|A well-stocked showcase of Pâtisserie La Cigogne’s desserts, cakes and macarons
Thierry Schmitt is a man that undoubtedly takes this to heart. The award-winning master pastry chef and owner of Toronto’s Pâtisserie La Cigogne has spent most of his life perfecting the art of French artisanal baking.
Born in 1961 and raised in Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace region in eastern France, Schmitt found his calling at a young age. With a penchant for baking, he entered a high school artisanal patisserie apprenticeship in his hometown and, as the saying goes, never looked back.
But schooling was just the beginning of Schmitt’s journey. He then spent several years training and apprenticing in a range of disciplines such as breads, chocolate, ice cream and confections. He notes that it is “de rigueur” for novices to train and learn all aspects of the trade.
“In France you don’t have a diploma in one thing,” he says. “You specialize in a variety of things.”
And it is also the norm to work at a variety of establishments to round out one’s education. As such, Schmitt tried his hand in pastry shops, restaurants, retail stores and hotels.
AWARDS AND ACCOLADES
In addition to working in a variety of bakeries and boulangeries, he also won a prestigious position with the French Army in Landau, making pastries for officers, alongside some of the region’s most talented chefs.
Schmitt continued his studies at the professional pasty school Capa Chambre de Metiers d’Alsace, and he was honoured with the prestigious Master Chef designation in 1989.
Then, in 1991, he opened his own boulangerie-patisserie and salon de thé in Haguenua, which is in the Bas-Rhin area of France. The business really took off after he won a Gold Medal that year at the prestigious European Fair of Strasbourg for an artistic piece of pulled sugar that consisted of a violin and a portrait of Mozart, which celebrated the 200th anniversary of the composer’s life.
He opened his own establishment from 1991 to 1995, focusing mostly on breads – everything from rye bread to baguettes, brioche to croissants.
In the mid 1990s, Schmitt decided on a change of scenery. And he decided on Canada.
|Thierry Schmitt, owner of Pâtisserie La Cigogne
Canada opened up a world of possibility. And while he could have easily chosen Quebec for the language and culture, Schmitt decided to take the more difficult route and move to Toronto and learn English.
In 1996 he moved to the city and embarked upon learning how things worked in his new homeland. He held several positions, including working at a wholesale company and then two bakeries. He also taught post-diploma French baking and pastry art at George Brown College.
In 1998 he got landed immigrant status, and two years later met his wife, Juan. While he had always wanted to open his own place in Toronto, it was Juan who helped to convince the talented chef to take the plunge.
THE GRAND OPENING
In 2003, Schmitt and his wife opened the doors to an establishment on Bayview Avenue in mid-town Toronto and called it Pâtisserie La Cigogne.
|Schmitt’s classic French version of BaBa au Rhum is as delicious as it is beautiful.
Hoping the stork would be also good luck for him, Schmitt aimed to make Pâtisserie La Cigogne a high-quality, authentic French bakery, using local ingredients like butter and cream, together with imported products like fruit purées and chocolates from France.
At the new patisserie, the couple started their workdays at 5:00 a.m., put in many long hours and rarely took a day off while they focused on building a repertoire of delicacies. They focused on three areas: breads, baguettes, croissants and brioche; pastries and cakes (about 25 varieties); and cookies and chocolates.
The patisserie was a success, and in 2011 Schmitt opened a second location on Danforth Avenue in the city’s east end. Both of his shops feature baking on site and have lively cafés with affable staff (about 25 people in total, including nine bakers). Schmitt also does a variety of custom work, including beautiful cakes for weddings and special events.
STAYING ON TOP
He delights in introducing Alsatian classics and traditional French delicacies to his clients, to which he adds his own artistic touches. Some of his creations, like his custom cakes or croquembouches are edible works of art that take skill – and patience. For example, a four-foot sculpture of 600 balls can take him an entire day to make. But, as he notes, “they have to taste as good as they look,” and they are really labours of love for
“We modify products for the local people,” he notes. “And we go with the fashion. Like clothing and shoes, there is always new fashion in baking and so we go with the times and experiment with different styles, colours and presentations.”
Schmitt makes frequent trips to Paris and spends his time there “as a customer,” going into bakeries and cafés to see what others are doing. He also involves himself as a member of the Pastry Chef Guild of Ontario and gives demonstrations.
Yet with all of the success he has, and the staff who now help, Schmitt is still a happy workaholic: “I get up at three or four a.m. on the weekends to bake,” he notes, adding that his two young boys are already showing an interest in the business.
But he still seems to always have baking on the brain – and his kids are starting to show an interest as well. And even with the success he has enjoyed, he isn’t content to now step back and let others run the show.
“I like to work. I like to be involved,” he notes. “If I want to relax, I’ll take a vacation.”