Alessandra Altieri solidified her passion for baking desserts at a young age, and now as the director of Thomas Keller’s famed Bouchon Bakery, she’s living out her dream and that of many aspiring pastry chefs. When she’s not coming up with recipes for delicious Parisian-style fare and handmade viennoiserie, Chef Altieri is acting as a support system to her talented staff.
“Most of my day is spent just trying to make everyone else’s day a little bit easier,” says Chef Altieri. “And streamlining—pulling everyone together as one beating Bouchon Bakery heart instead of five individual outlets.”
Here, the dessert pro gives DuJour the inside scoop on current trends in pastry, Bouchon’s top menu items (spoiler alert: it’s not their delectable cookies) and what it’s like to work for Thomas Keller.
How do you come up with new ideas for desserts?
Seasonality would be the biggest one. Our savory chefs will say, “We just got strawberries in,” and then I think of something to do with strawberries. I also draw inspiration from my day-to-day experiences. Last year, I went to France and every day I had these apple chaussons and I was like, that is going in the shop. This is what I want, another element of France in here.
What’s it like to work with Chef Keller?
It’s pretty amazing. I’ve worked with him for six and a half years and I’ll be honest, whenever I have an opportunity to just sit and go over something it’s like, Wow, it’s Thomas Keller. There’s still that ‘wow’ factor.
Who gets to taste test your creations?
Everyone, quite honestly. It doesn’t matter if I like it because I’m not the one who’s buying it. Not only do the pastry chefs try it, but also the cooks and the service team. They’re the ones that have the most intimate understanding of who our guests are coming through the door.
What are the most popular menu items?
When it comes to savory, it’s the ham and cheese baguette. Breakfast is definitely our croissants. Macarons, too—pistachio is most popular and salted caramel is the runner up.
What’s your favorite dessert?
Chocolate chip cookies. I love nothing more than eating chocolate chip cookie dough when it’s freshly made.
What trends are you seeing in pastry today?
Éclairs. It’s nice to see people breaking out of their comfort zone of just vanilla, chocolate and coffee. Now, they’re interested in more fancy and ornate ones and that’s really exciting for us because éclairs are such a beautiful classic.
What kitchen gadget could you not live without?
A bowl scraper. Most people are like, a bowl scraper? I like to call it the unsung hero of the kitchen.
What’s the most challenging ingredient to work with?
Chocolate is definitely the most temperamental thing. You have to become one with the chocolate and then you guys will understand each other. That’s how it works.
What’s your dream meal?
Can it be something I eat all the time?
Pizza is my absolute favorite thing—beautiful, Neapolitan pizza. Simple and just done really nice with a glass of rosé and I’m set.
Do you have any tips for an aspiring pastry chef?
Say “yes, chef” and be willing to take constructive criticism. Ask questions, be dedicated and work clean. I say that a clean space is a clean mind. If your working space is dirty, it’s hard to keep focus on what you’re doing.