Les Gâteaux of La Gâterie: Only imagination is the limit for Montreal-based designer Rita Djerrahian
March 3, 2008 By Bakers Journal
As a young girl growing up in Ethiopia, Rita Djerrahian used to collect
ostrich eggs to decorate, creating her own versions of the eggs Peter
Carl Fabergé became so famous for. As it turns out, that kind of detail
work was pretty good practice for what was to come. Djerrahian is the
owner of La Gâterie, a cake business located just outside Montreal in
|Rita Djerrahian, owner of Quebec’s La Gâterie, creates one of her signature gumpaste flowers.|
As a young girl growing up in Ethiopia, Rita Djerrahian used to collect ostrich eggs to decorate, creating her own versions of the eggs Peter Carl Fabergé became so famous for. As it turns out, that kind of detail work was pretty good practice for what was to come. Djerrahian is the owner of La Gâterie, a cake business located just outside Montreal in Pointe-Claire.
It all began when, after being home with three kids for a number of years, Djerrahian decided it was time to find something to do.
“Boredom kills me,” she says. “I can’t do the same thing over and over again.”
Having heard about a group named ICES (the International Cake Exploration Society, a non-profit agency for cake decorating enthusiasts), Djerrahian’s interest and curiosity were piqued.
“I started baking cakes and decorating cakes and I wanted to decorate more, I wanted to learn more,” she says.
So when a girlfriend was looking for help in launching a cake business, she approached Djerrahian about becoming a partner. And so was born La Gâterie, which can mean either a place where cakes are made or a place to spoil yourself.
After 12 years, buying her partner out of the business, and moving from a number of locations that just weren’t right, La Gâterie has finally settled in its current location, hidden away in an industrial building where there’s lots of storage space, lots of working space, lots of classroom space and a display room where Djerrahian meets her clients. The room is painted a dark chocolate brown, which makes the cakes stand out like beautiful bright lights in the room.
When I meet with her, Djerrahian has a collection of pictures of her works laid out on the table in front of her. The cakes range from a Luis Vuitton case, a sushi plate in pastillage, a Tiffany box with David Yurman jewelry, and a Zen cake, surrounded by green bamboo stalks made entirely of sugar (“A lot of work,” confesses Djerrahian), trailing with delicate flowers and leaves and vines. The flowers on each of her cakes are incredible, so delicate and fragile and lifelike that they look as though they surely must carry some kind of sweet fragrance or drop pollen from their centre.
“Even now, the flowers are what I love doing,” says Djerrahian.
What she also loves doing is competing, most often with the Société Culinaire in New York. She and her husband, Levon, drive the seven hours to the annual competition, him behind the wheel, her completing last minute touches for her cake entry, like petals or flowers or leaves.
“There’s a lot of pressure, but I enjoy it. It’s a good chance to see where you stand and what you can do and what other people are doing.”
And the awards and ribbons, many of them on display in the show room, mean something to her customers. They give La Gâterie standing and a reputation.
Those customers range, from traditional male-female brides- and grooms-to-be, to clients looking for vegan options (which means no dextrose and no eggs), to ethnic customers, to, more and more, same sex couples.
“They’re all people who love something different and are willing to pay for it,” Djerrahian says of her clients.
What they pay starts at about $500 and goes up from there.
As for flavour trends, Djerrahian says “gooey chocolate cakes” always remain popular, along with traditional white, with various flavours of buttercream. Other trends include corporate cakes or special occasion cakes with edible images (especially fake magazine covers). And pillars are definitely out with her clients. Those clients often know what they do and don’t want – like the bride and groom who wanted newlywed monkeys on their cake instead of people.
Wedding season runs from March to November, with La Gâterie doing an average of two to three cakes a week, each one taking 30 to 50 hours. Levon says when wedding cake season starts, he looks for another wife. But he also helps out, his work as a graphic designer of much help when it comes to working on the edible images or even creating tiny gumpaste or sugar vehicles that are perfect for his attention to detail. During that busy season, Djerrahian brings in two to three assistants to help with the work. The off-season now finds her busy with teaching classes.
But her favourite part of her work, says Djerrahian, is the cake-making, the clients who want something totally different, something other cake makers have told them couldn’t be done.
“If the cake were only meant to be a round cake, I wouldn’t be in business. It has to be a challenge and it has to be something different.”
See some of Rita Djerrahian’s handiwork online at www.lagaterie.com .
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