© Karim Aidi
Nancy Passions Sucrées

Boulangerie Pâtisserie Gwizdak

Conversation with Fabrice Gwizdak – Baker and pastry chef

You could say he was born into baking and pastry-making: his father was an artisan baker from Poland. Fabrice Gwizdak was raised surrounded by the lovely smells of bread ovens, and he always knew that he would make a career out of it. He says of himself, “I have an aptitude for this profession; I’ve done my rounds in lots of different areas: cooking, pastry-making, baking. I needed to understand. And it’s the job for me.” The Gwizdak bakery is on Rue Raugraf, a stone’s throw from the market. Today, it is a not-to-be-missed stop for lovers of bread and pastries that are simple, perfectly made, and generous, including Gâteau Lorrain cake with unrivalled lightness (it’s a cake that travels well and a great choice to bring back home) as well as perfect Visitandines with their barely crunchy edges and soft interior. Fabrice Gwizdak scours flea markets to add to his collection of old iron moulds. “It’s the secret to a perfectly baked pastry. The iron mould is essential for getting just the right crunch in the caramelized sugar outside and the melted texture inside.”

 

NANCY PASSIONS SUCRÉES SPECIALITIES

  • Gâteau Lorrain
  • Nancy Visitandines

“I want Gâteau Lorrain cake to live on. Why not start making it at other bakeries, so that you can get it everywhere.”

 

How did you learn your skills?

In our profession, the most important thing is transmission. Even if you have an aptitude for the trade, there need to be people who are learning. I was lucky enough to learn from great mentors. I worked in famous companies and it forged my path to becoming a craftsman, and to be one of the best today.

 

How long did it take you to perfect your craft?

I worked on the Gâteau Lorrain for a year before truly understanding it. I tested at least fifty recipes before getting it how I wanted: the right dose, taste, texture, conservation and a result that travels well. All this was very important. I didn’t want to put something out there that wasn’t finished, so I took the time that I needed.

The Visitandine is a cake that I got to know by going to the bakeries in Nancy. I was curious about it and, since I like history and gastronomy, I thought that we could do something with this little cake. For more than 10 years now, I’ve been trying to put it in the spotlight and, alongside other bakers, enhance Nancy’s sweet specialties.

 

What has experience taught you? Do you bring a personal touch to your work?

Experience has taught me that when you make a cake, it is never a sure thing. Even today, even though I’ve been using my recipes for a long time, I realise that depending on baking, the combination of ingredients, or the ovens, there is always something that needs to be changed, and that nothing is foolproof. In the future, I’d like to continue to develop the Gâteau Lorraine cake for example. Despite my 53 years of age, I keep on learning.

 

Who do you want to pass on your expertise to? And how do you plan to do it?

The Gâteau Lorrain cake is my creation, and the day I stop working, or when I sell my shop, I want Gâteau Lorrain cake to live on. Why not start making it at other bakeries, so that you can get it everywhere. There’s nothing secret about it. Some have copied it, but none have proven its equal. I don’t want to make the same things as everyone else, I want each of us to have a specialty. For now, it’s my baby and I care about it, but it’s possible that in 20 years we won’t make it anymore or we’ll be on to something else. Maybe a Grand Est cake!

 

Do you have any tips or advice to share?

There are no secrets in this profession. Recipes are one thing, but a skilled hand is another. Here, we have apprentices who come to train and we pass on our know-how to them. You have to enjoy what you’re doing. Making a cake is easy, making a beautiful cake isn’t very complicated. Repeating the movements and tasks, that’s the trick. That’s how you learn.

If you’re at home making Visitandines, you won’t get it right on the first try. You have to know the temperature of your oven. Even if I came to your house to make Visitandines, I’m not sure I could do it. I don’t know your oven or your equipment. I’ll manage to put something together, but it will take me 5 or 6 times to understand how the oven works. That, in fact, is the real trick.

What I like to see is when people are interested in our profession. Even though we’re not surgeons, designers or painters, we are artisans and we have just as much value. I hope that in the future it will mean something. You have to put skilled crafts back on the top of the podium, artisans are good people.

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