Trained in France and raised in the Bay Area, Pastry Chef Michelle Hernandez uses classical techniques to make the flavors of her native California dance at her fingertips. Her first retail concept, Le Dix-Sept Patisserie, opened in San Francisco’s mission district in October, where Chef Michelle offers botanically-based pastry and confections like nougat, Canelés, and Liege waffles, with oh-so-Californian flavor profiles including taro, black sesame, persimmon, and dragonfruit. Le Dix-Sept also offers custom cake design, similarly steeped in local flavors and inspiration from her Mexican and Guamanian heritage. Matfer Bourgeat USA got a look inside Chef Michelle’s cake making process in our latest Chef Spotlight video.
After many successful pop-ups, wholesale accounts, and partnerships, you’re opening your first brick-and-mortar location. Congratulations! Tell us about the shop.
I’m very excited to finally be opening the pastry shop on 18th street, right in San Francisco’s Mission district. We’re opening among many, many friends in the restaurant industry. It’s a neighborhood full of many talented chefs and bakers.
Tell us about your training. How did you come to be a pastry chef?
I started my training in France. I studied in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu. I always wanted to work in pastry, but I started my training in culinary, and I always wanted to have that culinary background. So I studied both. I did the Grand Diplome, and graduated at the top of my class. I went on to continue to live and work and study in Paris for many years. That’s where I got introduced to Matfer. Part of our kit at Le Cordon Bleu were these great tools that I had never seen before. I still have some of the tools that were in my original kit. They’re great, functional tools, made for Chefs.
You’re particularly well-known for your use of botanical ingredients in your work; making your own natural colorings and flavors out of flowers, herbs, and fruits. What inspires you to do all this work yourself?
At Le Dix-Sept, I’m passionate about using botanicals. That means flowers, teas, cacao, honey. I just love the beautiful and healing properties of using plants in my pastry work. Today we’re using raspberry, rose, strawberries, and Ube. All these things have really bright colors in them, and they’re all natural.
That sort of start-to-finish process with your ingredients seems more common in cuisine than it is in pastry. Does your background in cuisine effect your perspective on ingredients?
I think that’s a really great point in the difference in detail that you find in cuisine, handcrafting your own flavors A-Z, even flavoring your own salts. I think that’s why I have a point of view around that, in pastry, because of my culinary background. I’m able to merge the two. Because there are so many techniques that you learn in cuisine that apply to pastry. When I’m roasting strawberries for a cake, I’m trying to dehydrate them and concentrate the flavors; it’s similar to how I would think about caramelizing onions.
What are some specific things you have to pay attention to when using natural colorings like this? For instance, using strawberries to color and flavor this buttercream?
There’s some chemistry there. You need to not add too much water. If I was to just blend strawberries and incorporate them, there would be too much water, and the buttercream won’t hold, won’t emulsify, and you won’t get a smooth finish. So what I wanted to do was just get the most flavor out while extracting the water. I cut them up and roast them in the oven without adding any sugar. I draw all the moisture out first, and then add the sugar. And you really have watch the sugar content, because as strawberry season progresses, you’ll have different natural sugar content in your fruit.
That sounds like a ton of work! What inspires you to go above-and-beyond with your ingredients like this?
At LeDixSept, I’m going through the process of creating pastry from start to finish, and controlling the flavors through the entire process. I really feel passionate about the fact that I want people to enjoy my pastry every day, and I want to feel good about what I make for people.
You have such a broad array of products you’re known for, from focaccia to nougat to Canelé de Bordeaux. But you’re becoming very well known in the Bay Area for you celebration cakes, with their distinctive botanically based color palates and waterfall designs. What draws you to cake making?
I love making things for people! Really the reason I love cake is because generally, you’re sharing it with people. And I feel super grateful to be creating a cake for important events, like weddings, anniversaries. I love when people keep coming back to me, and that’s what’s really important to me.
Chef Michelle used Matfer Pastry Bags, Pastry Tips, Elveo Spatulas, Spiral Whisk, the famous Nylon Dough Scraper, Offset Spatulas, and Flat Bottomed Mixing Bowls throughout her demo. Click here to find a local Matfer Bourgeat dealer, or shop us online.
Want more cake inspiration from Chef Michelle? Watch her full cake demonstration by signing up for a free four-day pass to the Pastry Arts Magazine Virtual Baking Summit!. Click here to find a local Matfer Bourgeat dealer, or shop us online.