Don’t be fooled by the name. At La Chouquette, a new pâtisserie on Melrose Ave in LA, it’s the éclairs that take the cake.
Elodie and Dan Darmon, both in their thirties, quit their jobs in Paris to open the uniquely traditional pâtisserie in October 2016. “The US was our dream, ever since we studied in New York.” But it was love at first sight when the Darmons arrived in Los Angeles for their honeymoon. “We wanted to introduce our pastries to the West Coast, where there’s less of a European influence.”
Rather than expatriation, the Darmons describe their westward adventure as a full-on conversion process. After years of climbing the corporate ladder in Paris, both were looking for an escape. Despite having studied sophrology (a wellness practice) in 2009, Elodie was unable to handle the constant pressure. Meanwhile, Dan, who worked in life insurance, was frustrated that he could not work with his hands.
“He took a few pâtisserie classes, but mostly he’s self-taught,” says Elodie, who is quick to sing the praises of her husband’s pastries.
Between coming up with the concept in 2011, and the official opening of La Chouquette in 2016, the Darmons had plenty of time to knead their idea, and let it rise: “The premises used to be a hair extension salon. We built everything from scratch, including the kitchen laboratory. It was very complicated, and took a long while to get the permits. The work lasted fifteen months. “
In the meantime, they had their work cut out for them. Elodie busied herself by developing a sales plan, finding suppliers, and decorating the store interior in a bright, airy Haussman-apartment style. “Fortunately we were able to stay focused and on-task.”
Despite a modest budget of $450,000, the Darmons were determined not to skimp on quality. “We sourced the best products: French chocolate, Italian pistachios, butter from Normandy. We wanted our éclairs to look, smell, and taste superior,” explain the Darmons. Why this attention to detail? Because these flawlessly authentic French pastries carry a shocking secret–they are also gluten free! “We found the perfect gluten-free flour, prepared in San Francisco. The flavor is impeccable.”
The authentic, artisanal recipes were all created by Dan Darmon who, together with the French pâtissière employee, bakes hundreds of éclairs a day. Elodie jokes about her husband’s attention to detail in the kitchen: “The secret of the dough is humidity. It’s a little like a woman. It’s very delicate.”
There’s more to France than Macarons
An interest in choux pastry came to the Darmons after sampling éclairs by Christophe Adam at Fauchon in Paris. Similar to Proust and his madeleine, Elodie Darmon recalls being transported in that moment: “It was exactly the flavor I remembered from after dance class.”
While éclairs were a standard of Elodie’s childhood, that’s not the case for Americans, who are often new to these elaborate French pastries. The Darmons are delighted to be bringing something new to the west coast: “there’s more to French pastry than macarons.” Their menu of 50 flavors varies by season, and includes classically French combinations like l’Ispahan (rose, lichi), as well as American standards like pumpkin, peanut butter, and apple cinnamon.
“Recently, customers have demanded more French pastries, so also offer croissants, pain au chocolats and chouquettes.” In addition, they have future plans to serve sandwiches, host events, and even teach pastry classes.
“But we don’t want to spread ourselves too thin!”