When you step inside Stéphan Ethier’s 107-year-old red brick home on the beguiling Lorne Avenue adjascent to the Lebreton Flats, the scent is intoxicating. A tea-towel-draped tray of beautiful French pastries reveals the culprit — an assortment of deeply golden brioches and croissants as well as two particularly addictive sweets that we rarely see in Ottawa: madeleines and canelés.
“It’s the butter-flavoured Febreze I spray,” jokes the 37-year-old Le Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef in a gentle voice — his quirky humour cloaked in shyness.
It’s that shyness, he says, that prevented him from stepping foot inside the famous pastry shops when he and his wife first moved to Paris. When he finally worked up the nerve to go inside one of the famed shops that anchors every neighbourhood, he just choked and pointed at the first item he saw — a galette bretonne, a cross between a pound cake and a shortbread cookie. A few years later, it has become one of the items on his own pastry menu — its buttery bronze layers slathered with homemade strawberry jam.
With an already impressive CV that includes pastry positions at Le Cordon Bleu’s former five-diamond restaurant Signatures and the region’s other gastronomic temple, Le Baccara, Ethier made a decision when he returned to Ottawa to start a small baking business from home. But unlike many cake caterers in town, he wanted to open his bakery to the public every morning from Tuesday to Sunday starting at 7 a.m. to serve freshly baked viennoiseries and pastries, as well as macarons (the labour-intensive jewels happen to rival many of the best ones I tasted in France).
On Saturday mornings he adds more treats to the menu, such as almond croissants, chocolate almond croissants, and something called a Diplomat — which he describes as “fancy bread pudding.” Diplomats are made using all of the leftover morning pastries along with a crème anglaise (a light custard) that he bakes in the oven in a water bath to create the unique comforting texture that draws neighbours out of their beds on the weekends. He closes up when everything is sold out.
He told me he once dreamed of being a professional bagpipe player and even moved to London, Ontario, to take lessons from a particular teacher. He says he quit because “I realized you needed talent.” As he talks about his unusual past, his early childhood in Nunavut, a job at a large insurance company, and his new passion and reverence for pastry and particularly for fine ingredients, his shyness melts away. It’s clear he has found his calling.
He launched the business back in June after renovating the kitchen, but now the project of insulating the house is under way. It’s one of the surprises that came with buying the quirky little house, now designated by the city as part of a Cultural Heritage District. “It’s just like the food world,” he says. “ Things can look good on the outside, but on the inside it’s crap.”
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday: 7 a.m. until sold out
Cash only (or personal cheque)
Macarons et Madeleines, 46 Lorne Ave. (Lower Lorne), 613-422-6215, www.macaronsetmadeleines.com