Simone Faure snaps a pair of clear plastic gloves onto her hands and gets to work before sunrise on a Sunday morning. Dozens of macaron halves are lined up on a baking sheet before her, their chilled, delicate skins ready for a dollop of the filling she’d just mixed up. With a spatula, Faure scoops the sticky substance into a piping bag. Today, the flavor is Earl Grey tea; tomorrow, it may be lemon raspberry or salted caramel. With precision, Faure gently squeezes the filling through the bag and onto a parchment-colored cookie half before nestling another on top to form a sweet sandwich.
This, she says, is her favorite time at La Patisserie Chouquette, her bakery in the Botanical Heights neighborhood of St. Louis.
“I’m alone. There’s no one else in the kitchen,” Faure says. “The moment my key goes into the lock, I’m in that dark space where every oven is mine, every table is mine. I have the freedom to mess up if I want to or need to.”
All Faure wants to do is bake, she says with conviction. Treating each creation like it’s a work of art, Faure concocts everything from soaring wedding cake towers to triple-chocolate croissants to buttery Madeleines. Each item is sculptural in one way or another, with layers of frosting, flowers and candy playing off of and into each other. It’s delicious art that has inspired thousands of Instagram photos from customers who weren’t prepared for what would spring from Faure’s mind but were delighted with the results.
“The thing about wedding cakes that I love so much is that it’s a blank canvas. When a couple walks into a room and they see that cake for the first time, it’s the only thing of their wedding that they haven’t planned. I want you to have one moment where your breath is taken away,” Faure says. “I like trying to incorporate a person’s interests or even my interests into the finished product because I feel like everything should have a story.”
Faure’s own pastry story began with after-church treats in New Orleans, where she grew up. With 50 cents in her small pocket, Faure regularly visited a nearby penny-candy store.
“Behind the counter was the nicest man — Mr. Henry,” Simone Faure recalls. “My favorite thing from his case where his glazed donuts. They were like clouds.”
Those puffs of dough helped Faure fall in love with pastry, putting her on a path to becoming an award-winning pastry chef and opening the French-inspired La Patisserie Chouquette in St. Louis. But it’s the macaron, not the doughnut, that has become her signature piece. A rainbow of the cookie “sandwiches” entices customers to taste savory flavors like goat cheese with black pepper as well as whimsical concoctions based on children’s breakfast cereals.
“If you’re a French bakery, you kind of have to have macarons. But in all honesty, I never expected macarons to take off in St Louis the way that it did. It has its own life,” Faure says. “These two little sides of a cookie filled with possibility — it could be anything. And being in a city that loves the idea of French culture and offering things that you don’t have to go to France to get is wonderful because it’s embraced easily enough.”
St. Louisans certainly are embracing Faure’s macarons, if National Macaron Day is any indication. The bakery’s annual March event attracts an hours-long line of customers that typically stretches well down Tower Grove Avenue. The crowd doesn’t mind the wait, though, because inside the shop, Faure’s cases are filled with 50 macaron flavors, including many that are available only during that special occasion. And Faure ensures that St. Louis gets its due through macarons that feature local staples like gooey buttercake, Red Hot Riplets and the beer, popcorn and pretzels that one would find in Busch Stadium.
Since Faure opened La Patisserie Chouquette in 2013, the city has embraced her pastry magic. Likewise, she’s found ways to embrace St. Louis.
“St. Louis is such a small town — it’s this big little town. And so for a town this size, there’s a wealth of restaurant and culinary history,” Faure says. “We are big supporters of what people are doing locally. And I think it’s really important because great news for one bakery or accolades for one restaurant means that we all share in that spotlight.”
That spotlight extends to Botanical Heights, where La Patisserie Chouquette joins Union Loafers Cafe, Nixta, Olio and Elaia in developing a neighborhood with diverse dishes that have been lauded locally and nationally. A decade ago, the district was fairly quiet, but restaurateur Ben Poremba, Faure and others saw its potential.
“We were ready for something new, and I came over to the neighborhood to see it and loved the building. It was just this blank slate,” Faure recalls. “There was this quiet about the neighborhood. The school next door did not exist yet. These houses on the street weren’t finished yet. There were no restaurants open, and it was electric. And I said, ‘I think things are going to happen here.’”
With more more and more businesses planting roots in the neighborhood, Botanical Heights now sees regular foot traffic from shop to shop. That collaborative ecosystem is something Faure treasures.
“What I have noticed is that it’s a very proud neighborhood. People who live in the neighborhood are proud of the fact that they stuck it out and are able to come and really help small businesses,” Faure says. “They want to shop in the neighborhood. They want to have options. And we’ve managed to build this family where everybody relies on each other.”
“It’s like a parade of people,” Faure continues. “And it’s a wonderful thing.”