CHEF CATHERINE MERA
I see pastry as a way to express one’s character. Mine is about daring, being creative, and searching for truer tastes.
After working for luxury hotels & restaurants abroad, I opened my own pastry shop in July 2019 in Baie-Saint-Paul (QC), Canada. I now run two shops in Baie-Saint-Paul and Quebec City.
Pastry aside, I like to travel, to get lost in nature, and to draw inspiration from random moments of happiness.
What inspired you to enter the world of pastry?
I always had a connection with pastry and fine food in general. In my family, mealtimes were synonymous with a moment to share and enjoy. My grandmother and mother were some « cordons bleus » so I naturally had a high opinion about cooking. Pastry became my territory for its sweet, arty connections.
Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
For pro tips and overall philosophy, I look up to famous pastry Chefs around the world: Pierre Hermé, Jordi Roca, Christophe Felder, and Claire Heitzler… Lots of ideas also come from my team and random daily wonders, such as a forest walk, a trip or a lunch! Pastry is also a field for experimentation so I like to explore new products and tastes, to offer something that cannot be seen anywhere else. I want to put my own character in each of my creations.
Who in your life has been the biggest mentor/inspiration in your career?
Initially, I don’t come from the restaurant or catering industry. So my first mentors were all the people who believed in me, and showed me the way forward even before I discovered my passion. They made me the one that I am now.
But as far as the pastry environment is concerned, it would probably be Pierre Hermé. I always loved macarons and it’s been the first creation I ever sold, back when my company was small. It became one of my top-selling products, supported by great customer feedback. It allowed me to think big. Mostly about him, I like his concept of « architecture of taste » as a good method of building a great dessert, both for the textures & flavors association.
How is your team responding to the new realities of the world during and eventually post-COVID-19?
Good sourcing has always been a top priority for us, a way to make the best from the best. We prioritize local producers (fruit, raw materials, packaging) and whenever unavailable at a local scale, the most reliable or top-quality ones (pastry molds, teas, chocolate). It’s a good way to support our local economy while offering something that is different from our competitors.
What Social Responsibility/Community initiative are you the proudest of taking part in?
We work with a Foundation related to our city hospital, offering desserts and designing special creations for charity events. For a similar purpose, when some of our products remain unsold, we give them to a local community center. Our goal is to help people suffering from diseases, but also loneliness, and to make our craftsmanship come to the ones that can’t come to our craftsmanship.
Obviously, it is not much compared with the difficulties these people come through, but we hope it can make their days more enjoyable and give them hope for the future.
What are your hopes for the future of the world of food and pastry?
I have plenty! More responsibility regarding sourcing (local producers, fair trade), respect of special diets (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free…), reduced and/or recyclable packaging...
I also feel that people are more and more attracted to ‘truer’ tastes, turning away from overgrown fruit & vegetables, synthetic flavors, etc. and I do hope this will go on forever. As a professional Chef and —more importantly— as a woman, I also hope that female pastry Chefs will be more under the spotlight in the near future and that it will empower girls working in the food industry around the world.
What should the role of the food/pastry industry be in the community? The world? The environment?
It’s hard to give only one answer to this question! The food and pastry industry is part of people’s everyday life, so it has a true potential to lead the way. There are a wide range of fields in which it can be key: environment (e.g. by using bio or ethical producers), education (e.g. by promoting healthy diets or a « good food » education), economy (e.g. by prioritizing local suppliers), even social relationships (e.g. by starting food workshops, or online communities sharing recipes and tricks...)! There is a lot of room for positive initiatives.
What is your earliest dessert memory?
That has to be a brioche slice with homemade honey (from Jura) which was crafted by my grandmother’s family. I don’t know if this is the earliest, but this is undoubtedly the most memorable. It was simple, traditional, yet lovingly and knowingly made. Even now, it brings me back to my childhood like Proust’s madeleine!
If you could pass one bit of insight down to a chef just getting their start, what would it be?
Probably four words: give it a shot. Just try, experiment, and make something that is your own! Believing in yourself may be the most difficult part when you start, but your passion for it will take everyone in!
What is your favorite perk of the Cercle V program?
To me, the main benefit is that it allows you to attend courses crafted by the Valrhona School in Brooklyn (NY). Pastry is all about playing, but also all about learning all over again, so these classes are an opportunity to discover new tricks & products and to find inspiration.
When & how did you hear about Valrhona for the first time? / When & how did your “relationship” with Valrhona start?
I first discovered Valrhona during my training at ENSP Yssingeaux, the school of Yves Thuriès & Alain Ducasse. After learning the ropes with Valrhona products, I chose to work with Valrhona for my own pastry shop, in Baie-Saint-Paul, QC, Canada. We started the partnership in the spring of 2020.
Cat (as a diminutive of my first name, Catherine).
Celsius or Fahrenheit?
Celsius (I’m French).
Favorite Valrhona Chocolate?
Tulakalum 75% for its tangy taste, and Manjari 64% for its notes of raspberry. Special mention to Opalys which made me love white chocolate.
I was lucky enough to travel a lot, and I don’t think I have a favorite restaurant. I like the ones that offer fresh products, strong tastes, and some character. It can be a Spanish restaurant offering a delicious paëlla with fresh shrimps, a typically-French « bouchon » near Lyon, a Greek tavern with meals to share, or all of these places in Charlevoix where our local products are exceptionally transformed.
Favorite flavor pairing with chocolate?
I love chocolate without any pairing! The way you can craft it makes every sort of chocolate a different, unique experience. But if I had to give an answer, I’d say raspberry!
Coffee or Tea?
Definitely tea, green, or rooibos.
Does cheese count?
Favorite kitchen tool?
A scale. Pastry requires quite some precision and care.
Who do you follow on social media?
Pastry Chefs who inspire me in everyday life, near my place like Patrice Demers, or far away like Jordi Roca. All the ones that give me emotions.
Favorite type of dessert to make?
To eat, a very traditional dessert: the chocolate « religieuse »… it means « nun » or « sister » in French, but I did not find any translation! I like simple, but well-executed desserts.
As for my favorite creation to make, let’s say everything that is new… So, probably the next one 😉