French pastry school grads stick around Chicago

March 27, 2009 You could apprentice in Europe for a few years or you could enroll in a Chicago-based program. A number of its alumni have gone on to make our region even sweeter.

The French pastry school may be located in the Loop, but its instructors have worked in some of the greatest kitchens in the world. One of the reasons you're seeing fabulous desserts on local menus, or an explosion in new bakeries and chocolate companies, is because their graduates are deciding to stay right here in Chicago. We visited a couple of recent grads in the city and suburbs, to see what they're creating these days.

What do you get when you combine down-home, Southern tradition, with European pastry training? Something along the lines of Lovely: A Bake Shop, located in Wicker Park. Gina Howie and Brooke Dailey create homey crumbles and pastries with an eye on the best ingredients.

"We both have a real love of traditional Southern foods, like pies and things of that nature. So what we wanted to do was marry what we learned at the French Pastry School, with the down home cooking that we ate growing up," said Howie, the co-owner.

Pain au chocolat is considered standard morning fare if you're from Paris. But if you're from the South, you're more likely to find cupcakes, pecan tarts or mini-pies. Lovely offers a little bit of both.

"I think people are looking for an alternative. Everyone's doing cupcakes, everyone, and now people are starting to do pies. But people are actually seeking them actively and we can't keep them in the case; they're just flying off the shelf," said Howie.

In Schaumburg, Rieko Wada is another French Pastry grad. She and her daughters opened up Chocolatines in a hidden industrial park, just West of Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Everything is made on site, including gumball truffles, hand-painted with cocoa butter, a Chocouture line of edible sugar diamonds, set inside of dark chocolates flavored with either champagne or single-malt Scotch, plus, an assortment of Asian-inspired ingredients encased in French chocolate.

"We combine the Old World chocolate making method, so the French pastry method, with the Asian heritage, those flavors, and we bring together the perfect pleasure," said Kasumi Wada, co-owner of Chocolatines.

One of their signatures has become their edible shoes and handbags. Want to commemorate a wedding slipper or purse? They can make it out of chocolate. Starting with a mold, molten chocolate is poured inside, then it's vibrated to remove any air bubbles. The process is repeated about five times. Once hard, it can be painted with colored cocoa powder, decorated however the customer desires. They will apparently last forever, assuming you keep them in a cool place and don't eat them.

"They're the best smelling shoes you'll ever come across," Wada said.

Other French Pastry Grads have gone on to own their shops, such as La Patisserie P and the Sugar Syndicate, while others have become pastry chefs at restaurants like Tru and Julius Meinl.

Lovely A Bake Shop
1130 N. Milwaukee Ave.

1101 Tower Rd., Schaumburg

The French Pastry School
226 W. Jackson Blvd. #106

Other recent French Pastry School grads:
Nicole Bujewski
Le Flour
(773) 631-1400
6701 N. Olmsted Ave.
Chicago, IL 60631

Maria Muniz
Pastel! cakes and more
4814 S. Pulaski Rd.
Chicago, IL 60632
(773) 523-5595

Cathay Li Rayhill
Sugar Syndicate (part of Sweet Collective)
(773) 547-8427

Peter Yuen
La Patisserie P
(773) 878-3226
1052 West Argyle Street
Chicago, IL 60640

Dana Kruger
Sweety Pies
7931 N. Lincoln Ave.
Skokie, IL 60077
(847) 213-0900

The French Pastry School is holding a Spanish Celebrity Fiesta, June 26-27, with Celebrity Spanish Master Chefs Paco Torreblanca and Oriol Balaguer, and Rick Bayless. This is a two-day class, as Chefs Torreblanca and Balaguer from Spain will be demonstrating their own recipes and techniques. These master chefs will be sharing with the attendees the latest trends and styles straight from Spain. They will incorporate fashion and food by demonstrating their world-renowned recipes that the attendees will get to sample. Chef Bayless will be participating in the Fiesta as well, preparing his authentic cuisine for all the participants and chefs to enjoy for our mid-day meals.

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