The owners of Toronto-based Pain Perdu offer their customers French flavours and atmosphere.
My first introduction to Pain Perdu came a few years ago when my husband and I were driving around Toronto’s St. Clair and Bathurst neighbourhood looking for an apartment.
We drove down one residential street, turned left onto St. Clair and what should catch my eye but a cream and blue coloured sign bearing the name Pain Perdu. It was closed at the time, so we couldn’t stop in to further explore. But I filed the bakery’s name away in the back of my mind, thinking it might make for a good story to feature on the pages of Bakers Journal at a later date.
Well, that date has come. And, having found an apartment just around the corner from the bakery, I’ve had a couple of years to become familiar with Pain Perdu and the products it is known for in the neighbourhood.
The bakery is owned by brothers Yannick and Christophe Folgoas. Yannick, with a 16-year background in the restaurant and culinary world, handles the front-of-store side of the business, while Christophe is king of the kitchen. Born in Montreal, but raised in the Basque region of France (along the Spanish border), Christophe was introduced to the world of pastries by his grandfather, who brought him into his favourite pastry shop and introduced him to the owner. At 15, Christophe started working at the shop in the summer, and eventually the owner offered to train him as an apprentice.
Christophe says school was not his forte, and he decided to accept the offer. He recalls his first task: learning how to glaze a mille-feuille.
“It was like uncovering a secret,” says Christophe.
He has been captivated by the secrets of the pastry world ever since, working first throughout France at various pastry shops and bakeries before returning to work in Montreal in 1982. From Montreal, Christophe moved on to Toronto, working with Francois Rahier at Rahier Patisserie before leaving to set up Pain Perdu with Yannick three years ago. The two brothers chose the location because the area was missing a bakery, the shop didn’t need much work and the neighbourhood was on the upswing (the rise in real estate costs in the area is proof of that, along with the arrival of a Starbucks).
“The neighbourhood was starting to develop a little bit, and it’s important to be in the right neighbourhood,” says Christophe.
The patisserie and boulangerie has been bustling ever since. On opening day, the bakery sold out in just three hours. Christophe says the key to hooking customers on that first day was simple: warm croissants, especially for the chocolatine.
“We would watch people walk to the corner, finish their croissant, then turn around and come back to buy another one.”
The Folgoas brothers wanted Pain Perdu’s products offering to be typical of what one might find when walking into a boulangerie or patisserie in France.
“We prefer to do the things we know how to do well,” explains Christophe.
They have remained true to that desire, with everything made in the bakery’s tiny kitchen. Pain Perdu churns out 500 viennoisserie a day, 120 baguettes a day (300 for the weekend), and 19 quiches (with four different flavours, from mango bocconcini to quiche Lorraine). Also popular are the gateaux Basque, the fruit tarts (piled high with fresh fruit and gorgeous to both look at and taste), the millefeuilles, the éclairs, the house-made chocolates (Easter bunnies made an appearance for Easter), and a selection of jams, vinaigrettes and other savoury items such as duck confit. And then there’s the pain perdu itself. One might call it French toast, but the product is very different from the one most of us North Americans are used to. Made of day-old baguettes that have been sliced, pressed into a baking pan and soaked overnight in an egg and cream custard, the pain perdu is then baked, cut into wedges and served up with crème anglaise, maple syrup and fresh fruit. One word: divine. Any time I have family visiting, Pain Perdu and both its namesake dish and croissants are a must on the list of things they need to experience.
The location is very small, but offers lots of atmosphere, with a long wood counter showcasing the viennoisserie (from brioche, almond croissants and pain au chocolat) and quiches. Behind the cash register hangs a Basque flag. Opposite the wooden counter is enough seating for 14 customers, who can sit, sip on a bowl of café au lait, munch on a sweet and listen to French words swirl around them (many of the bakery’s customers are French, and most of its 10 staff also seem to speak French). For lunch, there’s quiche with a side of salad, a croque monsieur, or a variety of sandwiches to choose from.
“Everything is made fresh daily,” says Christophe. “The croissants are more flaky if you do them every day.”
Finding trained and skilled staff to help him make those croissants has been a challenge, admits Christophe, but the bakery currently has a full roster of staff that he trusts enough to leave to work on their own. He says his key to weeding out employees who look good on paper, but can’t perform in the kitchen is simple. He asks them to make a pastry cream. If they can’t do something as basic as that, says Christophe, then he doesn’t want them working in his kitchen.
What’s next for the bakery?
“I have many, many ideas,” hints Christophe. There’s not really room to expand at the current location, but Christophe says he and Yannick would eventually like to open another location. After that? On ne sais jamais.
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