Chef Loic Duchesne can’t help but smile when talking about macarons, the French dessert that has become so popular in the United States in the past few years.
"I have been making macarons since the 1970s," when he started his three-year pastry apprenticeship near his hometown in France, says Duchesne, who since 2008 has owned Cinnamons Bakery, a cafe in Lincoln Village just off Interstate 35 near Highland Mall.
The delicate treat made with almond powder, powdered sugar and egg whites is now all the rage in both the United States and France, but Duchesne chuckles at the idea that they are considered a "new" trend.
For more than 35 years, Duchesne has eschewed trend-chasing to focus on what classically trained French pastry chefs do best: perfecting the techniques that are the foundation for what many consider the world’s best baked goods and desserts.
Those baking skills would eventually take him around the world, but first, he had to learn English.
"If you’re going to go around the world, you better know English," he says now from the small bakery kitchen in North Austin.
After completing pastry training in France, Duchesne moved to London to work at a four-star hotel under a German chef, who was "a pretty tough cookie," he recalls. After a year of immersion in the language and a hotel kitchen, he knew enough English and knowledge of cooking for hotel guests to get hired with Club Méditerranée, the notoriously luxurious resort company that has locations in almost every corner of the globe.
His first Club Med job took him to Greece, and then every six months after that, he moved to a new location, including Brazil, the Bahamas and Mauritius Island.
"You don’t have time to get bored or establish yourself," he says. "They want you to deal with the customers, not go settle down."
After a few years with Club Med, Duchesne had grown tired of "all the sun, sand and beaches," not to mention all that moving around. After a year baking in Paris, he moved to Florida, where he worked at a five-star hotel near Tampa Bay for the next 25 years. He finally had a chance to settle down, get married and raise a son and a daughter.
When his son moved to Los Angeles and married an Austinite in the mid-2000s, his daughter moved to Round Rock and Duchesne and his wife moved to Austin so that when his son and wife came to visit her family, they could visit Duchesne and his wife, too. He got a job teaching pastry at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts before getting the opportunity to transform an already established bakery in Lincoln Village into his own.
It was at Club Med that Duchesne says he learned one of the most important parts about working in the food and hospitality business: You can’t skimp on the hospitality. "They would tell us, you could have the perfect food, but if you don’t talk to your customers, it’s not perfect.’ ‘
It was a big lesson that customers at Cinnamons will notice he still employs. Duchesne is the one who gets up at 4 a.m. everyday to prepare the cinnamon rolls, croissants and sticky buns, and he’s almost always the one who greets people who come in, no matter if it’s the first customer at 6:30 a.m. who wants to to buy a dozen rolls to share with coworkers or someone who has come in just after the lunch rush to buy the last of the cauliflower Parmesan soup and a turkey club on a croissant.
The bakery name hints at one of Duchesne’s specialties, but he makes far more than cinnamon rolls. "When I first bought the place, people were coming in to get the cinnamon rolls, so I didn’t dare change that part," he says. Over the years, he’s tweaked the menu to find the right balance of products that he’s wildly passionate about making and the items that might not be his favorite but that his customers can’t seem to get enough of.
In addition to sweet baked goods such as turnovers, brownies, sticky buns and those oh-so-popular macarons, he sells soups, salads, smoothies, breakfast and lunch sandwiches and more than half a dozen varieties of hot dogs and sausages, including a popular dough-wrapped Meyer’s sausage from Elgin that, even as a French-trained pastry chef, Duchesne isn’t afraid to call a pig in a blanket
Homemade croissants, especially the chocolate ones and those filled with spinach and gruyere cheese, are a hit at both breakfast and lunch, as well as the Barton Creek Farmers’ Market, where he sells at both Saturday’s Barton Creek Square Mall and the new Sunday market at the nearby Highland Mall.
Duchesne spends most of his time working on items for sale in the bakery, but he also takes specialty orders for custom cakes for special events such as birthdays and weddings, as well as pastries, including éclairs and cream puffs, that aren’t on the everyday menu.
He loves the enthusiasm of Austinites, especially with regard to food. Plus, with thriving universities and businesses, the economy has stayed relatively strong in recent years. ("But it was probably crazy to start a business in an economic crash," he notes.)
Despite the tough economy and long hours, Duchesne says he’s happy where he is. "I have a nice game going here," he says. "You can always make things go right with a bit of persistence. It’s an experience, for sure."