Few commercial bakers use local produce in their desserts, but pastry chef Seline Fouché would like to see that change.
So she's starting with herself, using citrus and other local fruits to both flavour 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 Tacarigua home. She tries to use local fruit as much as possible because she believes it looks and tastes good, and is cheaper than foreign fruit, allowing her to charge her customers less.
“People who decorate cakes tend to go with more of the berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries. Why go that route when we have so many beautiful fruits here?”
So she goes to the market on Saturdays to see which fruit is in season and then figures out a way to incorporate it into her recipes. She said they are usually subtle flavours rather than having a “punch”: she's incorporated citrus fruits, passion fruit, tamarind, soursop, bananas, and, of course, sorrel in her recipes.
Another thing that makes Fouché’s desserts stand out is that they are not too sweet. She uses less sugar, so she has adapted her recipes to boost the texture and flavours.
“I try to cater to everybody, and initially a lot of my clientele were mature to older people. I even have a few clients that are diabetic. And personally, about three years ago, something changed and I realised I myself can’t eat too many sweets. If it’s too sweet for me, I wouldn’t put it out for my customers.”
She is also very particular when decorating. If she has free rein, she likes to keep the design “clean.” She also uses the opportunity to use different techniques, push her creative boundaries, and improve on her skills.
“If it is you send a design, I like to make sure that it looks exactly like the picture you sent. Because I consider myself a customer and when you buy something, you wouldn’t want to get something you didn’t order, so why give it to others? That’s my philosophy.”
Fouché recently started revamping her menus – desserts, sweet and savoury pastries, breads, and cakes which include pavlovas, macarons, chocolate mousse, cheesecakes, panna cotta, tiramisu, and more.
She said she makes changes to them every six months to a year because she feels change and growth are necessary, loves experimenting with new flavours and techniques, and she wants people to experience different things. She also intends to start making other kinds of food in the future.
“I started with cakes because I knew it was the easiest way to get into the market, but I knew I would not be happy just doing cakes. I know I have so much more to offer, so many different ideas to put out there, and I didn’t want to stifle myself.”
She added that the new menu will be large, with many more savoury items and new cake flavours, as well as gluten-, sugar-, and dairy-free options. She has also planned an entire Christmas menu.
“That, I think, will shock people a bit as to what I plan to offer.”
Fouché’s love for baking was developed by the side of her maternal grandmother, who always baked when her grandchildren visited during school vacations. It led her to do food and nutrition for both her Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) at Providence Girls’ Catholic School.
Between cooking, sports, dance, and her academic life, she was always an active child.
“For CAPE, I was considering what to do next, but I didn’t want to do dance fully, 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 baking aspect.”
She went to the TT Hospitality and Tourism Institute and in 2016 earned her certificate in baking and pastry arts. She then did a six-month internship at Sandals Antigua, where she fell in love with dessert-making.
“I told them I don’t want to be cooking. I’m mainly desserts. And they were shocked, because they never had anyone who wanted to do desserts alone.”
After returning to TT, she worked at patisseries, where she got experience making savoury food, managing a kitchen, making simple dishes and incorporating local ingredients. She also had a small cake business on the side and would sell at artisan markets. She registered that business in 2018 and called it Panache.
Around that time, she was doing a bachelor’s degree in strategic business management part-time at the University of Sunderland. In 2020, she decided to leave her job to go to classes full-time for her last semester.
Fouché has battled with the decision for about two years, wondering if she should leave a stable job for a venture she was not sure would succeed.
“Because I had to leave my job to fully focus on school, that gave me the push to start (Panache). I think being able to go from working back into a full-time student mode, and still, people kept ordering from me, I thought, ‘This is the time to develop my brand for myself.’
“Because you live with your parents, people just assume they would help you, but it’s something you have to take upon yourself, because it’s what you want to do, it’s your business. I think I put that pressure on myself, which gave me the push to prove that I could do this.”
She told WMN at first it was extremely difficult, studying and trying to develop a business during a pandemic, but she pushed through. Her loyal customers supported her, her business took off, she passed her exams and hopes to graduate this year.
Her parents do help with the business – her mother with the breads and her father with assembly and packaging. She said in the beginning, they were sceptical about her career choice.
She wanted to do dance, which they all believed was not feasible, but she also wanted to go into the food industry which has many highs and lows.
They wanted her to have a stable 8 am-4 pm job, but they saw her passion for the industry and her refusal to give up. They started warming up to the idea when she got her first job at a patisserie, but it “took them a while” to accept her wanting 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 if you’re going to work for 16 hours a day. They said, ‘If this is what she wants to do, let her do it,’ and now they are my biggest supporters.”
Fouché still keeps up with her other passion: she dances ballet, jazz, tap, modern, contemporary, hip hop, dancehall, and pole. She does so 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.
“Dance has been and still is a passion. If you had to split me, half would go to food and half would go to dance. That would be my life.”