I have a confession: I never liked macarons. While I thought the colors were lovely, I couldn’t understand the feminine obsession with these tiny treats. To me, they lacked flavor and were meant only to be admired and photographed, but never consumed.
After meeting Chantal Guillon and sampling her outstanding French desserts, I get it now! I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my afternoon than nibbling on gourmet goodies and sipping Mariage Frères Tea at Chantal Guillon. In this high-end bakery, the exquisite technicolor sandwich pastries are housed behind glass. The rest of the dessert boutique is bright white, giving the focus to the colorful confections on display. It is a beautiful and inviting environment.
Chantal and her knowledgeable staff have created a luxury, artisanal production. Her picture perfect pastries are not only visually stunning, but they are incredibly tasty. The flavor combinations are innovative and explosive, none, like any other traditional macaron I’ve tried. The shells are delicate which is why they are deliciously crisp and the fillings are rich and chewy. The high quality of the overall taste has a lot to do with the freshness of the macarons. Chantal recommends that you eat them within two days of purchasing. This is also why she will only sell her desserts in her boutiques and not to other vendors. Her production is carefully controlled to ensure that the quality of her pastries remains high. Additionally, all of her delicious macarons are perfectly in tact, there is not a cracked shell to be seen. This meticulous attention to detail is one of the things that makes Chantal Guillon so special.
Upon meeting Chantal I asked her some questions to get better acquainted with the woman behind this extraordinary operation. These are her responses written in her own words:
1. Where are you from originally? Where was your hometown?
My original hometown is Paris, but I have had the chance to travel in various countries like Italy where I spent a large time of my life. Both my origins and my background influenced my decisions and my lifestyle.
2. What inspired you to open your first Chantal Guillon shop?
As a creative and challenging person, I wanted to bring into the USA a French product very Parisian and mix it with a touch of American flair. The macaron is a wonderful product, provocative and classic – offering unlimited possibilities. When I arrived in the US, I did not find the macarons the way I liked it: light, crunchy, moist and with honest flavors. So I decided to create my own using a traditional Parisian recipe made with ganache filling instead of other techniques that use butter cream. And I wanted to only specialize in this product, because I care too much about the quality.
3. I have read that the French refer to macarons as a “pastry” and not a “cookie,” is this correct?
Absolutely, the macaron is a very delicate pastry. In fact, the macaron dates back to the 16th century and was originally a simple cookie, but began as a two-tiered treat at the beginning of the 20th century. It is one of the most difficult pastries to realize because of the multitude of factors depending on its success.
4. Where are your macarons made? Please tell me about your fine ingredients.
All our macarons are made locally by a French and American team in our kitchen in Soma, San Francisco with daily deliveries to both of our shops. Because the quality is very important to me I choose to use the finest products available on the market, like the Valhrona Chocolate for the ganache and ingredients directly from the farmers market like the lemons or the verbena. All of the coloring is natural, and the intensity of the color comes from the amount of fruit and spice powder we put in. We sometimes forget that bright colors are in nature as well. Also, the macarons are gluten free as the basic ingredients are almond flour, sugar and egg whites.
5. What are some of your favorite macaron flavors and what are your most popular flavors?
I do have my favorites but I believe that taste is a personal choice as it touches the memory, the emotions, and the sensitivity in each of us. My favorite is the Almond Amaretto. It reminds me of sitting around the fire with a cup of tea as a child. But also what is very nice with the macarons is that you can pick 6, 12, 15 different flavors that will bring you a different experience each time. The best seller changes according to the season or holiday. However, we can say that we have 3 flavors that are consistently the best sellers and they are Sicilian Pistachio, Salted Caramel, and Tahitian Vanilla.
6. Why did you choose Palo Alto as the location of your second shop?
After I opened the 1st store in Hayes (San Francisco), I was looking for a 2nd location in the Bay Area. When I visited Palo Alto, I just fell in love with the city: its flair, the magnetism, the elegance… Like for Hayes, I followed my instinct and just went for it! I believe location is very important, and I think Palo Alto has an amazing community spirit and the dynamism of a large city.
7. I love Mariage Frères Tea and you have the largest selection that I have ever seen in the States! Can you tell me why you chose that specific brand?
The Mariage Frères Tea is for me “the must”; since 1854, desirous of making the French art of Tea known to the world, they were able to go through the 5 continents to choose the best, the most pure, high quality and fine. I have followed them since 1990.
8. If you could create the ultimate pairing, which tea (flavor) would you put with your favorite macaron?
We use Mariage Frères Mandarin Jasmin Tea in our Jasmin Green Tea macarons, so I will say this pairing is absolute. Another pairing could be the Bourbon Vanilla Tea with a Dark chocolate macaron. Also, we have the Yuzu Mariage Frères Tea which matches perfectly with the Dark Chocolate Yuzu macaron. With 15 different flavors of macarons, (both classic and seasonal) and 35 different teas – the pairing experiences are infinite. Additionally, as a coffee drinker I love to get my coffee with a Bacetti. These are handmade gelato ice cream bites that are dipped in chocolate and they are also available in my stores and offered with each coffee drink that you order. A perfect match!
9. Tell me more about your pastry inspirations from Paris. Is there a particular Pastry Chef (or bakery) that you love or admire?
In Paris I love to dawdle in my old bakeries, to discover, taste and be surprised. I got the chance to cross paths with Sadaharu Aoki, a very talented pastry chef. This Japanese chef is one of the 15 best chefs in France and Japan. Always looking for the best is one of my leitmotifs too.
10. Is there anything else that you would like my readers to know?
I would like to highlight one of our services, the Chantal Guillon Atelier. We offer our expertise for corporate events, as well as foundation parties and weddings. What is wonderful for me is to share that moment of pleasure and joy with people.
*All of Chantal Guillon’s macarons are delicious, but my personal favorites are the Persian Rose, Lavender Poppy and the Jasmine Green Tea. Ils sont incroyables!