By Denise DePaolo
CH Patisserie is known for its decadent desserts, pastries, and other sweet, colorful confections. The eatery is now offering brunch Friday through Sunday. Featured in 605’s January issue, brunch is a menu addition owners Chris and Caryn Hanmer have been hoping to make since opening in 2013. The Hanmers have other plans, too, but like most decisions concerning the patisserie, they are careful to not bite off more than they can chew.
Top Chef Just Desserts Season 2 winner Chris tells us about his culinary beginnings and why downtown Sioux Falls is the right place to continue the journey.
Your business is unique in downtown Sioux Falls. How have people responded?
CH: We really believe people in Sioux Falls were ready for this. It’s been amazing. From the opening until yesterday, people hand us money and say, ‘Thank you.’ As the business owner, I’m supposed to be the one saying, ‘Thank you for coming.’ It’s crazy.
Did you feel like opening this type of business was a gamble?
CH: Any time you open a business it’s a gamble, whether it’s a gas station or a European-inspired patisserie in Sioux Falls. I’ve been thinking about that a lot over the past two years. What it boils down to is that what I do and what we believe in is making high quality, impeccably high standard food for people. It’s not so much about where you’re at. Those people are here. I’m not necessarily making dessert for Sioux Falls, I’m making dessert for people.
Do you find that people get intimidated by the concept?
CH: Our name is French, but we make a lot of effort to explain things and make people feel welcome. We don’t come in and say, ‘Oh, it’s only Sioux Falls.’ We say, ‘This is the experience people want to have.’ We really cater to the people. It’s been a great reception for us.
You have family connections in Sioux Falls, right?
CH: My wife is originally from Sioux Falls, but that was honestly a small portion of why we decided to come here. It was probably 75 percent for the business, because we really believed the city was ready for something like this. We moved from Las Vegas, where unemployment was 15 percent and the housing market was just…done. We moved to a community that, even through the recession, had single digit unemployment. It was like, ‘We’re going to Sioux Falls, and there’s family there.’ It was a bonus for us.
How did you start cooking?
CH: It started when a chef moved in next door to me. I had a paper route at the time. He had a son about my age and we became friends. I started working at the country club for him, and just kind of grew from peeling potatoes and doing prep work and trying not to get in trouble to working the hot line and doing things like that. Then, I started doing dessert. The chef would teach me little things, and once I started doing that, I was hooked. This is absolutely what I wanted to do. I went to culinary school and started working at a Ritz-Carlton. Once I started at Ritz-Carlton, I saw what the epitome of food and service was. That was a great training ground.
Desserts seem to be intimidating for a lot of chefs. How did you realize it was your niche?
CH: It really spoke to my personality. When you do dessert, it’s an art and a science. It really is. If you’re making a salad or cooking a steak, there’s different points throughout the process that you can check it. It needs more salt, less salt, add water, add stock. With a chocolate cake, once it’s in the oven, I can’t add more chocolate. There’s just something about my personality that appeals to making it perfect every single time.
And I think that the misconception about pastry is it’s so creative. It is, and that’s a large part of it, but what you have to love even more than being creative is you have to love repetition. You have to. If you don’t get fulfillment from doing the same thing perfectly every single day, it’s not the right job for you. That’s where the person who starts a restaurant or a bakery without having professional experience, that where the discrepancies come in a little bit. They say, ‘I do cakes at home and it’s been fun and people love them, but I can’t keep the consistency and repetition and over time.’ It becomes old.
The dropout rate of culinary students who actually last in the industry is quite a bit lower than you would think. They go to school, they do it a couple of times, but then they start in a restaurant and the chef says, ‘You’re going to do this today and tomorrow and the next day after that.’
What do you like to cook at home?
CH: It’s really simple. We do chicken cutlets in panko, then fry it up with roasted broccoli. My wife and I could eat that three nights a week. It’s so simple.
A lot of my chef friends who work in really nice restaurants, when we go and eat, it’s much more simple than the place where we cook oftentimes. Working at Ritz-Carlton, I’ve had so much filet mignon over my life. When you’re doing banquets, you make 10 percent extra. So they’d come back and you’d open the hot box and be like “Ugh…filet again. Really?” So I don’t often order that. I like simple, clean flavors. But when we go out, we like to experience dining, of course.
Where do you like to go out to eat in Sioux Falls?
CH: In town, I think M.B. Haskett’s does a great job. Mike has his new concept, which is great. His restaurant is one of our go-to places. His quiche is really good, and you could bottle his salad dressing. It’s so good.
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure food?
CH: I think it’s probably candy. Little Snickers bars and Halloween candy. Not so much the gum drops and stuff, but my number one thing is Haribo, the gummy company out of Germany. They do gummy Coke bottles. I could eat, like, a pound of those. You can’t get them many places, but they’re the one thing that if I see, I have to have them. Those and Snickers bars. That’s why our candy bar macaron is a Snickers bar.
Let’s talk about your macarons. They’re literally the first thing you see when you walk in.
CH: We have 10 to 12 flavors all the time. We don’t rotate out flavors daily or weekly. I really like to have a full menu all the time. The fun thing about macarons is you can be as playful or serious as you want. We like to have fun with the color. Our iced coffee macaron is purple. Why? I don’t know. We didn’t have a purple one and I like the color. It’s my daughter’s favorite color. It seemed to make sense. The fun is you can keep reinventing them.
Starting this month, we’re going to have a flavor of the month. There’s flavors I’ve wanted to do that we haven’t done yet. Nutella will be coming out sometime this year. I want to do a chai tea and a mint chocolate chip. They’re going to make it on sometime. I don’t know when yet. I want them to be relevant to the season.
How did Top Chef impact you as a chef?
CH: I think that Top Chef, when you’re going through it, it’s much different than when you watch it on TV. When you’re doing a quick fire or elimination challenge, in TV viewership, we wait another week until the next show. When you’re going through it in real life, that next episode is tomorrow. I think that’s the part you don’t realize as a viewer, how a chef could be really good for three weeks in a row, then be on the bottom the next week. In reality, that was like three days.
It didn’t really change much of my perspective. It’s not like this where you’re working every day. I’ve never walked into a shop or hotel and said, ‘Today, you’re to make a pie with one hand!’ Nothing can get you ready for that. I’ve walked into a place and realized we’d lost power, ‘Now what are we going to do?’ Or someone called in sick, not, ‘Put an oven mitt on and work with one hand.’
I think overall, it gives you experience for things that are outside your comfort zone. Being a pastry chef, as a group, we’re very methodical, very planned out. Very meticulous. So a lot of my peers, we’re very similar people. For a pastry chef to constantly have all those monkey wrenches tossed in, it wasn’t comfortable, but it definitely helped you build experience in life. Like, ‘If we can do that, we can make it work here.’
It makes you want to ask, ‘How do you come up with these ideas to torture chefs?’ But that’s what makes good TV. It was really fun for me professionally to be in a room with 16 people to start, then have a challenge and then see what everybody else does. As a professional, I was like, ‘I’ve never thought of that,’ or, ‘That looks really good, how did you do it in 30 minutes?’ Then you talk about it. That was professionally fun, if you can step out of the stress. It’s fun having 15 or 16 different personalities attacking the same problem.
I still like and watch the show.
Which challenge were you the proudest to pull off?
CH: I think aside from the finale and having to do so much, I think the challenge that was the elimination to get into the finale was the hardest for us all. We had to make dessert look like hot food. You had to draw a country and then pick an entrée from that country and make it look like it, but taste like dessert. That was the most challenging one, and the one where I was most happy with the outcome.
I made a beef wellington. Beef wellington is a filet wrapped in puff pastry and baked. I had to bake puff pastry in a ring mold, hollow it out, put that over mousse, then when you cut into that, it was pink on the inside – a pink mousse-like cream, then raspberry jam in the middle. I did a white chocolate puree that looked like potato puree and caramel sauce that looked like a demi-glace. I was pretty proud of that, because it got me to the finale. But it was really frustrating at the time.
Now that you’ve launched brunch (click here for details), what are your other plans for CH Patisserie?
CH: Total world domination. That’s coming. Also, ice cream is something we want to do. When that’s going to happen, I don’t know. That’s a more long-term goal, since the equipment and space for that is significant. Ice cream is fascinating. It takes precise equipment to do it well. More short term, we’re going to see where things go this next year and keep adding what we can.
CH Patisserie is located at 309 S. Phillips Ave. in downtown Sioux Falls. For more info, click here or call (605) 275-0090.