I don’t think you’ll find a patisserie store in Cape Town that’s more authentically French than Cassis. It is owned by Patrick Moreau, a Frenchman, who was taught in the French tradition in France. If you ask a French local where to go for the best pastries in Cape Town, you’re sure to hear the following: ‘ahhhhhhhhhh, Cassis of course!’
Chef Patrick Moreau worked as Executive Pastry Chef for the Winter Olympics in France and made the wedding cake for King Mohamed VI. I interviewed him awhile back which is when I got to view his highly impressive portfolio. He spoke about his time with Lenotre while I looked through page after edible page of his creations.
I asked him how he ended up opening Cassis in South Africa.
‘Aahhhhhhhh, my wife is South African! When we came out on holiday a few years ago, I saw a big gap in the market and decided to invest here.’
As a result, he set up The French Oven bakery which supplies Cassis. I was invited to spend a day there to get a taste of life behind the scenes. This meant setting my alarm for 3 am and heading out to an industrial area to meet Patrick and the team at 4am. This meant saying good morning to everybody under neon light.
I was given a tour of the factory to begin with: the storeroom, the scaling room, the prep room, the finishing room, the ovens (picture sweet pastry baskets with baking beans inside), the machines (picture an awesome stone grinder, the secret to Cassis’ macaroons), the fridges (picture puff pastry at rest and tubs of buttercup pastry cream), the cutting room etc.
Then I was assigned as assistant to one of the pastry chefs. We made pastry cream, packed boxes of beautiful petit fours and did various other tasks at break-neck speed. I helped her with her tasks in the cold-room (ohhhhhhhhh, was it cold)!
I then spent some time with a stocky French baker who kept his eye on the clock, pacing himself as he shaped hundreds of loaves.
I was thinking about how people might be a little afraid of Chef Moreau, who checked everything at regular intervals, when I realized that everybody had suddenly stopped working. It was lunch time. The baker and I stepped outside to get some sun before we joined the team who were passing baguettes around while cheese was retrieved from lunch tins. No red wine I’m afraid. But then, it was only 8.30 in the morning!
A few hours later, while the rest of the world was ordering lunch, my shift was packing up to go home. I thanked Patrick and everybody for their generosity and time. I noticed how pale their skins were. ‘What’s it like to work such unusual hours?’ I asked one of the girls as we left.
‘You get used to it,’ she said.
A reminder of Dumas’ words on Cassis’ website:
“In Paris today millions of pounds of bread are sold daily, made during the previous night by those strange, half-naked beings one glimpses through cellar windows, whose wild-seeming cries floating out of those depths always makes a painful impression. In the morning, one sees these pale men, still white with flour, carrying a loaf under one arm, going off to rest and gather new strength to renew their hard and useful labor when night comes again. I have always highly esteemed the brave and humble workers who labor all night to produce those soft but crusty loaves that look more like cake than bread.” -Alexandre Dumas, French writer (1802-1870)
I later organised a field trip for the pastry students at Zevenwacht Chef School. The class was unusually quiet.