A French pastry chef and a Brazilian vegan pastry chef walk into a bar.
This could be the start of an odd food nerd joke, but in actuality, it is the story of the marriage of renowned pastry chef Francois Payard and his lovely and talented wife, Fernanda Capobianco, both of whom currently own and operate their individual bakeries on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
On Monday night, October 27, we had the privilege of watching the couple discuss their individual growth as chefs, how they feel about desserts, how they feel about veganism, and of course, who does the cooking at home, during the dual book launch at the magnanimous Powerhouse Arena in Dumbo. Their playful dynamic was enchanting while Capobianco discussed her debut in print with Vegan Divas Cookbook, and Payard's fourth print release, entitled Payard Desserts.
Prior to moving to New York, Capobianco was a manager and owner of Payard’s restaurant and two cafes in Rio de Janiero, where she hails from. After some time, she sold her stake in the company to come to New York where she noticed a lacking in the proclivity of quality vegan desserts. “Because I do not eat refined sugar, dairy, meat or eggs, my palette is very refined, very sensitive, and it allows me to truly taste everything”, she says. Capobianco took it upon herself to personally expand the market she craved.
Capobianco maintains that there are no rules about the type of person a vegan is; you do not have to be from California or wear Birkenstocks to care deeply about the planet and what you are putting into your body. “The brand of my company is health, food, and fashion, and my goal is to make delicious desserts that taste good and are good for you.”
Payard grew up cooking in Paris kitchens that he says, “are like boot camps” and his New York resume (which ncludes Daniel and Le Bernadin) show that his time spent there was not wasted. Payard spoke to the elements of New York dining that are reflective of the city itself: everything is rushed. While in Paris you pay more for dinner in order to secure a table for the entire evening, in New York you need the table back right away, so your kitchen must be proficient enough to withstand the rapid turnaround, making the cost of labor as well as the quality of ingredients what drives the price tag on New York’s most desirable menus.
Payard spoke about the elements of cooking that are important to him, and it seems that this is the common ground the couple shares: both pride themselves on the fastidiousness of choosing the best and the freshest ingredients. Similarly, both Capobianco and Payard agreed that close mindedness is often the biggest deterrent against trying vegan fare. Payard went as far as to say he would rather “encourage guests to try the dessert before telling them it is vegan, otherwise they will form judgments ahead of time”.
One of the most touching moments of the segment occurred when an audience member posed the question of whether or not they influence each other’s cooking. Capobianco said that Payard’s rigid discipline often encourages her to focus, and her creativity with alternative ingredients helps Payard to exercise restraint in his often traditional French (read: butter) ingredients.
We can’t wait to see what this culinary power couple comes up with next, but if it is anything like the white and black truffle macarons (by Payard) or the decadent vegan chocolate cake (by Capobianco) we’re sure it will be a homerun.