Chez Dre: The Sweetest Spot

Chez Dre: The Sweetest Spot

Melbourne laneway institution Chez Dré has a long-held reputation for wowing locals with French-inspired sweet and savoury delights. However, the café, patisserie and boulangerie has recently welcomed a new offsider, Bibelot, which is putting handcrafted desserts and chocolates firmly back in the spotlight.

For more than four years Chez Dré has been firmly entrenched in South Melbourne’s foodie circles. And it’s easy to see why, with a menu that offers boeuf bourguignon alongside spiced lamb jaffles and ratatouille baked eggs.

However, earlier this month the popular bakery café welcomed a new offsider, Bibelot – which in French means ‘an object of curiosity, rarity or desire’ – that will place its focus primarily on creating fine desserts, petits gateaux, artisan gelato and sorbets and handcrafted chocolates.

Located in the same building and sharing the same production kitchen, Unox ovens and staff, the two businesses are headed up by owner Andrea “Dre” Reiss (pictured below), a chef/patissiere whose reputation precedes her.

After completing a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery at Holmesglen in 2003 Dre initially joined the team at Jaques Reymond’s Arintji before deciding to expand her culinary horizons. A move to London proved the catalyst for her love affair with pastry, with Dre initially accepting a pastry position at the Green House in Mayfair before moving on to the Michelin-starred Hakkasan/Yautcha Group and then the five-star St Regis Hotel, The Lanesborough.

“I worked with some amazing leaders and very talented people. Not celebrity chefs, just people who were really in it for the love of food,” Dre says.

After being headhunted by the Michelin-starred Taillevant restaurant in Paris, Dre relocated once again, working up the ranks for two years before dreams of a simpler life drew her back home to Melbourne.

French Inspired Chez Dré

“I was very lucky to get the job in Paris. It was one of the scariest and most challenging things I’ve ever done. I moved to France without speaking a word of French and was working in a very male-dominated kitchen and industry without any sort of pastry training other than what I’d learned actually being in kitchens,” Dre says.

“But it was the best experience too because it completely opened my eyes about what could be achieved.”

The move back to Australian shores saw Dre initially heading back to basics, creating high quality organic and vegan biscuits that she sold at local farmers’ markets.

“At the same time my business partner Stephen Sam was also looking for a new venture and so we decided to join forces. My vision was to initially open a small café, sell a few cakes every day before packing up and going home – a happy, simple life. But all that changed when the doors opened,” Dre says.

The “small café” was in fact Chez Dré, which since it first opened its doors in 2011 has evolved from a bakery specialising in high quality cakes to a café that could hold its own on Melbourne’s cut-throat breakfast scene.

“The timing was just right. We had a small breakfast menu when we opened and that just grew in to what we have on offer today; not just eggs and sides, but a wide variety of dishes from our brioche french toast to our infamous duck sandwich,” Dre says.

“As we evolved we realised the petits gateaux and macarons were getting somewhat lost in the bussle of Chez Dré, so we decided to put them somewhere where they could shine.”

That place was Bibelot. However, rather than creating a separate but similar offering to that of Chez Dré, Dre and her team decided to go all out, creating an expanded product range as well as a unique concept-to-completion consumer experience.

Chez Dré Owners

From the instant a customer walks through Bibelot’s door, the aim is to engage them in each stage of production, with 6m of showcasing extending the entire shop putting the mouthwatering range of cakes, macarons, bonbons and biscuits on display, while the onsite chocolatier can be watched from the high tea room. What’s more, a library of cookbooks are available for purchase for pastry students or customers wishing to continue their culinary education at home.

“It’s a bit of sensory overload when you first walk in, but at the same time it’s a fantastical sight,” Dre says, adding that where Chez Dré has “that rustic Melbourne feel”, Bibelot has embraced a minimalist European boutique look.

Designed by Breathe architecture, who were also at the helm for Chez Dré’s design, the details include the hand-chipped mosaic tiles in fan and chevron patterns on the walls, which were created by a Melbourne artist, Fabian along with new branding and design elements developed by design studio A Friend of Mine.

“I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like in my mind, but the difficulty was how to express it in design – how could we make it a functional retail space where customers can buy cakes and chocolates but also incorporate a high tea room? It was – Dré general manager Kristen Andrell, who was able to translate the look and feel into what it is,” Dre says.

Additionally, customers can watch the products being handmade through the window of the chocolate room while enjoying a coffee at the standing room only espresso bar, before moving onto sampling a few morsels in the 24-seat high tea room.

“High tea is making a comeback in a very big way! It’s going to be the big thing of 2015. However, we will be offering our high tea with a difference. There won’t be the usual scones and cream, or trying to have a conversation around the tiered stand on the table,” Dre says.

Nevertheless, despite the dedication to creating a complete customer experience, it’s the food on offer that remains Bibelot’s real drawcard.

The majority of the product range has been relocated from Chez Dré to Bibelot, and all the classic favourites such as petits gateaux and macarons have remained, with the addition of biscuits, artisan gelato and chocolate bonbons. Nonetheless, Dre says she and her staff embraced the opportunity to expand on their current repertoire to also include new dessert elements.

“We didn’t want to completely change the menu, so we’ve still got the classics like the green tea cheesecake and hazelnut-praline crunch, which have been on the menu for a while now because they’re so popular,” Dre says.

“One of the more creative and interesting items currently on the menu would be the Strawberry-Basil fraisier, which is a summery dessert but we have been lucky that strawberries are still making an appearance at the markets. It’s made with a basil olive oil biscuit and an orange financier, along with a variety of mousse and jelly layers.“

However, it’s the housemade gelato and sorbets that Dre lists as being her personal favourite.

“Even though it’s winter, Melbournians have a real love affair with gelato. It’s a real learning experience for me to make so many different and interesting flavours,” Dre says.

“We’ve got mandarin and yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit similar to a mandarin crossed with a lemon) sorbet. It is so fresh but really wintry too. That’s one of my favourites. We also have two chocolate fountains so people can pour milk or dark chocolate into their cones.”

Conscious of the fact that relocating the cake range to Bibelot could also potentially leave Chez Dre’s shelves bare, Dre and her team decided the time was also right to introduce an artisanal bread line to Chez Dré. At its helm is the young French baker, Quentin Berthonneau, who Dre says is taking the bakery to new heights.

“We use organic flours where possible and are introducing ancient grains into the breads, such as purple wheat, spelt and puffed quinoa, as well as making all our own seed mixes. We’re just trying to push the boundaries on artisanal craftsmanship,” she says.

“We didn’t want it to feel like we had completely removed sweets from Chez Dre, so we have also developed a line of rustic, yet elegant desserts.”

Describing the new Chez Dré range as “a bit more boulangerie”, and encompassing items such as cakes, tarts and cookies, Dre says the aim was to elevate simplistic desserts into showcase items.

“I know cookies might sound simple, but we are using high quality ingredients and solid craftsmanship,” she says.

“Both Bibelot and Chez Dré are now producing double the amount of products, but the team is truly amazing and has really come on board. They believe in what we’re doing and share the vision of pushing the envelope on pastry and baking in Australia.”

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