– Story by Gail Johnson Photography by Lia Crowe
Macarons, brioche, financiers and sablés: these are a few of the exquisite treats on display, like so many pieces of art or jewellery, in cases imported from France that were specifically designed to showcase chocolates and pastries in the new Thierry Café in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant.
French-raised master chocolatier and pâtissier Thierry Busset has trained and worked with some of the globe’s top culinary talents, earning respect as a pastry chef the world over. None other than Gordon Ramsay, a former colleague, once called him “one of the finest pastry chefs in the world.”
Now, Thierry is settling into his new home, the 2,000-square-foot café and 4,000-square-foot production space at Main and Kingsway. Here, he honours his roots with all things buttery, chocolaty, flaky and finely crafted.
It all started in Auvergne, France, where Thierry learned to cook by his mother’s side.
“We grew up with plenty of food around us,” he recalls. “My mother always cooked for us. Every time we went to school, we came home for lunch. Cooking was all around me, and she encouraged me.”
Throughout his career, Thierry has taken on roles at several prestigious Relais & Chateaux properties and Michelin-star restaurants like London’s Le Gavroche, where he worked with the late Albert Roux and Michel Roux Jr.
What skills he didn’t learn in one pastry kitchen he would set out to pick up in the next, acquiring time-honoured techniques such as how to make pâte de fruits and nougats. During mandatory military service, he made pastry for the French government. He has also worked in a ski resort in the south of France and on an island in the French Caribbean.
On a recommendation from Ramsay (whom Thierry knew pre-Hell’s Kitchen and four-letter-worded fame), he spent several years working with legendary chef Marco Pierre White, helping elevate his London restaurant from two Michelin stars to three.
“The pressure is not to get the three stars but to keep it,” he says. “At a Michelin-star restaurant, you learn service. You have to be perfect, and you have to be fast and organized. It’s very great training.”
One of his day-to-day tasks at Marco Pierre White was to dip chocolate by hand. Even now, at his sophisticated, airy new digs—where he has access to chocolate tempering equipment and a chocolate cooling tunnel, along with temperature-controlled storage, test kitchens and packaging rooms—he prefers doing much of the dipping by hand rather than by machine.
“It’s a more natural technique, and it’s good to learn if the machine ever breaks,” he says. “For all the people who work for me, it’s good for them to learn it.”
The travel bug brought him to Vancouver, and he fell in love with his surroundings. He joined Toptable Group, first working at West before heading the pastry program at CinCin Ristorante.
The second location of Thierry comes almost a decade after the first on Alberni Street. Like its downtown counterpart, the elegant East Vancouver outpost boasts the group’s trademark palm wood doors.
In each location, these doors open to the aromas of France, from freshly baked croissants to all sorts of ganache chocolates. Made of milk and dark and white chocolate, the artful pieces contain ingredients such as gin, Quebec maple syrup, shaved tonka beans, coconut pulp and raspberry liqueur. Macarons, in the colours of a Monet garden, are regularly offered with different flavours, from cassis to salted caramel.
Among Thierry’s signature desserts is the gold-leaf-adorned chocolate marquise: the rich, dense cake comprises hazelnut dacquoise, salted caramel, crisp praline and chocolate mousse. It’s a showstopper that his wife concocted with him. (The couple has three children together, ranging in age from seven to 12.) If it’s chocolate you’re craving but can’t make up your mind, the chocolate trio is for you; it’s a chocolate sponge cake layered with white, dark and milk chocolate mousse. The pretty passionfruit cake is especially popular, bright and refreshing with elegant miniature pink macarons dotting the bottom of a mound of passionfruit mousse with white genoise, all topped passionfruit gelée.
The café also offers savoury items such as quiche Lorraine with thick-cut bacon, organic vegetable quiche, a variety of croissants (including croissant au jambon) and more, with sandwiches coming soon.
Thierry loves the idea of coming in for a petit four with Thierry Café’s signature coffee—a special blend made in collaboration with 49th Parallel. Except that he’ll be having something savoury: “I’ve been doing pastry for 36 years,” he says. “I like to cook for family and friends, but I don’t eat pastry except to test it.”