We wanted to learn more about this pastry chef’s unique path, so we recently met with Sébastien Bouillet for a one on one.
MFT: What is your background? How did you get into pastry making and why specifically pastry?
SB: It’s not very original because my parents opened a patisserie in 1977 and I was born in 1976 so when they opened the shop, I was one years-old and we lived on site. So, inevitably, I smelled the odors of cocoa, cookies and everything you might imagine in a patisserie. And little by little, as I grew older, I’ve always been surrounded by this environment. And, little by little, as soon as I was old enough, I started helping my parents with various tasks, such as the dishwashing, coating the chocolates, running the cash register, the life of a small family business.Then at the age of fifteen I was in sport-études (a scholastic program for future athletes) and I was heading towards an athletic career or one as a pastry chef and I interned at a pastry shop, with my father’s friend and there I realized, yes, this is what I want to do. I started an apprenticeship at the age of 16 in Lyon with an ex-pastry chef that had worked for my father and then I went to work for a MOF in Val d’Isère with Patrick Chevallot, followed by Aix en Provence with Philippe Segond and afterwards, I started having more responsibilities and went to Paris. I was the pastry chef for a caterer at Enghien les Bains and after that pastry chef for the Parisian Gérard Mulot Pastry and Bakery.
MFT: Yes, I know that pastry shop very well.
SB: I stayed for two years at Gérard Mulot and in 2000, with my parent’s approval, I came home to our pastry shop, but on one condition, that I could change the style of the house. So I won my spurs for two years, I changed lts of things around. And then the adventure really started. We changed the interior of the boutique two years after my return. Already during the first two years, we saw a nice progression, revenue-wise, with new cakes and a change in style.
Afterwards in 2002, we completely renovated the boutique, with modern touches and more in tune with the style of products we were offering, such as the macarons I had brought back from Paris. We breathed new life at the family patisserie and it worked and the numbers were good and after that, we opened new shops. We now have 6 boutiques and then in 2005 the Japanese adventure began.
MFT : Yes, I actually wanted to know, why choose Japan?
Because I had gone there for pastry demonstrations and I had a real “coup de coeur” (love on the spot) for the people. At first, I was a consultant for a dairy group and performed demonstrations, but afterwards, I met the person that became my business partner and who financed the Japanese adventure. We opened a first Sébastion Bouillet corner in 2005 and now we have two. We are very present during Valentine’s Day celebrations and have over ten corners throughout all of Japan at that time of the year. We’ve successfully gone our way there. I go there around four times a year. It’s really great because it’s also helped me in my personal reflection, in my way of thinking, professionally and personally. Japan was a key factor in my development and I think it’s helped me a great deal. If there hadn’t been the Japanese adventure, I don’t think I would be where I’m at today. I’m not sure how to explain it but I am certain Japan has been of great aid.
MFT: Is your product offering different in Lyon and Tokyo?
At first, it was very similar but to last in Japan, you must adapt so I adapted to the Japanese market. Therefore, we offer smaller sized pastries; there are also different customs. Dry and moist cakes wrapped in a packet for longer preservation are very popular in Japan.
Valentine’s Day is also a very strong period in Japan where we need to come out with relevant products that won’t last very long because the Japanese are very fashion conscious so when we introduce a new product, it only lasts a couple of months, we are constantly renewing our product offering.
It’s great because it enables us to constantly be in search of new ideas and products, but it’s also at the same time a bit constraining because we risk being out of creative breath.
It’s the market that’s this way, which is entirely different from the French market.
MFT: You just opened your new store, Goûter. Why did you choose to differentiate the little cakes from patisserie?
SB: Well first because you don’t associate these products to one another; they’re very different, their style is different so we would have had to have a much bigger boutique to establish the Goûter brand at the flagship.
And I wanted, just as a restaurant owner would diversify, by opening a bistro, a wine bar or a higher end restaurant, I liked the idea of opening a totally different concept that would attract a varied clientele and not necessarily the same one as at the flagship boutique.
We had already seen with the chocolat shop that we were able to attract new clients that we didn’t have before. Goûter is just another stone to the edifice. They are simple products, products I adore, I love tartes, I love simple things.
I think we were right on the mark, the products are very reasonably priced and we offer high quality products with the best ingredients possible.
MFT : Do you have other projects for the future ? Are you planning to open your own restaurant ?
SB : Actually, I have plenty of ideas! And things go fast. One year ago I already had “Goûter” concept store in mind but I would never guess it would go so fast. So a restaurant, why not ?
But I like to create things I fully master and I am a pastry chef, not a cooking chef, so for now I prefer to stay in my very expertise. For example, I’m more likely to launch a baker store, it’s really close to my job. I love bread, this is probably something I will launch in the following years.
I travel a lot and it always gives me the opportunity to think of new ideas and new projects. It’s very effective for my self-enrichment.
MFT: Are you planning to open new stores abroad ?
SB: This is highly unpredictable. I opened my first pastry shop in Japan because I met the right guy and we had this connection that allows us to plan new projects together. If it happens again in another country, why not? I will see, but in any case I don’t have any specific plans for now.
MFT : How would you define your own style ?
SB: I guess it’s a blend of many ingredients : modernity, gourmet, sometimes a little sexy, sometimes with a touch of feminine, but always based on a strong expertise and the respect of the raw material as well. I always insist on sharing and re-assessing so that even if things work out, we need to go back to work so we can improve the result.
MFT: Would you recommend a restaurant to MFT’s readers ?
SB: All of my friends are chefs, you’re getting me into trouble ! I really enjoy going to “Balthaz’Art”, managed by Frédéric d’Ambrosio who is a very close friend of mine. He cooks fresh market products and proposes a very surprising cuisine at a great value for money.
MFT: And a neighborhood or a walk ?
SB: The neighborhood of Croix Rousse in Lyon! This is the place I grew up, I went to school, where I played soccer as a kid, it’s a real village in the city, with its marketplaces, its cafés… Croix Rousse is not just a place, it’s an experience !