Browsing the menu at Tarts de Feybesse feels like peering through the window of a modern Parisian pâtisserie.
Blueberry tarts with perfectly round berries are arranged like jewels that glisten and sparkle; and éclairs, long and slender, conceal a cloud of seasonal pastry cream like coconut or grapefruit, a racing stripe of icing hinting at what’s inside. Even the beef Bourguignon gets embroidered with bright orange carrots, translucent pearl onions, and a dusting of verdant parsley to break up the color of the rich brown stew.
Monique and Paul Feybesse, the chefs behind Tarts de Feybesse, love classic French dishes, but each one needs to meet specific criteria to go on the menu. “Every dish that we create has to be delicious, but at the same time it has to be gorgeous and visually stunning,” says Monique.
It’s an ambitious goal, considering they come from the savory side of the kitchen, but they’ve leveraged their combined experience to innovate pastries from a different culinary perspective. Paul is originally from Paris and the Lozere region of France and rose through a trio of restaurants with three Michelin stars: Le Meurice in Paris and Le Louis XV in Monaco, both golden palaces within five-star-hotels, and the modern and minimalist Geranium in Copenhagen. In the Bay Area he worked at Press in Napa and most notably at In Situ in San Francisco, the now shuttered restaurant from star chef Corey Lee inside the SF MoMA, known for its abstract plating that reflected modern art.
Monique, a Bay Area native, has a résumé that’s equally impressive, having traveled and honed her cooking skills at Geranium (where Monique and Paul met), Pavillon LeDoyen, one of the oldest fine dining institutions in Paris (also three stars), and Atera in New York (two stars). She returned to California to help open the ambitious if short-lived Ninebark in Napa, followed by a stint in the acclaimed restaurant at Robert Sinskey Vineyards. Most recently, you may have spotted Monique was also a contestant on the current Season 19 of Top Chef; she packed her knives in the episode that aired in early April, and has since been popping up with other past contestants around the Bay, so stay tuned.
This is actually the second time that Paul and Monique have worked together as Tarts de Feybesse. The first iteration happened in 2016, when the couple were expecting their first child, and Paul decided to make a tart for his in-laws. But a French chef of Michelin-starred pedigree wasn’t going to make an ordinary tart. Unpeeled apple slices curled outward in a spiral, the edges of the skin contrasting with the flesh to create what looked like a rose in bloom emerging out of the shell. After posting a photo on Instagram, the tart went viral, and they were soon spending their days off making them as a cottage business.
“The last iteration of Tarts de Feybesse was really limited, all we really had were the apple tart, the beer tart, and maybe a couple of other ones, but it wasn't a full-on store,” says Monique. They took orders via email and DMs. As the demands of their careers and newborn grew, they decided to push pause on their business.
Tarts de Feybesse 2.0 was reincarnated when the pandemic started. “We’re all at home, and we were like okay, what are we going to do?” says Monique, who had a second son right before lockdown. When pandemic sourdough was popular, the idea was to bake and sell bread to their neighbors, and they started making eight loaves a day out of their home. Demand increased and the bread kept selling out, and soon people started clamoring for more choices.
“They wanted more offerings, so we did our apple tart which was our classic from our first Tarts de Feybesse,” says Monique. “After that it turned into a complete pastry menu.”
At that point Paul was furloughed from work with the Bocuse d'Or team, and when Monique went back to work at Robert Sinskey, they decided it was too much. This time, they quit their restaurant jobs to focus entirely on Tarts de Feybesse. They moved into a commercial kitchen 10 minutes away from their home in Vallejo, allowing the business and offerings to expand.
They added savory items, like their best-selling beef Bourguignon last year, when they began to yearn for the kinds of cooking they used to do in restaurants. It’s interesting that they’re known for their tarts, when technically they’re self-taught pastry chefs, since their professional experience had all previously been behind the stoves. While the current format for the business may be more casual, they still feel the need to perform at the highest levels. In a way, they seem to enjoy challenging themselves, and to not stagnate they look for opportunities to surprise their customers as well as themselves.
Adding a new menu item begins with a brainstorming session, which includes sketching out and visualizing what the finished pastry or tart will look like. The process is the same as when Paul and Monique were adding a dish to a menu in a restaurant. Next come iterations of the dish, taking down precise notes and measuring each ingredient in grams. Each round of adjustments allows them to pick and choose the elements that are working and the ones that still require further development. Their éclairs, for example, demand perfect piping of the pâte à choux to get the right shape, get baked at three different temperatures, and involve three different pastry creams and toppings.
Monique and Paul insist that they approach everything as a team, from producing pastries at volume to finding balance with family life. After having her first child, Monique became aware of how family had changed her life. Working as a chef at Ninebark, driving to Napa, getting home late, and working holidays and weekends was different after that. Having their own business means that even while working 16-hour days, they have the flexibility to still be there for their children, now five and two years old. “When they're at school, it's [work] time, and when they need to be picked up, I'm there, but once they go to sleep, it's my work time,” says Monique of her packed schedule, who jokes that neither she nor Paul know how to stop working. And if wrapping Top Chef, growing Tarts de Feybesse, and raising two kids wasn’t enough, the couple just announced they’re expecting their third child.
Tarts de Feybesse only continues to spiral out and surprise and delight eaters. They hope to expand the business to include a retail space, either in Walnut Creek or in San Francisco, where they can showcase their innovative take on French pastries. There will be tarts of course, radiating through the window, enticing you to step inside.
Tarts de Feybesse is available through Pastel, so the stunning tarts and comforting stews can come to your neighborhood across the Bay Area. If you’ve never used Pastel before, sign up for access below.