Tiramisu, Paris brest, fraise, Detroit Bumpy Cake, raspberry Japonaise, fruit tart, PB&J bombe and doberge cake.
Walk into Sucré on Magazine Street and you’re transported away from New Orleans’ worries to a place of sophisticated fun. The myriad of pistachio, sky blue and pink colored boxes, trees of macaroons, the milk chocolate-colored counters, rainbow of gelatos, tempting pastries, desserts and beautifully presented specialty chocolates—this “store” has been known to elicit childish squeals of delight from grown women, children and probably a few men.
Back in the kitchen, stacks of chocolates in different stages of preparation vie for space with baking equipment, refrigerators—one especially devoted to gelato—and containers holding chocolate shavings, curls, flowers and more. In the center is a large worktable, surrounded this morning with three chefs in white: Ashley Addy learning each secret studiously; Larkin Selman, preparing this morning’s gelatos and Tariq Hanna, head pastry chef and co-owner. Hanna is warm and has a playful smile teasing the corners of his mouth that breaks into an open grin when talking about his favorite subjects: baking pastries and making chocolate. “It’s playtime” he says when I ask him to describe his work. “I earn a living playing in chocolate, sugar and mousses. It’s fantastic.”
A simple cup of coffee is elegantly presented.
Raised in Nigeria and educated in England, Hanna moved to the states about 20 years ago to become an architect. “Accidentally” winding up at culinary school, he found a love and an affinity for cooking. Hanna was taught hot food during the day and taught himself pastry at night. “During the early part of my career I lied my way through every interview,” he confides.
“I would tell them what they wanted to hear and then learned how to back it up.” Each time he was asked to create something he didn’t know, he studied, tested and made each dessert his. Hanna has never turned down a job based on the fact that he has never done it before. “It’s very simple,” he says. “No one ever did anything until they did it for the first time.”
“The best part about [my craft] is that there are tangible measurements by which you see yourself and your craft grow.
Tariq Hanna in Sucré. The store was designed by Ledbetter Fullerton Architects.
It’s constantly evolving,” Hanna says. Everything at Sucré, on both the business and pastry sides, is thought out—down to the garnishes, which are always edible. When speaking of his fellow co-owner, Joel Dondis, Hanna says, “It’s a great partnership. We bring a great balance to each other. He’s kind of calmed me down and helped me to have better foresight, and I’m trying to get him to be a little more fluid.”
Hanna describes himself as “part pastry chef, part firefighter.” His 12-hour days started with a focus on massive production when Sucré opened, then moved to massive office hours. Now, Megan Forman, whom he calls his “work wife,” essentially runs kitchen operations, which allows Hanna to focus more on the business side, though, “at some point in the day, out of sheer selfishness, I have to have my hands in the croissant and brioche dough,” he says.
A macaroon tree.
Hanna’s specialty is elegant simplicity. He strives not to combine more than two to three flavors at a time. He also sees baking as an underappreciated science. “I’m not comparing pastry chefs to astrophysicists,” Hanna says. “But just as there’s a whole group of scientists and engineers who make the world go round and don’t get the glory they deserve, that’s how I feel about bakers.”
For Hanna, picking favorites on display at Sucré is like picking who his favorite child is. “I only cook and I put out [on display] what I know and love. What I loved yesterday may differ vastly from what I love today—and in the next 12 hours who knows what I’m going to come up with that will become my new favorite thing,” he says. Today the ice cream he loves is the dark chocolate, in the patisserie it’s the brioche—which he describes as “awesome”—and as for the chocolates, his favorite is the dark-chocolate caramel, his not-so-secret indulgence. “My profession is about constant change,” Hanna reminds me.
“I just love everything about everything that I do.”
“At the end of the day I don’t want to leave,” Hanna says.
“This is my baby and I want to watch it grow.”
Sucré, 3025 Magazine St., 520-8311; www.shopsucre.com.