The egg, says Montreal pastry chef Patrice Demers, is a mysterious and magical thing.
“It’s difficult for me to imagine my work without eggs,” says Demers, who runs Patrice Pâtissier, a pastry shop and restaurant in Montreal’s trendy Griffintown area—and still finds time to write cookbooks and appear on his own TV show.
Demers says he is fascinated by all the things an egg can do. “What’s interesting with eggs is that they are easy to use, but the more you know about them, the greater the possibilities that open up before you,” he says.
The egg is one of the main ingredients in cakes and pastries. Demers says the magic really starts when you separate the white from the yolk.
Whipped up, the egg whites become light and airy, and can be baked into meringues or folded into batter to lighten the texture. The yolk, meanwhile, is the key ingredient in the custard cream that is one of the pastry chef’s essentials.
And that’s only part of it, he says, explaining that his restaurant’s brunch menu explores the possibilities of the soft-boiled egg, with its firm white and liquid yolk.
“You get two different textures within a single food!” he enthuses. “It’s almost a miracle of nature when you think about it. That contrast of textures is something we often try to reproduce in cooking—the liquid centre and the firm exterior. There’s an element of surprise when you encounter it.
“Maybe that’s why I like eggs. The possibilities are endless. You can always develop new recipes; you are limited only by your imagination.”
On his very first day as a psychology student at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Patrice Demers was overcome by the overwhelming feeling that something wasn’t right. So he quit and enrolled in cooking school. The school year had already started and some courses were filled, so he ended up studying pastry-making because that’s where there was room. And he’s never looked back.
“From the first day I set foot in a professional kitchen—from the first hours!—I knew I was in the right place,” he says.
His parents, both teachers, were surprised by his choice of career—but once they saw how passionate he was, they backed him. He grew up fascinated by cooking shows on television and as a student he devoured cookbooks when he felt he wanted more than his courses were giving him. (“I’m very curious,” he says.) He routinely works 70 hours a week, and when he’s not working he plans his holidays around foodie destinations, focusing on trips to restaurants and farmers markets.
Demers is also keenly interested in food and social issues, and is a spokesman for La Tablée des Chefs, a group that helps feed needy families and educate people about food issues.
He is eager to share his passion by teaching people about food and cooking, and his restaurant offers courses in pastry-making. He says he wants to demystify pastry-making, and so he spends a lot of time in those courses talking about egg whites. His secrets for whipping up perfect egg whites?
Bring the egg whites to room temperature, add a touch of acid like cream of tartar and don’t whip them at high speed; a lower speed is better.
Sugar, he says, helps keep beaten egg whites stable, so if you’re not using sugar—in a soufflé for example—beat the egg whites at the very last minute. Even though he is a pastry chef, Demers himself does not have a sweet tooth.
His favourite way to eat eggs?
“I am a fan of the classic French omelette,” he says. “There’s not a single weekend when I don’t make myself an omelette on my day off.”
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