As if 2014 wasn't already shaping up to be the Year of the Bakery in Houston, a couple with strong ties to France wants to open a Parisian style bakery in Houston.
By day, Sebastien Laval works as the Maitre d'hotel and sommelier at Restaurant Cinq in boutique Montrose hotel La Colombe D'or, and his wife Elizabeth works at a law firm, but neither of these careers are their true passion. For the past two years, the couple has been working at night on another project to deliver authentic French pastries to a small group of devoted followers, staying up late and using their home oven to turn out macarons, kouign amann, opera cakes and other classic desserts.
They call this business, which operates under the Texas Cottage Law, The Pastry of Dreams.
Tired of turning down work because they lacked the capacity to accept a project, the couple's seeking to turn their passion into a full-time business and have launched a Kickstarter in hopes of raising $50,000 to cover the difference between what they've raised from investors and what they need to sign a lease on a space.
Want a mango cookie with chai tea filling? Elizabeth will tweak the recipe until its perfect.
How did this project get started? How did Elizabeth transform herself into a baker? Naturally, the story begins in France. Elizabeth was a pre-med student on vacation when she met Sebastien six years ago.
"We spent two weeks on vacation, then three months on the phone. He came here to the U.S. and we got married," Elizabeth recalls.
As happy as they were together, Sebastien began to miss some of the comforts of home. "He says 'I miss French pastries.' I said 'Let’s go look for them,' " Elizabeth recalls. "I took him to all the French pastry shops. He was, like, this is gross. This is not a French pastry."
Elizabeth began dedicating herself to making macarons. After a six month process of trial and error, she developed a base recipe that she was comfortable with. When the couple moved to Avignon in France, Elizabeth began to supply a restaurant with macarons. Her technique proved so successful that the restaurant chose to use her over a pastry chef with two Michelin stars for a special run of heart-shaped macarons.
"I wasn’t told he had two Michelin stars," Elizabeth says about her competition with the chef. "After I delivered them, Sebastien told me he has two stars. I went, ‘Well, that’s out the door. He’s going to take this.’ That night we get a phone call from the chef saying the pastry chef made them, (but his) don’t look as beautiful as your wife’s."
When they returned to Houston, the couple began to reach out to the French community to market their business. It's been successful, but the business is limited by their space, time and equipment.
"We’ve been thinking about this ever since we came back," Sebastien says. "Now, we need the money to do it."
Unlike some of the other high-profile bakery projects currently under development, the Lavals want their business to be a true, Parisian-style, take-out bakery. Citing Pierre Hermé and Laduree as examples, Elizabeth says The Pastry of Dreams will operate on the principle of "You go, you get your dessert and you go share it with someone. Most of the pastry shops (in Paris) have a line because it’s only to come in and get pastries. There’s none here like that."
Even if they are positioning themselves to compete with the likes of Common Bond or Fluff Bake Bar, Sebastien notes that Houston supports a wide variety of French restaurants. Surely, the city can support multiple French bakeries.
Another way the couple hope to distinguish themselves is through customization. Want a mango cookie with chai tea filling? Elizabeth will tweak the recipe until its perfect.
"What motivates us is the passion. A lot of people I know in France wanted a fast course to getting into a job. They (are pastry chefs) because that’s what they know how to do," Sebastien says.
"For us, we couldn’t fight it. We wanted people to enjoy what we enjoy."
Want to try before you buy? The Pastry of Dreams will hold a free tasting event Saturday Feb. 15 at noon in the common room at 3000 Sage Rd.