Welcome to a Fork first—a dang interview with a local food person! How'd we do that without divulging our super secret identity? Suffice it to say that we were like "Please don't tell anyone." Fingers crossed that it works—especially since we'll be able to trace it back to the source if word gets out.
Anyway, let's talk macarons. They're those colorful little French cookies that you and everyone you know had no idea existed until just a few years ago when they popped up freaking EVERYWHERE—and then we all acted like we'd always known about them and we'd always loved them and we'd always bought and ate them. Yeah, those cookies. Seems there's a new spot in town called Chainé that focuses specifically on these bad boys, and we reached out to owner/baker Chainé Pena to ask some questions about the noble cookie. Ch-check it out:
Why don’t we remember macarons until a few years ago?
It's so funny, I just had a customer come in and we were chatting about that, how they're at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods now. I don't know where the popularity came from. I don't know if it's because they're inherently gluten-free, or because they're such a beautiful cookie, but I've seen an influx on social media, and I know, for my business, I just started posting pictures of the macarons I made at home for friends and family, and people kept asking me 'Where can I buy these!? Where's your store!?' And then I just asked myself where my store was eventually. I started making them probably about 7 years, and I took a class in France on the macaron about a decade ago.
You always hear it’s a complex cookie to make. Is that true?
It is. They're really finicky, they're kind of ridiculous, but I think that's why I love them so much. They take a lot of precision and a lot of patience and a really nice, delicate intricate touch. For me, with my convection oven, it'll take me about 3 hours start to finish to make a batch of 100. That's because I make each one of my fillings and everything from scratch. One of the most fascinating things about them is you can pack a punch of some other elaborate dessert into this one little cookie.
What sets them apart from other cookies?
I think it's an unexpected textural and flavor thing. They look sort of unassuming from the outside, and then you take a bite and there's this whole world inside. Texturally, they have an eggshell-like exterior, and the inside has this beautiful, chewy and really luscious center. I think it's a bit of a surprise for people, and a lot of my customers have only had macaroons with 2 Os—then they try their first French macaron and I see their eyes open with surprise. I think that's part of the whole allure.
Why did you choose the macaron as your focus?
My background is in two very different worlds: I was a yoga instructor for about 10 years, and prior to that I did makeup for film and TV, special effects, mostly. [Making macarons] is part of a very mindful, slowed-down meditative process that I love. Each and every shell is hand piped and has to be done just right, and my art background, as far as sculpting and special effects goes, kind of applied in this interesting way.
Is there anything else we really need to know about the noble macaron?
I guess mostly not to write them off because they're gluten-free. A lot of people think it's going to taste like a cardboard box, I myself didn't set out to make a gluten-free cookie, and the meringue base and almond flour lend themselves to the most beautiful texture. Don't judge a book by its cover.
Find Chainé at 131 W Water St. or email@example.com
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