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Inside Café Bazin, Westmount’s Newest Viennoiserie and Bistro

The new project from Antonio Park and Bertrand Bazin opens tomorrow

Left to right: Bertrand Bazin, Antonio Park and Takashi Horinoue
Randall Brodeur

From Europe to Montreal, hotels to restaurants, the private Old Port dining club 357c to Lavanderia’s dessert program, Bertrand Bazin has accrued a wealth of experience. This veteran of pastries for decades — having acted as mentor/instructor to the likes of Masami Waki of Le Club Chasse et Pêche and Rhubarbe’s Stéphanie Labelle — finally has a place to call his own: Café Bazin. A new partnered project with Antonio Park, this small 20-seater space designed by Bertrand himself and Amlyne Phillips (Kampai) has half of its square footage devoted to a full view of its kitchen. While Bazin will be in charge of the sweeter side of this venture — whipping up options like cakes, cookies, tartelettes and crème brulée — served throughout the day, lunch services will provide a more savory side from chef de cuisine Takashi Horinoue (Lavanderia).

Eater spoke with Bazin recently to learn more about what we can expect from the café and bistro, located a few doors down from the eponymous Park.

This is a project you and Antonio Park had in mind for quite some time, no?

Bertrand: Yes, since about a year and a half ago. Back then, I was working at 357c and we used to work together there. It’s always been in the back of my head, and now it’s coming true.

Where did you work before 357c in Montreal?

Bertrand: I used to work at (several hotels) like the Intercontinental, the Westin when it was a Four Seasons and Bice (which is now Ristorante Beatrice); I got around a bit.

What can we expect from Café Bazin?

Bertrand: First off, it’s not necessarily a bakery; we don’t sell bread there, we only use what we bake for service. It’s more like a viennoiserie with desserts, and for lunch we’ll be doing a bistro. In the morning, there will be things like croissants, chocolatines, apple turnovers and cinnamon buns with healthier things like yogurt and granola, fruit salads and smoothies to please everybody. As for lunch, there will be (more savory options) like vichyssoise and boeuf bourguignon, terrine, things like that. Very classic, very classical.

Nothing is meant to be expensive. Even with wine, the most expensive bottle won’t exceed $50.

I understand that this location is the first where you’ve had a bit more control over the menu.

Bertrand: Well, less control over the restaurant but more control over how to please people. I saw the direction I wanted to go in, what can and can’t be done, and that’s what it’s about. People have asked how I would like things run, and while I have the final word, I’m working with a good team.

What direction do you want this café to go in?

Bertrand: This is a meeting place for people to come earlier, between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., to have fun and be pleased. It’s a quiet space. With the way the space is designed, the kitchen takes up almost half of it, and it’s meant to give people the sense they are walking into a private kitchen. I like the feeling you can have when you come home and you see your friend working away there.

A lot of the time, friends ask what’s my best dessert. Most of the time I always tell them it’s the next one. 99% of the time, it’s not something you’ve had in a shop but something you had with your mother or grandmother in their kitchen. So, for me, it’s good to see people working, smelling the pastries for example, and (you can) tap into memory. The power of memory comes from being able to see, smell and touch, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.

Who designed the space?

Bertrand: First, I designed the plan and the blueprint, organizing the setup, and then we had the help of Amlyne Phillips who also worked on the design of Kampai. We worked together on the colours and things like that; she understood what I wanted and I fed off her expertise. We worked well together.

I always wanted to have the ambiance of being in the kitchen, so we designed the space so no matter where you sit, you can see someone working in the kitchen. They can watch us, see how we do things, take note of our secrets; but we don’t really have any secrets.

Let’s talk for a moment about your history with desserts.

Bertrand: You’d have to go back 35 years. In France, you start very early; I was 14 when I started. You don’t really have a choice there, working under a baker, butcher, chef or pastry chef. My father used to be a baker, my uncle too, so it ran in the family.

After my degree, I ran around France and Europe, working for hotels, bakeries, restaurants… In France I did several stages, staying at this and that for three months at a time; you learn fast, but you have to move fast. The hours are crazy, but it’s the best way to learn when you’re that young.

I came to Canada after I met my now ex-wife, who came over to southern France for ITHQ, and we travelled back together to Montreal and I’ve been here ever since.

Did you find there were a lot of differences in sentiment and approach, coming from Europe to North America?

Bertrand: It’s funny, I remember I was surprised to just work eight hours; I said ‘you don’t want me to stay?’ In European restaurants, especially in France, it’s normal to work 12 hours. Not anymore now, but that’s the way it used to be, working two services, lunch and dinner. So when I came here it seemed strange to have two teams. That, and the chef was always more of an authority.

I learned a lot by coming here. Here, it is more soft, but not in a bad way. You can talk and propose things openly, but that wasn’t something I could do when I was young. I even had to wash my chef’s car once and I couldn’t question that. It’s nice here, and this is one of the reasons I’m still (in Montreal); I like the ambiance, and it’s a great place to try things. The competition is very fierce in France, and there is competition here, but you can try whatever you want, try and fail, and it’s not as big of a deal if you don’t succeed. Back home, it wasn’t as easy to recover from a mistake, but here it’s much easier to recover.

In France, things can be taken too seriously. Imagine trying to sell Alsatian wine in a Bordeaux restaurant; people would go nuts. I mean, come on, can’t we just enjoy what we have? Sometimes it makes for a narrow point of view… but it’s not that I don’t love France. I love France for vacations, just not for the work (ethic). I don’t envy them, and while I’m glad to have learned the basics there, I’m happier here.

Randall Brodeur

Considering those differences, how do they apply to pastry, if at all?

Bertrand: We don’t have the same kind of customers. In Europe, they’re crazy about pastry, and here it’s not the same. When it comes to European style, I don’t think I would succeed in that; I have to bring something that is (distinctly) Montreal to what I do. I don’t think something that is purely French would work well here. There has to be a mix, and pastry is a little bit of everything for me. It’s little bit of the States, Britain, France; that’s my job, trying to bring in everyone to what I do.

I like to bring a different touch to what I do, but I don’t want to change everything about a classic either. A lemon pie is a lemon pie, you know? What’s good in your mouth is what’s good in your mouth.

Café Bazin will be officially open tomorrow. The café is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. throughout the week, and will be closed on Sundays. Address is 380 Victoria Avenue.

Café Bazin

380 Avenue Victoria, , QC H3Z 2N4 (438) 387-3070 Visit Website