When you hear the term “a tradition of excellence” it is usually associated with sports teams, educational institutions, volunteer fire departments, or some such thing. But at Le Patissier in Corvallis, it means something much more. Trinidad and Didier Tholognat, owners of Le Patissier, arrive early each morning to pay homage to a grand old tradition, the French tradition of perfect pastry.
We are fortunate here in Corvallis to have such an establishment, and it is purely by chance. Through a mutual love of fine food, Trinidad, a Peruvian native met Didier, from Lyon France, in the Los Angeles area. Trinidad, who by her own admission is “always looking for great food,” used to frequent a little French shop in Glendale, CA. “They all had thick French accents, so I knew it was the real thing,” she said of her favorite,“hole in the wall.” Croissant sandwiches were a specialty of the house, and on her way to work one day Trinidad asked to buy a quantity of croissants for her co-workers. She then discovered that the croissants weren’t made in-house. They were purchased wholesale from another French bakery. Trinidad sought out the source and came away with the croissants she had been looking for, and something else, Didier.
Didier began his career as a pastry chef at the age of 14 in France. According to Didier, in France it’s not like America where anyone can call themself a chef, one begins as an apprentice, and it’s only after years of study and completing a test administered by the French government, can one be called a chef. Usually, according to Didier, the time it takes to become a chef in France is approximately fifteen years. Upon successful completion of the test, which includes written work as well as hands-on cooking, people don’t have to look for a job, being a French chef means as Didier says, “the jobs look for you.” I made mention of the recent animated film Ratatouille, but Didier didn’t care for the idea – in France, there are no rats in the kitchen.
The fact that Didier is a trained French chef is very evident in his work, which is more like art than baking, as we Americans know it. The Patisserie participates in a program here in the valley called “local 6”. They are members of the Corvallis Local 6 Connection and have agreed to offer at least one menu item daily that is made with ingredients from the 6 local counties: Benton, Lane, Linn, Lincoln, Marion and Polk. The Corvallis Local 6 Connection is a project of the Sustainability Coalition and is aimed at increasing awareness and demand for local food. Blueberries are from Blueberry Meadows here in Corvallis, dairy is from local farms, eggs are also local and organic. The local foods are a matter not only of sustainability, but of quality, which is paramount in real French cooking. The pastries are beyond good, the brioche is light and the flavor of the fresh, organic eggs is evident in every bite. The cream filled pastries, with the local dairy products and Oregon berries are out of this world. And the croissants… the croissants are more of a religious experience than a food. The layers of fresh sweet butter trapped in the dough have to be refrigerated every time the dough is turned, that’s fifteen times the day before, then they are baked fresh every morning.
A few years ago, upon finding themselves with an “empty nest”, Trinidad and Didier found themselves at a turning point in life. Trinidad who is also a tax account, among other things, is always very busy during the holidays. Didier asked if it was all right with her if he went to France for Christmas to be with family whom he hadn’t seen in years. Since she knew she’d be busy with taxes, she gave him her blessing and bid him adieu. The trip home did Didier well, and helped to clarify his desires for the future. Trinidad was tired of battling the L.A. traffic, and was beginning to feel like life wasn’t just about making money. They decided to find a little space of their own where Didier could practice his craft. They decided against the L.A. area because it had become too competitive, but “not in a good way” according to Trinidad. French food is not about the lowest common denominator. It’s not about who has the cheapest and the biggest. French food is about art and tradition. So they set their sights on New Mexico. The Bohemian culture was appealing to both Trinidad and Didier. Still not sure about anything, except that they were both done with the craziness of L.A. , Trinidad got a call from her sister — from Corvallis. A house had come on the market that was just the ticket, they came and had a look, and now we’re blessed with Le Patissier on Circle Blvd.
Upon entering Le Patissier, one is greeted with the familiar “Bonjour”. The mode of the day, every day, is classic French; formality, order, and quality is evident from the employees’ white coats, to the charming décor, to the pronunciation of the French pastries. Trinidad says she wants Didier to teach the employees proper pronunciation, because her French is spoken with a Spanish accent. Truly an accomplished couple, Didier’s pastries speak of the years of study he’s put into the craft, and Trinidad is happy to greet you in French, Spanish, Italian, or even Japanese. And if you appreciate French décor, you’ll love the intimate dining room. The original paintings hanging on the walls are very good, very European, and give the dining room a unique and inviting feel. Of course you’ll love the artworks in the pastry cases, created by Didier. And if you like the art on the walls, tell Trinidad, they are all hers.