Sit down with pastry chef Bertrand Bazin (the namesake of new-ish Westmount casual haunt Café Bazin) and it’s easy to see how the Victoria Avenue spot became a favourite in the area since opening last summer. But despite its sleek interior and the café’s connection with big name chef Antonio Park, popularity wasn’t a guarantee from the get-go.
“When we first opened, people didn’t really know what to make of this place,” Bazin admits.
It’s little surprise: Café Bazin’s team has opted not to pigeonhole the venue into a single specialty, instead operating as a combination pastry shop, bistro, workspace, and boutique of sorts. Yet it’s doing a little of everything (but doing it well) that may have helped Bazin nab Eater’s 2017 award for affordable restaurant of the year.
“You can come in at 8 a.m. for a croissant, chill for lunch, or come by mid-afternoon for bites and a glass of wine,” Bazin describes, “At the same time you can have chia and pâté, which is kind of weird for some, but for me it’s logical.”
At a time when many places are choosing to hyper-specialize, making only cupcakes or macarons, Bazin sees the benefit of offering a variety of experiences for a heterogenous set of diners.
“I think we fill a niche. I didn’t want to do just one thing. For me it’s natural to do everything, and other places in the area aren’t offering that.”
The diversity isn’t just for the benefit of Café Bazin’s patrons though; Bazin notes that it keeps things interesting for him and his staff.
“For me personally it would be boring [to stick to only one specialty],” he says.
Having the flexibility to continuously test new recipes and ideas, is simultaneously exciting and terrifying, Bazin concedes — but it’s also a source of professional development.
“It’s the way that you respond to problems that makes you better. If you panic every time something goes wrong, it’s not going to go well.”
It’s this mentality of learning through mistakes that has built up some of Bazin’s signature dishes at the restaurant. His spinach quiche, which takes up to four hours of work from start to finish, is not what he would describe as a “wow dish of the year” — yet people keep coming back for it. According to Bazin, the secret is to cook it low and slow, creating a savoury custard of sorts, rather then the more scrambled egg consistency of an omelette or frittata.
The savoury side of Bazin’s menu is bistro style, but the chef is committed to still having a “pastry touch” — and with that bistro element running smoothly nine months after opening, Bazin talks about building up the sweet options as his next order of business. What exactly this will entail is not set in stone, but stay tuned for more European desserts that evoke some nostalgic flavours.
“When I’ve asked people what their favourite desserts are, 90 percent of the time they say something made by their mother or grandmother, never something from a shop or restaurant,” says Bazin.
“We can’t compete with mothers and grandmothers, but we have to try and get as close as possible.”
As for Café Bazin’s success thus far, Bazin doesn’t want to take it for granted.
“We’ve been watched by everyone now, especially with Instagram, everyone is a journalist. Now more than ever, every day you have to wake up and prove yourself.”