Chef Cam Tran's passion is pastry. Once he realized that, he headed off to the South of France to earn his pastry degree. As part of his internship he worked at some splashy hotels and restaurants in St.Tropez, so he knows his French culture and cuisine intimately.
Death by Chocolate at Café ce Soir (Cam Tran)
Now that he's home in Winnipeg, he's opened up the tiny Café ce Soir on Portage Avenue and the display case is heaving with desserts like Death by Chocolate and Tarte Tropézienne (brioche oozing with rich pastry cream). His specialty is crème brûlée which he makes with a different flavour every day (lavender on the day I was in). His love for France is evident in the paintings on the walls and selection of photos (his own) on the large monitor.
But there's a lot more than coffee and pastry happening at Café ce Soir. Chef Tran points out that while the pastry menu is extensive, it is actually a miniature restaurant serving full meals, albeit with a limited menu.
It's modeled after a typical café you would find in France, serving soups, salads, sandwiches and a nightly special.
The diminutive chef is on view behind the counter and he is a bundle of energy. He works intensely with exacting detail. In fact, so far he works alone in his kitchen because he hasn't been able to find anyone yet who meets his expectations. "My military training standard in France is so high," he says. "I want perfection when it comes to desserts and certain things."
Spring rolls with red pepper aioli (Cam Tran)
Some of the food has a bit of an Asian twist. That's because Tran is Vietnamese himself. He started his training with his father in Winnipeg in some Chinese and Japanese restaurants.
After his apprenticeship in France, he spent a few months backpacking all over Vietnam and China, learning more about the cuisine. So that definitely influences some of the dishes.
Tran shops every day for the freshest ingredients for his ever-changing menu. Everything, down to the mayonnaise, is made in-house. "My belief is that everybody deserves to eat fresh food that is not chemically based. That's my philosophy. Things shouldn't be bought in a can. I go back to old traditional ways of making soups from scratch. So that's my goal, to have really good quality for my customer."