to speak to me, the proprietors of two other fine flaky establishments never quite got around to answering my emails. Both places do deserve at least a brief mention here though, if for no other reason than the fact that they both resemble Patachou quite closely in basic concept.
Le Petit Gourmet by Robyn Lee
Just a little bit south of where Patachou once stood, Le Petite Gourmet is still soldiering on at 1064 Yonge st. They don’t strike me as quite so high-end, but they’re also not as high-priced, and – like Patachou – you can get a full meal and eat it on site. They even had plum tarts ($2.65) when I visited in August, as well as two types of meat pie ($3.65). I’d avoid their two-dollar danishes though. The one I had actually tasted stale.
Right across the street (literally, right across it) from Nadage Patisserie is Petite Thuet at 1162 Yonge st, the only place on this list that will actually sell you a loaf of bread. In fact, Thuet (named for one of the owners) will also sell you some jam to put on that bread, and has seating for about four people and a Chihuahua. They also make a pain au chocolate that’s decent but not quite as good as Nadage’s (but at $2.50, is a bit cheaper), and danishes (also $2.50) that aren’t as bad as Gourmet’s, but aren’t that great, either. Their sausage-rolls ($3.00) are kind of fun though.