Were it not for some quick hands, one of Cédric Barberet’s claims to fame would have come crashing down, leaving a mess of fondant, icing and Grand Marnier-laced chiffon cake on the Mar-A-Lago Club’s tile floor in Palm Beach, Fla.
As Barberet, pastry chef and partner at Barberet Bistro and Bakery in Lancaster, Pa., and the newest member of Barry Callebaut’s International Ambassador Club, explains, the seven-tired, 200-lb., 5.5-ft. tall wedding cake with nearly 3,000 white icing roses, almost fell off a cart after hitting a rut between the tiles as it was being transported to the reception area.
Given that this was a two-month labor of love by Barberet commissioned by Donald and Melania Trump for their wedding in 2005, such an accident could have been disastrous. It didn’t happen, and as it turned out, the creation was lauded as the No. 1 Wedding Celebrity Cake that year.
Plenty of pastries and cakes have passed since that moment, but that one cake certainly provided Barberet with a generous amount of publicity. Admitted to the Académie Culinaire de France in 2011, the 41-year-old French-born and trained chef has worked at various resorts and restaurants during his career, ranging from overseeing a crew of six bakers and 30 pastry cooks at the M Resort Spa and Casino in Las Vegas to plating wonderful desserts for the ever-demanding Chef Georges Perrier, founder of Le Bec Fin restaurant in Philadelphia.
Add to that list working six years for Donald Trump, and it’s safe to say Barberet has seen and experienced just about every kind of professional challenge, the exception being that of proprietor.
Last year, on August 4, that all changed. He and his wife, Estelle, opened up Barberet Bistro & Bakery, with a business partner in Lancaster, Pa. The milestone, four years in the making, had its roots in Philadelphia after Le Be Fin closed in 2012 and Barberet began working for the Stephen Starr Restaurant Group.
The challenge for the Barberets was finding an affordable location with the right foot traffic in the Philadelphia area, a Don Quixote mission if there ever was one.
Thankfully for Lancaster locals, Cedric and Estelle’s four-year quest eventually culminated in this south central Pennsylvanian city. A mutual friend had introduced Barberet to the owner of a building on 26 E. King St., just doors away from Penn Square and the Marriott hotel. Unsure whether a city of nearly 60,000 could support a high-end shop for baked goods and pastries, Cedric and Estelle visited the city several times, doing their research.
“It actually was quite scary to find out that the average income of Lancaster was $19,000,” he explains. Given that Barberet was looking to establish an upscale bakery and bistro, that income level would not support such an enterprise. Additional probing, however, showed that the Lancaster metropolitan area, housed a much more affluent population, average income approaching $42,000.
If Barberet was to succeed, he needed to draw clientele that could afford his classic pastries. Obviously, people living in Lancaster’s suburbs could.
“My vision for the bakery was to produce French classic pastries, but with a slight twist emphasizing a more modern approach,” he explains. As for the restaurant, the initial concept was to create a wine bar/tapas place. That, however, evolved into a classic bistro menu, one that was developed by Barbaret and Tyler Boell, who is the restaurant’s chef de cuisine and had worked with Barberet at Le Bec Fin.
Scheduled to open in June, the bakery and bistro construction project ran into a series of problems involving building permits and city approvals. The delay prevented Barberet from stocking both the bakery and bistro and caused him to miss out on a key portion of the tourist season.
Upon getting approval to open two months later, Barberet and his crew (pastry chef and a pastry cook) had only a week to order ingredients and begin stocking the bakery and bistro for an August 4th opening.
“We decided to focus on a limited choice of pastries, sandwiches and coffee until we could build up our offerings in stages” he explains. Barberet also chose a similar path for the restaurant, initially only offering three appetizer items, three entrees and three deserts.
Within three weeks, the bakery offered patrons 20 items. It took a little longer for the restaurant to get up to speed, about three months.
But as Barberet explains, “I’d rather offer seven items at 100 percent than 20 items at 70 percent.”
Today, customers will find the bakery counters filled with breakfast pastries such as croissants, brioches, pain au chocolat as well as individual treats such napoleons, eclairs, azures and l’opera. Individual cakes such as cheesecake, seven-layered chocolate cake and terra cotta as well as tartes and other items fill out the remainder of the display cases. Moulded chocolate creations tempt customers in the storefront window.
Barberet also produces his own line of truffles, as well as chocolate bars — all of which are hand-made.
But the most popular item on the bakery end are the macarons. Barberet uses flavored ganaches to fill his meringue-based confections, which range from raspberry to chocolate to mango flavors. Each month, the bakery sells about 5,000 of them, which are — of course — all made by hand.
And although the bakery does sell bread, they are imported from Lenotre as frozen dough and then proofed and baked daily.
As Barberet explains, “It’s hard to find skilled labor, so I have to choose my battles. For me it’s all about consistency.”
His dedication to classic techniques, fine ingredients and high quality has developed a strong following in less than a year. Barberet’s attention to detail and discipline can be seen in the 1,800-sq.-ft. bakery production area. For example, every day at noon, the crew does a complete wash-down.
It is Barberet’s way of teaching good sanitation habits as well as instilling discipline in learning the craft. Given that a typical work day for the head pastry chef, chocolatier and restauranteur extends from 5:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night, Barberet understands there are limitations to what he can offer.
“You don’t want to get so technical that you become a prisoner of your own creation,” he says. Hence, the emphasis is on quality and execution, rather than complexity and exoticism.
That doesn’t mean he’s not constantly experimenting with recipes, however. As the most recently appointed Barry Callebaut ambassador, he looks forward to trying the supplier’s new chocolate products, particularly single-origin items.
Barbaret cited an 65 percent single-origin chocolate from Haiti as one that delivers a spicy note as well as a coffee highlight.
“I also have a soft spot for liquors,” he says. Barberet is currently working with Pittsburgh Craft Whiskey Distillery, an award-winning, family-owned distillery that makes a range of handrafted rye, ginger, apple and wheat whiskeys as well as bourbon under the Wigle brand.
It’s clear that the French-born and -trained pastry chef is settling in quite nicely in Lancaster. Although a long distance from his birthplace in Villefranche near Lyon, France, the Barberet Bakery & Bistro in Lancaster does bring a touch of France to the city. What better lagniappe could the city ask for?