Janelle De Souza
Few commercial bakers use local products in their desserts, but pastry chef Seline Fouché would like that to change.
So she starts with herself, using citrus and other local fruits to both flavor and adorn some of the creations on her menu.
Fouché, 25, is a certified pastry chef and owner of Panache, The Dessert Bar, which she operates from her home in Tacarigua. She tries to use local fruits as much as possible because she thinks they taste good and are cheaper than foreign fruits, which allows her to charge her customers less.
“People who decorate cakes tend to use more berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries. Why go down this road when we have so much beautiful fruit here? “
So she goes to the market on Saturdays to see which fruit is in season and then finds a way to incorporate it into her recipes. She said they’re generally subtle flavors rather than having a ‘punch’: she incorporated citrus, passion fruit, tamarind, soursop, bananas and, of course, l sorrel in its recipes.
Another thing that sets Fouché desserts apart is that they are not too sweet. She uses less sugar, so she adapted her recipes to boost texture and flavor.
“I try to respond to everyone, and initially a large part of my clientele was made up of seniors. I even have a few diabetic clients. And personally, about three years ago something changed and I realized that I myself cannot eat too many sweets. If it’s too sweet for me, I wouldn’t offer it to my clients.
It is also very particular in decoration. If she has carte blanche, she likes to keep the design “clean”. She also takes the opportunity to use different techniques, push her creative limits and improve her skills.
“If you’re the one sending a design, I like to make sure it looks exactly like the photo you sent. Because I see myself as a customer and when you buy something you wouldn’t want to get something you didn’t order so why give it to others? This is my philosophy.
Fouché has recently started revamping its menus – desserts, sweet and savory pastries, breads and cakes which include pavlovas, macaroons, chocolate mousse, cheesecakes, panna cotta, tiramisu, etc.
She said she made changes to it every six months to a year because she believed change and growth was needed, she loved experimenting with new flavors and techniques, and wanted people to do experience different things. She also intends to start making other types of food in the future.
“I started with cakes because I knew it was the easiest way to enter the market, but I knew I wouldn’t be happy to bake cakes. I know I have so much more to offer, so many different ideas to offer, and I didn’t want to choke on it.
She added that the new menu will be extensive, with many more savory items and new cake flavors, as well as gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free options. She has also planned a whole Christmas menu.
“This, I think, will shock people a bit as to what I plan to offer.”
Fouché’s love for pastry grew alongside his maternal grandmother, who still cooked when her grandchildren visited her during school holidays. This led to her taking food and nutrition classes for her Caribbean Secondary School Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) at Providence Catholic School for Girls.
Between cooking, sport, dance and her academic life, she has always been an active child.
“For CAPE, I was thinking about what to do next, but I didn’t want to dance hard, because I wasn’t too sure about Trinidad and the dance world. At the time it was too unstable. So I said I would try the cooking aspect.
She went to the Institute of Hospitality and Tourism TT and in 2016 obtained her certificate in baking and pastry arts. She then completed a six-month internship at Sandals Antigua, where she fell in love with baking desserts.
“I told them I didn’t want to cook. I am mainly desserts. And they were shocked, because they never had someone who wanted to make desserts on their own.
After returning to TT, she worked in pastry shops, where she gained experience in making savory dishes, running a kitchen, preparing simple dishes and incorporating local ingredients. She also had a small cake business next door and sold in craft markets. She registered this business in 2018 and called it Panache.
At that time, she was doing a part-time Bachelor of Strategic Business Management at the University of Sunderland. In 2020, she decides to quit her job to take full-time classes for her last semester.
Fouché struggled with the decision for about two years, wondering if she should leave a stable job for a company she wasn’t sure would succeed.
“Because I had to quit my job to fully concentrate on school, it made me want to start (Panache). I think I can go back from work to a full time student mode, and yet people kept ordering from me, I thought, “Now is the time to build my brand for myself.”
“Because you live with your parents, people just assume they would help you, but that’s something you have to take responsibility for, because that’s what you want to do, it’s your business. I think I put that pressure on myself, which pushed me to prove that I could do it.
She told WMN at the start that it was extremely difficult to study and try to grow a business during a pandemic, but she was successful. Her loyal customers have supported her, her business has taken off, she passed her exams and hopes to graduate this year.
Her parents help with the business – her mother with the breads and her father with the assembly and packaging. She said at first that they were skeptical about her choice of career.
She wanted to dance, which they all thought was impossible, but she also wanted to get into the food industry which has a lot of ups and downs.
They wanted her to have a stable job from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but they saw her passion for the industry and her unwillingness to give up. They started to get used to the idea when she got her first job in a pastry shop, but it “took a while” for them to accept that she wanted to have her own full-time business.
“Over time, they started to see the passion I have for it. You have to have passion and love it to work 16 hours a day. They said, ‘If that’s what she wants to do, let her do it’, and now they’re my biggest supporters. “
Fouché still pursues her other passion: she dances ballet, jazz, tap dance, modern, contemporary, hip hop, dancehall and pole. She does this with several performing companies and schools, including the Caribbean School of Dance, Metamorphosis Dance Company, Elle NYTT, XO Dance Label, Heeling Queens and Harlow Studios.
“Dancing has been and still is a passion. If you had to separate me, half would go to the food and the other half would go to the dancing. It would be my life.