Calgary chef Yann Blanchard breaks into the French pastry big leagues

Calgary pastry chef Yann Blanchard was recently invited to join Relais Desserts Association, an exclusive French organization. The chef says this is the pastry equivalent to receiving a Michelin star.

Invited to join the Relais Desserts Association, Blanchard gives French pastry a Canadian twist

Yann Blanchard of Yann's Haute Patisserie in Calgary's Mission District, recently was invited to join the Relais Desserts Association in France, the pastry equivalent of receiving a Michelin star. (Yann Haute Patisserie)

Imagine if you could eat a Monet, poach a Picasso, or gobble down a Gaugin.

French art as food? Sounds kind of chewy.

French pastry as art?

It isn't such a stretch at all, particularly when it's one of the exquisite creations of Yann Blanchard. He runs Yann Haute Patisserie, a Parisian-style shop selling pastries and cakes in Calgary's Mission District.

A journey of 11,000 kilometres

Recently, Blanchard took a significant step up in the world of pastry chefs, when he was invited to join the Relais Desserts Association in France. Blanchard is the first Canadian to be invited to join.

They say a journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step. Blanchard's journey of joining the Relais Desserts Association was a journey of 11,000 kilometres that included, as all of these epic travels do, trying to clear customs.

A selection of offerings from Yann Haute Patisserie made in miniature form. (Susan Holzman)

That's because he was headed to France, to demonstrate his work for some of his personal icons, star French pastry chefs whose work he admired and respected.

"It's nerve-racking," Blanchard said on The Homestretch. "Because you're basically standing in front of your idols — all the people you respect the most — and you basically are physically with them and have to show what you do. So it was very stressful."

Blanchard, who is originally from France, had previously taken a trip there to observe some of the pastry chefs in action. Two of them had travelled to Calgary to visit his shop at 329 23rd Ave. S.W. to check out whether he had the ingredients to join their group.

Another item from French pastry chef extraordinaire Yann Blanchard, who owns and operates Yann Haute Patisserie in the Mission District. This cake is made with an eclair base, salted caramel cremeux and chocolate Bavarian cream, salted caramels and twice crushed shortbread and white chocolate crust. (Susan Holzman)

"You have a visit from the two [person] admission committee that come to your store, check out your bakery, to see that everything is well  in order: your front-of-the-house, everything well kept, your ingredients' provenance, your kitchen," said Blanchard.

Blanchard was recommended by two members of the association, which meant he could travel to France to do a demonstration for the rest of the members — if he could just get through customs toting his oversized suitcase, which contained the showpiece of his pastry presentation. 

When a chocolate peanut butter cup meets a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! Roasted peanuts, cream, milk chocolate ganache, peanut crunch, almond and peanut chocolate cake with blackberry compote. (Susan Holzman)

"When I went to clear customs, I had to go to the oversize, and nothing showed up, except the chocolate," said Blanchard. "And the chocolate looked like my piece. Which was the body of a woman, with severed members.

"It was extremely vivid so as I go there [toward customs], it's packed, it's neat, I don't want [them] to touch it.

"So they say, we're going to have to open it and take a look."

Once his amputated showpiece was unpacked and his suitcase thoroughly probed, Blanchard was allowed to re-pack it in its fractured form and continue on to his pastry showcase.

Blanchard cooks with traditional ingredients — chocolate, butterscotch, lemon, vanilla beans — and some that one might not associate with Parisian-style pastries.

Canadian staples inspire French pastry

It turns out that the pastry that got him his membership looks like an oversized peanut butter cup, which Blanchard says was no accident.

"That's definitely the idea," he said. "I took the peanut butter cup and PB and J — peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — and [thought], I'm going to do something the Canadian/North American crowd can relate to: add some maple syrup, to make it as Canadian as possible."

In the end, the French chefs were as impressed with his commute as with his pastries, and invited him to join their prestigious association.

"They kind of played (with me) a little bit, but the biggest wow for them, because they've seen and done a lot, was the travelling," he said.

Everything he showcased in France is available at Yann Haute Patisserie, including the oversized peanut butter cup, which goes for $7.50. That's less than ordering dessert in most restaurants, even with his newly designated status as a member of the Relais Desserts Association.

"For our store, it's basically the equivalent of getting Michelin stars," Blanchard said. "And for you [Calgarians], it's basically the opportunity to visit a French pastry shop in the Parisian atmosphere without being in Paris. So you don't have to renew your passport, don't have to clear customs, you can just come to our store!"

With files from The Homestretch