Pâtisserie Saint-Epvre

Nancy Passions sucrées

Conversation with Jean-François Adam – Pastry chef

Jean-François Adam was born in Briey just over 60 years ago. His rich professional career spans 44 years, and he has run his own business for almost 37 of them. His shop is just steps from the Saint-Epvre Basilica. He skillfully renewed the recipe for the cake of the same name, created in the late 19th century. He also offers Nancy specialties such as macarons and bergamot confections.

A bit of poet and a bit of a magician, Jean-François Adam smiles as he explains that between becoming a mechanic or a pastry chef, he chose a work environment that’s warm, clean and smells good. Joking aside, when you listen to him, you understand that J.F. Adam loves sharing good things, and that his calling, his childhood dream of being a pastry chef, has always carried him through.

 

NANCY PASSIONS SUCRÉES SPECIALITIES 

  • Saint-Epvre cake
  • Sugar vases
  • Nancy Macarons

“I brought an original recipe back to life, while adapting it to today’s products and tools that have changed since 1882.”

Why did you choose this profession? What was most appealing to you?

I had two possible choices: auto mechanics or pastry-making. I realised very early on that when I was tinkering with cars with my father, I was getting yelled at, it was cold, it wasn’t always pleasant, and we had black hands. Yet, when I was cooking with my mother, it was nice, it smelled good, it was warm, and I had this ability to create and share. At 8 years old, I knew that I wanted to be a pastry chef and that I would have my own shop. I didn’t know what that meant. I knew I would have my name on a shop, I could already see it. I told everyone about it, and people tried to talk me out of it. I didn’t do very well in school, all I wanted to do was to live my dream.

 

How did you learn your skills?

I was lucky to be able to choose a well-known teacher, Mr. Fresson in Jarny, because a teacher and mentor has a strong influence on your future. He really introduced me to the skills and how to master them. Thanks to him, I knew that I would have the right tools to make it far in this profession.

 

How long did it take you to perfect your craft?

Saint-Epvre: a few years. When I took over this shop in 1983, I was given the recipe for the Saint-Epvre. No one showed me how to make it, so I tried to do it on my own, to figure it out and adapt it, but the feedback from customers wasn’t great. I got in touch with the widow of Henry Cuny, a pastry chef who had worked here and who knew the recipe. She gave me this recipe on the condition that I never reveal the secret to the public. Today, I am the sixth holder of this secret recipe. The trademark has been registered for 102 years.

Macaron: it took me the time to understand the products that make up the recipe. Like the Saint-Epvre, you have to listen to the substances, to the products, to make the Macarons. Every pastry chef, like the Macarons des Sœurs, has created their own Macaron recipe. We use organic products and it is up to us to bring them to life. Every day, we adapt our way of cooking to the products. The recipe requires little changes every time you make it, that’s where expertise comes in.

The Ambassadeur: it’s very easy to get the hang of. There’s nothing complex about the recipe except that you have to use the right ingredients: real Lorraine honey and Lorraine mirabelles that I collect myself in an orchard to make the mirabelle compote that goes into the Ambassadeur. This cake was created by the Union of Pastry Experts of Lorraine in 1998, to showcase Lorraine’s heritage throughout the region as well as beyond its borders. A sweet dough bottom is the base, covered with an almond cream and topped with nuts (hazelnuts, pistachios). The cake travels well and can be enjoyed by all ages at any time of day.

Sugar vase: it took two years for the alchemy to come together and create the finished product you see today. The idea was born after I held a demonstration of bergamot casting for the centenary of the Nancy School. My approach combines the techniques of pâte de verre and sculpture. The technical, open nature I add to the work results in something that blurs the lines between glass, pâte de verre and sugar paste. The line is blurry even for me. And I also had to come up with a recipe where the sugar stays white during the process, and where any added colours keep their original hues. I’m the only one who makes sugar vases. There is another pastry chef that makes Nancy’s School vases, but out of chocolate: he’s my brother.

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

You have to adapt constantly. Time, our process, the ingredients: everything can have an influence on the final product.

Saint-Epvre: I brought an original recipe back to life, while adapting it to today’s products and tools that have changed since 1882.

Ambassadeur: for the Ambassadeur, I try to stay true to the idea created by the Pastry Experts. But if you give the same recipe to 10 different pastry chefs, they’ll churn out 10 different products.

Sugar vases: this product is in itself a personal touch, I made my own moulds, in addition to developing the technique.

 

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

Lots of people will line up to get the Saint-Epvre recipe for the business side of things. But the Saint-Epvre cake is part of the cultural and gourmet heritage of Nancy and the Grand Est region, and I couldn’t pass on the recipe or sell the shop to an industrial baker. The person needs to have the same values and calling, with a commitment to this pure, unrivalled product. And I would make sure that it was carried on. For all my recipes, I want to pass them on to a someone who wants to commit to quality and to conserving this heritage.

 

Any tips to share or pass on to non-pastry chefs?

To make an Ambassadeur, you need to use good products and not let the honey burn in the compote so that it mixes well with the mirabelles. For the almond cream, don’t try to make it fluffy, but leave it heavy, which paradoxically gives a lighter result after baking.

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