Pushed by the wind!
Aylin Öney Tan - firstname.lastname@example.orgThe first and only time I met Hülya Koç Rousseau in person was swift. We were on our way to Oxford from London, passing from Newington Green. My food writer friend Fuchsia Dunlop asked me to hop out of the car at the corner of a French bakery – obviously her favorite – grab one “Pain au Chocolat” and one plain and one almond croissant and, as she made a detour, be at the same corner to get back into the car as soon as possible. I had to be very quick. I cannot forget the rush of the intoxicating smell that hit me when I stepped into the small place. I was suddenly in another world, a paradise redolent of sweet butter and caramel sugar with a whiff of brewing coffee, which made me want to stay forever. Early in the morning, most of their exquisite patisserie work was not yet on display, but what I saw was more than enough. I remember blabbering a few words to her trying to say that I was also from Turkey and I was a friend of Fuchsia. She looked awkwardly familiar; I was yet to discover why much later.
I never forgot the taste of that “Croissant aux Amandes,” the sublime crescent roll with almond cream and roasted almond flakes. Stopping at the Belle Epoque Patisserie became like a ritual for Fuchsia and me at our yearly pilgrimage to the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. Sometimes we would take our time and have breakfast there, or just grab our favorites to mess Fuchsia’s never-clean-anyway car with flying flakes of buttery pastry. Alas, this happened only every few years, and coincidentally, Hülya, was never there again in our brief visits. Years later, when I was working on my Gaziantep cookery book, my designer Suzan Aral, who was based in the United Kingdom, solved the mystery of my familiarity with Hülya. During our endless working sessions on Skype, I somehow discovered that they were long-time friends; that is also how I discovered why I thought I knew her already. I had been a fan of hers years ago. She was the author of the book “Wind! Push me,” a wonderful memoir about her travels in South America, all the way from up to down and back cross-continent solo on bicycle. She was the first female Turkish cyclist to cross both South America and Africa all alone. It was in South Africa where she found her “kısmet,” in a small Chinese restaurant where she met Eric Rousseau, a French patisserie chef. Both great travelers, they discovered their mutual love for Africa, which led to a love affair. If Hülya was the globetrotting cyclist, Eric was the traveling baker who had worked in Miami, Jamaica, Namibia and South Africa. Wild winds of destiny had brought them together, and eventually they chose a sedentary life and settled in London to open a French-style bakery called Belle Epoque.
Last week I wrote that BIA, the Baking Industry Awards, in Britain were to be announced on Sept. 7 and that Belle Epoque was among the three finalists.
Well, they made it and grabbed the award in the category of Best Craft Business.
It could be Eric’s dream, but Hülya, even in her wildest dreams, would not think of being the business genius behind a French patisserie in London, though she had a food industry background. Eric is the creator chef and patron of the kitchen, but it is their joint team effort that brought them sweet success. They use the best ingredients from top suppliers; every item in their shop is a creation of meticulous effort applying traditional French techniques to achieve the highest quality possible. But there is also this hidden history of their romantic past as a vital ingredient in their victory. When you click on their classic signature cake at Belle Epoque website, you have a glimpse of the pure romance behind their creations. “The chef patron Eric Rousseau created this cake for his wife-to-be 15 years ago. When she opened the box she couldn’t believe how beautiful it was! The rest is history, Hülya and Eric Rousseau are the happy owners of Belle Epoque patisserie! The flavors are classically perfect, an orange-infused crème brûlée is encased in a decadent Valrhona dark chocolate mousse. Textures are very important and Eric uses a crunchy orange streusel, praline and a chocolate sponge to excite the palette. All of this is finished with a shiny chocolate glaze and decorated with crunchy pearls and the cake personal logo. This is the Belle Epoque signature cake.”
They were like those flying flakes of light pastry wandering in round the world and pushed around by the wind; now they are deep-rooted in London, making a big impact in the craft baking business. Destiny sometimes has sweet results!
Bite of the Week
Fork of the Week: If you’re in London, visit either the classic and cozy Newington Green shop, or the stylish Upper Street one, or search for their creations in Selfridge’s food section or cafes, but make sure to try one of Belle Epoque’s products. Soon, exclusively for Amazon Prime customers, they will also be in the London Restaurant delivery scheme.