Get to know a Baker: Stephen Nason, La Bamboche
Nestled in cosily on Manor Road near Yonge and Davisville, La Bamboche has all the makings of a French patisserie. It's about 7 a.m. when I meet with Stephen Nason, head pastry chef, but he's already been at the shop for hours. We sit down in the quiet of the morning before the customers bustle in to discuss how he entered the world of pastries, the difference between La Bamboche's two locations, and his Japanese-inspired French pastries.
Where did you first learn to bake?
I learned to bake in Japan. I was a cook first, and went to Japan in 2003 looking for work as a cook, and I stumbled into pastry--I sort of started baking in Tokyo. Before that, I had no interest in pastry at all, but after my time there it just turned. I actually worked at a French patisserie called La Bamboche in Tokyo. It's completely different but there is a shop there too, so that's where I started.
What do you find is the main difference between French and Japanese pastry techniques?
In Japan, they really focus on the French patisseries. They all go to France to study, and then come back to Tokyo, but it's about refinement. With the Japanese, things are a little bit lighter; they are focusing on using less sugar.
Aesthetically, they take the heavy French pastry and they lighten it up, keep it fresh, and focus on its natural elements. It's pretty awesome. Two pastries from France and Tokyo may look the same, but when you eat them, they taste totally different.
What is the one item you sell that you think best represents a Japanese-inspired French dessert?
We mix a lot of Japanese flavours with French techniques, so I'll go with the flavour components. Right now, we have a roasted black sesame tart with a green tea mousse. It's very traditionally French when you look at it, but the flavours are totally Japanese.
What do you like to bake the most?
I love macarons. That's really my focus right now. They are very finicky as opposed to pastry. Pastry is very controlled; if you have a recipe it doesn't really matter where you are in the world. If you have that recipe and your fattening cream is the same, you can always get the same end product.
With a macaron--similar to the baking of bread--every day is different. If you get extreme humidity or it's dry in the winter, the mix reacts very differently; which makes it a bit more interesting, I think. You can play with macarons a little more.
You currently have two locations. Are there any changes in the works or future plans that you can tell us about?
We'll be focusing more on wholesale, and giving the city more of our product.
Do you find that the customers' buying habits are the same at both locations, or do certain items sell better at each location?
Definitely. Each one of the locations has its own niche. Not only do we have cakes, we also have quiche and other baked goods. We've been here (4 Manor Road) for six years now, and the following we've created here is really about the cakes and treats. At our Avenue Road location, which has been open for about two years, it's for the locals. The croissants are the big focus there.
Describe a standard day here for you at La Bamboche.
I usually get up at 3 a.m. and get into work at about 3:30 a.m. It's not quite a baker's morning but it's still quite early. We start baking all the baked goods and set up all the cakes, finish up the macarons and get everything set up. Throughout the day as we continue to sell, we also start our preparations of cakes and macarons for the next day. It just goes on and on.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Croissant or macaron? Macaron.
Favourite Toronto Bakery aside from yours? I think Marc Thuet (of Petite Thuet) bakes bread so well using traditional methods. He cuts no corners, and I have a lot of respect for that.
Most underrated ingredient? Salt.
The strangest thing in your fridge at home? There's not much in my fridge at home. I kind of shop day-to-day at the market.
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Photos by Morris Lum