Calgary pastry chef only Canadian to be awarded sweet international designation
Yann Blanchard earned the ultra-exclusive distinction from the French pastry association this fall
A Calgary pastry chef is the only Canadian chef to become a member of one of the sweetest, most exclusive clubs in the world, Relais Desserts.
Yann Blanchard earned the ultra-exclusive distinction from the French pastry association this fall, having honed his craft since the age of 12.
"He grew up above the family bakery and worked in his dad's shop," says Yann's wife Jeraldine, who also grew up in France.
"At 12 he was taking care of the bread. It's all he's ever done."
Yann studied pastry at École Grégoire-Ferrandi before moving to Canada. The pair met in their 20s working at the old Eiffel Tower Bakery on 17th Avenue before Yann moved on to become the executive pastry chef at the Fairmont Palliser when he was 25.
He did stages — brief internships where chefs learn new techniques and observe how other restaurant kitchens work — at the Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton in Chicago, as well as the French Laundry in the Napa Valley before Yann and Jeraldine opened up their own place.
Today the family, including a son and twin daughters, live above their own French bakery. Yann Haute Patisserie is in the cheery yellow house just off 4th Street in Mission.
'Michelin stars for the pastry world'
The process of joining the 92-member Relais Desserts started in 2015. But it wasn't until this fall that Yann was invited to travel to France to demonstrate his craft to the international association members, which includes some of the biggest talents in the pastry world.
"It's like Michelin stars for the pastry world," Yann says.
"I've never had mentors, but this group supports each other. There's a lot of respect, nobody is trying to outdo each other, no one has a need to. Once they've reached this designation, it's a level playing field. There's a humility about it, which is key. It's a way to get together and share advice and ideas, and enjoy our own craft."
Yann packed an almost life-sized white chocolate statue in a special foam-lined case to travel to Paris, prepared more pastries from scratch and made the eight-hour drive to the small town where the event was being held, and where he was welcomed into the group.
"Not only do I gain recognition among by peers," Yann says, "but I get to sit in the same room as Pierre Hermé, Frédéric Cassel, and be able to chat about the issues I have, and get tips from each other."
Every year different members gather from region to region, sharing their latest creations, and their recipes and techniques.
Yann and Jeraldine's Mission bakery, which will expand in the new year to the house next door, focuses on French-style pastries, baguettes and croissants, kouign-amann, elegant cakes and tarts and perfect macarons with holiday flavours that include chestnut, frankincense and pine, made by subtly infusing cream with new spruce tips from last winter over the summer.
"The style is lighter, less sugar and less complexity in terms of flavours, but more complexity in terms of texture," explains Yann, who also pays close attention to sourcing ingredients, some local and others imported from France.
"You need to be able to tell what you're eating. Some cakes are very good, but they just taste sweet. Think of a perfect nectarine, with the thin skin and juicy, sweet-tart insides. When there isn't too much going on, you can really enjoy the experience. You don't need to have a lot going on, you just need to do it well."
Yann Haute Patisserie is at 329 23rd Ave. S.W.
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