It's not everyday that you meet someone whose resume boasts having been the personal chef of Katherine Jackson (Yes, that'd be the King of Pop's mother) and serving the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Sharon Stone. But if you meet French-native Sylvain Rivet, who came to Charlotte four years ago and opened up Renaissance Patisserie earlier this year, you'll have met someone with that celebrity cooking skill set.
When Rivet arrived to the Q.C. he was quick to start making pastries for Gastonia Farmers' Market. After a growing clientele and frequent questions like "Where is your shop?" Rivet opened his Parisian-style shop, located in a small shopping strip off of South Boulevard. A bright yellow wall with a painted chandelier welcomes visitors, but the more luxurious draw of the interior comes in the glass case. It's filled with pastries, croissants, tarts and macaroons and other French specialties that are harder to identify by name.
The shop's signature item are the eclairs, which vary from week to week. Jars with other goodies sit on top of the counter, along with a photo of Chef Rivet with Winfrey. Proud, yet humble from his experiences in Los Angeles, Rivet stresses the importance of cooking with you're A-game all the time and no matter who it's for. "You never know for who you're cooking. It could be a celebrity star, but no matter who you cook for, you need to be yourself and cook with your heart."
Creative Loafing: What do you think led you to becoming a chef?
Sylvain Rivet: My brother and I would always go to the market with my mother. She taught me how to shop and to buy the best. She would say, 'It may be more expensive, but don't buy this kind of tomato, buy this one.' I knew when I was four years old what was the difference between cauliflower and broccoli and I remember when my mother was cooking different meals. Having a meal was always an important time in France. I never saw my mother or father eat junk food. We just grew up like that. We didn't have McDonald's.
Are you planning any special fall-themed pastries?
I'll do some things with pumpkins, chestnuts and apples. The more we approach the holidays, the more I'll work with nuts. I'll be making the French version tart of the American pecan pie. I want to be creative and make my customers happy. For example, I've had a lot of requests for pumpkin/apple cider macaroons. If you want to be successful you need to try some different things.
Any funny stories from the farmers market?
I had a customer who asked me "Is this a real chocolate éclair? Because I'm from New York and I know what a real chocolate éclair is." I said 'Yes, it's a real chocolate éclair.' That night, I went home and asked my wife 'What is a fake chocolate éclair?' because I didn't know.' She said I could go to any grocery store, buy one and I'd see. So, I did that and trust me, now I know what a "fake chocolate éclair" is. When a customer knows your product and knows what you're selling, they'll trust you but before that it's a lot of work. I like to educate my customers as much as I can.