There is a queue winding down the street out of the Pâtisserie Riviera pastry shop. Many universities have finished the academic year ahead of schedule, and Monaco’s residents want to delight their children with cakes. There is a friendly customer who shares her delight with us. Her daughter came home from London. She has finished her online exams and the cake, sitting in front of us in the shop window, was baked for their family celebration.
We exchange a few phrases and smiles. Now that the government has lifted lockdown, going to the patisserie for fresh profiteroles is as vibrant a social occasion as going to dinner during the Grand Prix weekend.
We are allowed into the heart of the patisserie. Everyday work starts at five o’clock in the morning: before the opening, the team of expert bakers mix the dough, prepare the cream, do everything to make croissants come out crispy for a great start of the day for the people of the Principality. Everything in the kitchen is so clean that you’re afraid to touch anything.
It was especially crowded this morning. Alexander Seleznev and his fellow confectioners George and Franck started the working day at sunrise. “The relationship with the local public has been shaped by our daily work. On my social networks, they see me leaving at five in the morning and start making brioche, cakes. It was challenging for me to get used to it and I’m still not used to this schedule.”
A long-awaited dream that come true
He brings with him dozens of victories in culinary competitions and festivals, the best classes in France, Belgium, Switzerland and the title of Chief Pastry Chef of Russia. Leaving the Pastry House, Alexander’s own TV show, and life in Russia made a long-awaited dream come true. To open a patisserie on the French Riviera.
Destiny was in favour of his plans. In the heart of Monte-Carlo, a patisserie became vacant, the former owners having left the family business to retire. However, the Russian pastry chef had to earn the trust of Monegasques with daily painstaking work.
“I took part in various charity events. All the money made from the cakes we baked went to foundations”.
Five years ago, on November 1st, Pâtisserie Riviera opened under the new ownership of Alexander Seleznev. “The range of products was classic French, macarons, millefeuilles. I started to introduce Russian cakes, like honey cake, Kiev cake, poppy cake, hoping that Russian customers will come”.
It turned out that Alexander’s compatriots were not used to indulging themselves with brioche and croissants. Many Russian clients had given up sugar and flour, starting to come in for desserts only when he introduced sugar-free, gluten-free and lactose-free alternatives.
“Gluten-free cakes sell out the fastest. We replace normal flour with rice, corn, hazelnut. We buy German sugar substitute.”
Real works of pastry art
But such desserts still require traditional pastry-making skills. For the elaborate wedding of Louis Ducruet and Marie Chevallier in Monte Carlo, Alexander prepared a seven-story cake. “Three meters high, all in sugar flowers. The whole of Monaco was buzzing. The cake was all over social media.”
The pastry chef remembers his most ambitious project, a real work of pastry art: a private birthday order in Moscow.
“On the cake, there were fountains, lighting, there were even live fish swimming. The most difficult thing was to assemble it and connect the water. We had to use special motors directed the water flow upwards”.
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A life dedicated to hard work
Alexander confesses that he gets so tired of his work that he simply has no energy left for gastronomic feats in ordinary life: “I get up early, drink a glass of water, coffee. I don’t have any diet, but I rarely eat desserts! After work, I have to come and make something quick; steak or steamed fish usually.”
The patissier still organises culinary shows in his kitchen. Every Thursday at 2 pm, you can join the famous pastry chef on Instagram live and learn recipes for French apple tarts or quiche with egg cream filling. “No matter where they are, Luxembourg or New York. People cook with me. When I retire, I want to have a TV show online.”
Locally-made cakes during lockdown
Lockdown turned out to be a real challenge for the patissier. It wasn’t about restrictive measures, rather the fact that there were numerous customers, some of which became new regulars. “We received a letter saying that we have the right to work as an essential shop. The letter said how we should dress: hairnets, masks, how we should disinfect the kitchen. About a week after the measures were announced, people started to come gradually. We started to work a lot more.”
The patisseries in the neighbourhood closed their doors during lockdown. Some had their produce delivered from Milan, while others were waiting for desserts from Paris and deliveries of Belgian chocolate stopped because the borders closed. Only those with on-sight or local production had a chance to stay open.
“Life will not be the same as before. Certain unnecessary things have slowly shifted away. I think we should pay closer attention to what’s produced locally.”
Despite his roaring success, there are no plans to open a franchise around the world. “At first I was thinking of expanding, but I’m so used to it here, I can’t put someone in my place. It’s a different way of thinking.”
When asked how he motivates himself, get up with the first rays of morning light, and fully devote himself to work, Alexander only has one answer.
“You just have to love your job very much.”