“A Pastry Chef Talks Paris, Career Pivots, and Patisserie” Transcript
Sophia Roe: Hi. I'm Sophia Roe, chef and wellness enthusiast. Did you know that nearly 340,000 or 1 in 5 New York City children rely on soup kitchens and food pantries to eat, especially during the summer months when school is out? The folks over at Food Bank for New York City want you to know that unlike, school hunger doesn't take a break. Help them end child hunger by providing meals to families and children in need during those challenging summer months. Visit foodbanknyc.org to learn how you can volunteer, spread the word, and more.
Kerry Diamond: Hi, Bombesquad. You're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe and I'm your host, Kerry Diamond. Each week, we talked to the most inspiring women in and around the world of food. Let's thank today's sponsors. Le Cordon Bleu, the world's most prestigious culinary schools, and Traeger Grills. Now that it's grilling season, I'm sure you all want to get outside and grilling.
Kerry Diamond: It's time for some housekeeping. The next stop on the Radio Cherry Bombe Food for Thought Tour is Portland Maine on Monday, July 22nd. Join us for a special live episode that we'll be recording at the Press Hotel. You can hear from some of the women changing the area's food scene, enjoy snacks, drinks, great networking, and more. Tickets are on sale right now at cherrybombe.com.
Kerry Diamond: If you don't live in Portland Maine, tell your friends who do. Thank you to Kerrygold for supporting our tour. We love your butter and your cheese. Tickets are also on sale for some of our second half dates, so be sure to swing by cherrybombe.com and you can find tickets for Columbus Ohio, Kansas City Missouri, and Asheville North Carolina.
Kerry Diamond: I'm so thrilled to see your cone-only pictures on Instagram. Thank you for that. Whether you are rocking a rocky road or going for a seasonal sorbet, it's always smart to skip the cup, skip the spoon, and go for a sustainable and edible vessel for your favorite frozen treats. That would be a cone, in case you're wondering. Our cone-only campaign is in partnership with the Surfrider chapters of Long Island and New York City. Let's make this the most sustainable summer yet, hashtag cone only.
Kerry Diamond: Speaking of desserts, on today's episode, we're sitting down with Michelle Hernandez. The owner of Le Dix-Sept, a San Francisco-based patisserie. Michelle specializes in pastries and confections inspired by nature, and she is known for her nougat, as Michelle likes to say because she's fancy and studied in France. You probably know it as nougat, which doesn't sound as lovely.
Kerry Diamond: Anyway, Michelle has had a fascinating career from startup, to corporate fashion, to food. Stay tuned for our conversation. We'll be right back after this word from Traeger Grills.
Amanda Haas: Hi, Bombesquad. I'm Amanda Haas, cookbook author and Traeger Grills ambassador. There's so much you can do on a Traeger wood-fired grill. I've baked my gluten-free coconut brownie bites. I've roasted cauliflower with Parmesan garlic butter, and I've even grilled my Thanksgiving turkey. Traegers wood-fired grills, provide the superior flavor you can't get with traditional gas or charcoal grilling.
Amanda Haas: Get outdoors and get baking, grilling, smoking, brazing, and more. Try it on a Traeger, and you'll understand why I love my Traeger grill as much as I do. Visit traegergrills.com.
Kerry Diamond: Let's start with the beginning. Where did you grow up?
Michelle Hernandez: I'm a Bay Area native. But I moved to Arizona when I was six. I lived in the desert, it wasn't diverse at all. I was coming from California where I saw a lot of different kinds of people, and I remember my parents were so sad. It was me and my two other sisters and we would constantly tell them like, "When are we going home?" But I don't know that I appreciated the desert landscape as I appreciate now, like the gorgeous plants that come out of there, the beauty, the serenity of it all.
Kerry Diamond: So you're one of three girls?
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Where are you in the lineup?
Michelle Hernandez: I'm in the middle.
Kerry Diamond: You're the middle?
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah. A lot can be said about the middle child I think.
Kerry Diamond: Who cooked at home?
Michelle Hernandez: Interestingly enough so my mom cooked every meal until I started cooking which was very like early. I was always interested in cooking and always interested in any recipe that I could find. It didn't matter what cookbook it was because I wasn't … I just got a recipe and I would cook from it.
Kerry Diamond: What age are you talking about?
Michelle Hernandez: I got an Easy-Bake Oven when I was five as a birthday gift, and was thrilled beyond belief. But my mom really cooked. She learned from her mom and a lot of … My mom is from Guam. She was born in the Philippines. Then, they moved to Guam and she ate a lot of fish and vegetables, but we didn't necessarily eat the same food that she ate.
Michelle Hernandez: It was always kind of like she had her food, and then my dad is Mexican and so we ate a lot of Mexican food, and a lot of American food too, but there was always kind of that differentiation which is really interesting now that I look back at it, kind of combining like all of these cultures. Now, when I think about the food. I was like, "That's my favorite food." It's like I'm pescatarian. It's like fish and vegetables, fresh things.
Michelle Hernandez: Now, I appreciate a lot more and you know everyone eats together. But usually, when I go home, I'm cooking.
Kerry Diamond: You went to Berkeley.
Michelle Hernandez: I went to Berkeley.
Kerry Diamond: I love that campus.
Michelle Hernandez: It's so-
Kerry Diamond: Those redwood trees. I mean, it's incredible. The old buildings. What did you study?
Michelle Hernandez: I studied psychology. I have a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies.
Kerry Diamond: Wow. Why didn't you study that?
Michelle Hernandez: Well, psychology, I originally got there and was like I'm going to be pre-med. I just didn't have the idea. I thought if I couldn't be a chef and couldn't go to culinary school, which I had asked my parents. When I was 16, I presented my parents with the idea of going to culinary school. There was a school in San Francisco that's no longer there.
Michelle Hernandez: I think it was called California Culinary Academy and like I brought the papers to them. I remember and I was like, "I'm going to apply." They were like, "No." I was like, "Okay." They're like, "We won't … we just, you need to get a traditional education." My parents were very, very like they did everything to send us to good schools.
Michelle Hernandez: I mean, my mom was working. My dad was working so much to send us all to a private all-girls Catholic school in Phoenix and just to really give us the best education that they could, and so they were not about to not continue that. Which I am so grateful for because I learned so much. I mean-
Kerry Diamond: You're at the school and you decide you want to be a chef in high school.
Michelle Hernandez: What's interesting is Le Dix-Sept means 17 in French and it's just a very auspicious number for me. It just keeps coming up and I … what I usually tell people, they always ask like, "Why 17?" I say, "Well, I lived and I worked in the 17th arrondissement in Paris." That's the short answer but the real answer is both my parents were born on the 17th months of their … My mom was born on October 17th, my dad January 17th. Both my grandparents were born in 1917.
Michelle Hernandez: I was technically born at 9:18. That's what the paper says but I think it's 9:17. They called it wrong. Then, when I was 17 and I was about to graduate, the school had us right as graduating seniors letters to ourselves, and then they were going to give it to us at our 10-year reunion. I wrote this letter, I got it after 10 years and there was a line in it that says, "I hope you're doing well. I hope you're living all of your dreams and you've really been successful. Did you become a chef and follow your dream or did you go kind of a traditional path?"
Kerry Diamond: That's remarkable.
Michelle Hernandez: When I went to Paris, I took that letter with me.
Kerry Diamond: You knew at the age of 17 that you wanted to be a chef. Who was in your life or who were your role models? What were you seeing that you knew that was a job, a possible career path?
Michelle Hernandez: I was like such a PBS little nerd, cooking nerd, and all of the great programs were on there. I mean Julia Child was on there, Jacques Pepin. I was watching like Yan Can Cook. Like anything that was on TV around food and there wasn't, it was really just PBS at the time. In high school there was great chefs that you could kind of get like on cable and they would show these front chefs doing demos of things in a real like Michelin kitchen with, and they're wearing tokes and stuff was very like unattainable-
Kerry Diamond: The tall hats.
Michelle Hernandez: The tall hats which I had to wear in one of the restaurants, and I would always like right before service, I would be like, "Oh, my God. Where's my toke?" I can't find it. I could never find it.
Kerry Diamond: All right, so back to Berkeley so you graduate-
Michelle Hernandez: Yes. I graduate-
Kerry Diamond: … what did you do after college?
Michelle Hernandez: I graduated in 2000 but in the middle of it I just … I had a lot of jobs. I'm always like working and interested because I was pre-med for like the first two years. One of the big things to do was get a job in a lab. Like if you could get a job in a lab that meant you, it was good for your resume for applying for school and it was very hard. I ended up getting a job at the USDA plant genetics lab. They were coding all of this DNA, and that was amazing. I loved being in a lab setting.
Michelle Hernandez: They're essentially doing recipes but in a very technical way. I learned to extract DNA and use the centrifuge. All stuff that I do now like their lab work and their technique, I use in … it looks like a little lab when I'm making the nougat for sure. I have liked all of like a temperature gun. I have another kind of temperature like sugar refractor, all of those things.
Kerry Diamond: So you were at the lab, did you-
Michelle Hernandez: I was at the lab-
Kerry Diamond: … have any food jobs in college?
Michelle Hernandez: I actually didn't have any food jobs, but what I ended up doing is in school, it was during the first wave of dotcom world and I wanted another job but I was working … I was doing so much work at school that I needed something where I could do it from Cal, and one of my sister's friends was starting this company and I was like, "You know what? I …" She was like, "Maybe they'll give you a job."
Michelle Hernandez: I was like, "I'll do anything. I'll come in I can like clean up. I can organize anything. I'll just …" I didn't know what it was. The company ended up being Evite which is-
Kerry Diamond: Sure.
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah. Which is one of the … Yeah. I just was very like eager to just have a job and help them out. I was like the third employee there, and I worked from home and was … Originally, I was working on a concept. They were like do all the research for like everything in the world, and like set like the categories up. If it's sports like what goes under sports? Soccer, and baseball, and volleyball, and I was like, "What am I doing?"
Michelle Hernandez: I did all this work and there, and that actually was the part of search engine optimization and I didn't know what I was doing but, and the product that ended up working for them was Evite, and so I worked for them and was … had my, started my marketing career actually. Started as an intern and-
Kerry Diamond: Accidentally?
Michelle Hernandez: Accidentally. I didn't know what it was, and so I was one of the first people to ever do, essentially what is digital marketing now.
Kerry Diamond: Did you get stock?
Michelle Hernandez: I did have stock which is one of the … I had options, which is one of the reasons that they had asked me like, "You should leave school?" I mean, you can imagine like I was like scared to talk to my parents about that. There was no blueprint for what that looked like. Now, everyone would be like, "Yeah. I'm leaving school like obviously." But that had never happened before.
Michelle Hernandez: Millionaires had never been made overnight so it was a very … I was like, "Why?" The founder was like, "You should leave school." I was like, "I don’t … Why? Like why would I leave school?" He's like, "I think you should leave school." I was like, "I will unenroll for one semester but I really want to graduate in 2000." He was like, "Okay. Do that."
Michelle Hernandez: I was there full-time and it was amazing. I learned so much, and then I was like, "I have to go back to school and now I have to make up the time in order for me to graduate." I just took all these classes all at once.
Kerry Diamond: Sounds so Bombesquad, doesn't it? It's like, "Why have one job when I can have two or three jobs?"
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Why take one class when I can do all these?
Michelle Hernandez: I can do everything. Yeah, and I was working full-time. I ended up getting straight A's that semester.
Kerry Diamond: Of course, you did.
Michelle Hernandez: Because I just had so much and I was like so focused and I graduated. I found out the day that they sold the company, I was in the library on the computer and I read something. I was like, "Oh, shit. What happens to me?" They were super gracious like I actually was one of the few who like stayed on so I could transition out as I was graduating so I had a job, because then the recession hit, the bubble burst, and people were out of jobs.
Michelle Hernandez: San Francisco, people were leaving San Francisco it was that first wave, and that was a big thing. I mean, now when I look back at it like I was … I mean, those launch parties that like living a high life. I never wanted to … like I would go, like people would be like, "You should come to the parties." I was like, "I want to go back to Berkeley and hang out with my friends who are my age. These people were like 25, why do I want to hang out with them?"
Michelle Hernandez: Now, I'm like, "Oh, it was … it probably was amazing." I went to some of them but it was just an interesting time, and now to see it happen all again like this year there's going to be like there's nine major IPOs and most of them are happening in San Francisco. There's going to be what? It's really changing. There's going to be millionaires overnight, more than there already are.
Kerry Diamond: So how that's affecting you and everybody else trying to find employees? Okay, so we have to get up to the Gap.
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah, sorry.
Kerry Diamond: How did you wind up at the Gap?
Michelle Hernandez: One of my friends was working at the Gap. I didn't necessarily want to end up in fashion but because I had a good digital marketing resume. Again, it wasn’t called that before because there was no term for that. I think I sent my resume … Oh, no, no. They called me. Gap called me and I had a friend who was already there and she was like, "It's really good. Like a really good culture, you should come over."
Michelle Hernandez: I went over and had an amazing time. I learned so much. The brand I was out was that Old Navy, and I started in the online division. It was just like … I mean, such a huge time. I mean, I ended up being in charge of the site, all the site marketing. When you like go to oldnavy.com, that's the work that I did. I ran their email program at one point. Then, I went over to Gap Online US, and then I had finished at Gap Europe but it's such a company that you like help with other brands so like just being able to understand how to launch a business with a lot of money is very different from launching your own business.
Kerry Diamond: It's so interesting because I would imagine some of our younger listeners don't realize how significant the Gap was back then, and how significant the Gap was to San Francisco.
Michelle Hernandez: Absolutely.
Kerry Diamond: The Fisher family were the founders.
Michelle Hernandez: The Fisher family. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kerry Diamond: It was one of the most important companies in San Francisco pre-Silicon Valley and all the tech companies and they were the ones donating so much money to the museum-
Michelle Hernandez: The art. A lot of the modern art that you see like in the MoMA or just even around is the Fisher family.
Kerry Diamond: How long were you at the Gap?
Michelle Hernandez: I was there the first time for about five years. I had such a great experience. The whole time I was at Gap, I was saving money to go to Cordon Bleu.
Kerry Diamond: You never gave up on the dream?
Michelle Hernandez: No. The whole time I was taking French classes. I was living in San Francisco, and then I would drive to Piedmont in Oakland so across the bridge and take classes from like 6:30 to 9:30 at night. I did that for a long time, and then I did self-study, and then found another school in San Francisco. I would just constantly do that. But no one really knew that when I was at work.
Michelle Hernandez: I just did my work and I loved it. Learned a lot about marketing and running a business. The whole time I was studying and getting ready.
Kerry Diamond: But were you baking and cooking on the side as well?
Michelle Hernandez: Only for myself. No. For nobody else.
Kerry Diamond: Were you the one bringing all the food into the office?
Michelle Hernandez: No. I wasn't bringing the food but I was definitely baking and like doing big dinners for my friends and I loved that. But really just kind of always like planning and getting ready to go and-
Kerry Diamond: What was the goal? In the back of your head you're thinking, "Okay, I'm doing this. I'm saving money. I want to go to culinary school. I'm studying French." Was the goal to be a working chef to own your own place? Did you have an end goal?
Michelle Hernandez: What's very interesting is when I look back at that, I'm like, "What was that goal?" I just knew I had to get there, and then see what happens. Which is not great. I had always thought, "If I can come back and work at Chez Panisse." Because that's … I mean, to me that was the icon, I was in Berkeley. That would be amazing.
Michelle Hernandez: I'm like, "What can I do to do that?" But other than that, I didn't really think, "I'm going to start a bakery." It wasn't that. Honestly, when I went into my director's office to tell her, "I'm leaving and I'm going to give you a lot of time." I think I gave … maybe it's like a month and a half. "But I'm going to move out of the country." That's it.
Michelle Hernandez: She was so shocked and she was like, "You're actually the next in line to be the director, did you know that?" I was like, "No. But I already like got accepted and the money's been paid so I'm going. I'm going to France."
Kerry Diamond: You go to Le Cordon Bleu?
Michelle Hernandez: I go to Le Cordon Bleu.
Kerry Diamond: You were at the old Le Cordon Bleu? It's so fancy now.
Michelle Hernandez: Yes. I have seen-
Kerry Diamond: The modern building.
Michelle Hernandez: I have seen photos. I haven't been to the new location. I was in the original location with all the original equipment, doing everything by hand.
Kerry Diamond: But that's exciting like Julia Child went to that one. There was a lot of history at that one.
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah. A ton of people have gone through there like Giada has gone through there. I mean, just the most amazing, amazing chefs, and you can tell it. I mean, everybody was there. It really is a great program, but you can get so much more out of it if you want to. Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Feels like life.
Michelle Hernandez: It is. It is. Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: How does it work? You take classes, are you expected to go get jobs in local restaurants or-
Michelle Hernandez: No.
Kerry Diamond: No. Okay.
Michelle Hernandez: No. You have the opportunity to have a [stage 00:18:40] afterwards.
Kerry Diamond: Tell us what a stage is.
Michelle Hernandez: Oh a stage. A stage is … I think at the others, at the schools here, it's called an internship. I mean, I think it's an internship. But I don't know if there's any like differences but in those stages, you're learning. Your goal should be to learn as much as possible because one of the great things is if you do well in school and you place well, so there's a bit of competition, starts pretty early at school.
Michelle Hernandez: It's all very friendly but then they do a ranking. It's top five. It also helps you get into a good start. If you wanted to go to … There's a couple of things you want. That you want your chefs to know that you're a good student and they're watching you all the time and you're constantly getting graded, and they're constantly telling you like, "Pas bon." Like, "It's not good." Like, "What are you doing?"
Kerry Diamond: Pas bon. That's rough. You worked at some major places, name drop a little for us.
Michelle Hernandez: I trained at Joel Robuchon, which was amazing and that's one of the places they will only send you if you speak French because it's just, it's too hard. Like the working, it's too fast, and it's definitely you. You need to like you'll get into better places if you speak French.
Michelle Hernandez: They had a restaurant called La Table de Joel Robuchon before. It was two Michelin star restaurant and I learned … I would say I learned the most there. It is very rigorous, but the chef's there really are so talented.
Kerry Diamond: How were you treated in the kitchen?
Michelle Hernandez: That kitchen was very interesting. The executive chef from the savory side is extremely … I mean, anybody who has worked for Joel Robuchon, it's extremely exacting. If the recipe calls for only this many dots on a plate, it's that many dots on the plate. There's no creative, yet he was very kind. Like yelling and what you hear about, he particularly was not like that.
Michelle Hernandez: I think while it's still like rigid and there's rules, I think you can learn a lot about that from that, even though it's like a super important restaurant and is very high-end. Then, on the pastry side, the head chef is Chef Francois, and then there was another chef just for that restaurant and they were really amazing to me. I really credit them and, at first, I think they were like, "Oh, you're American."
Michelle Hernandez: I remember this very clearly, and I was like, "But I'm from California and I'm specifically from San Francisco." He was like, "Oh, oh, my God. I welcome you like so much." Because they were, at the time, it wasn't great for Americans like the perception, there was a lot of things going on and it was just like, "Oh, you're American. You probably think this way."
Kerry Diamond: Were there other women in the kitchen?
Michelle Hernandez: I was lucky and had a good experience like at that restaurant specifically. I was definitely in other restaurants where I was harassed every day, where I was nervous. I'm just trying to do my job. There is one challenge that happens like every day at this one restaurant is you go and you say hello to everybody and you normally do a bise and you're doing it to everybody who comes in.
Michelle Hernandez: It's just to say hello, but some people would abuse that and there were people I just didn't want to say hi, so I was like avoid these people. But it is actually really rude not to go in, to go into a restaurant and to go into work and not say hi to somebody. It's considered very impolite. But there were particular people I just like avoided because they would try to come find me in the morning and you just don't want to be that close to somebody that you feel uncomfortable around.
Michelle Hernandez: There were a lot of challenges I think for women and it was not just that. It was working in super close quarters with people who didn't necessarily have the best intentions. I mean, I was in a couple of situations with a sous chef and he constantly like trying to grab my chest as he passed by. It wasn't subtle. It was obvious. It was hard but like when you're the only female in a kitchen, there's like no one to be like … I mean, I could talk to the servers but they're not in my same position and all you want to do is work and you can't because you're like-
Kerry Diamond: It didn't turn you off of the industry?
Michelle Hernandez: At the time, it was just like, "This is what we have to do." There were things that like if I wanted to be in the industry especially in Paris, that I had to I guess endure, and I didn't want it to be that way for sure. One of the big issues in the kitchen especially in Paris that is small, the whole space is small is changing, so the change out.
Michelle Hernandez: There's no locker rooms. There's locker rooms for guys. There's one room and everybody just strips down. When you get there, you strip down, you change into your uniform. It's a big deal so one of the reasons why they probably don't want to hire you as a woman is like, "Now, we have to do something for you."
Michelle Hernandez: I used to have to for change out after service, one of my sous chefs would say, "You can leave five minutes early, change out and be done." But that's not great because I'm not finishing my clean up or I'm ending service-
Kerry Diamond: It look like you got a pass because you're a woman?
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah. That's not, and everyone's not happy. Like, "Oh, you didn't have to wash the wall because you had to go change out?" Or the alternative is I change with all the guys and they're all between 18 and 23, and there's like 15 of them. At another place, there was another girl … Actually, a really well-known chef now and she was in my small restaurant and we would just change in front of everybody.
Michelle Hernandez: It ended up not being as big of a deal but I didn't want to do that. I would do wear another shirt under my shirts, all of those things. I'm like, "I shouldn't have to do that." There was just no privacy and you just wouldn't say anything because it's like, "Well, if you're doing it, I guess I can do it." But I just learned like how to change without showing anything, which is … I mean, I guess something that you learn and it's not great. I'm glad it's changing.
Kerry Diamond: When I visited the Le Cordon Bleu, the new one last year, it was like all women.
Michelle Hernandez: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: It was remarkable.
Michelle Hernandez: I went back for dinner to Sept'n in 2014. I knew one of the sous chefs there and she was great. I walk into the kitchen and I see Bertrand is the chef. It's an open kitchen. I was so pleased everything … maybe it was just that night because I know it's different now. It was all women. It was him and all women.
Michelle Hernandez: I was like, "That's probably a great kitchen to be in." That way I was like, "Oh, maybe I'll go … I would go back." I mean, in such a short amount of time there was progress, and that would be a kitchen I would go into, and I don't want to say I don't want to go back to any … If there's guys but it makes a difference. It makes a difference when there's a female chef, the vibe is just different.
Michelle Hernandez: You don't feel like they're making exceptions for you. One big thing, not only the changing room is like your locker room is at one of the restaurants I was at, there was no place to go to the bathroom. If you were in service, so service started at like 6:30. You had a chance to go to the bathroom, there was one dining room bathroom that was like a regular bathroom, but it's in the dining room. You don't go into a fine dining room and like in your whites and go to the bathroom.
Michelle Hernandez: You don't want to see a chef go to the bathroom. The person cooking your meal. I just wouldn't go. The alternative was in the back, in the courtyard there was a urinal. Because I was always like, "What is that and why are people going?" I was like, someone said, "Well, you can use it." I was like, "How do I use it without like totally stripping down?" From what? From 6:00 to 1:00 in the morning, you just don't have an option.
Kerry Diamond: But it's no surprise that so many young women who want to get into food have … they didn't do what you did. They created other things to do. That's why Instagram's remarkable and we've got all these sort of influencers now. These women who make cakes and baked goods and all these things or women who are recipe testers and developers and all of that because they weren't like you. They didn't look at a restaurant or a kitchen and think, "I can do that." Because there just weren't a lot of people doing it, but you were super brave and/or crazy and headstrong and just did it.
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you for doing that.
Michelle Hernandez: I know that it was a crazy time and gosh for all women leading up to the last couple years, it's been like that and I struggle with the, maybe someone listening will say, "How come you didn't say something?" But it's-
Kerry Diamond: But none of us did. I was harassed on a bunch of jobs, not kitchen jobs but you just didn't. You didn't know there was a better way. There was no one to talk to. I think it was also you were made to feel very isolated.
Michelle Hernandez: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: Like you were the only one that this was happening to because women didn't talk about it, and there was kind of you were made to feel that you had brought this on yourself, and thank God, we know better now.
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah. It was an interesting time and I'm so glad that it's changing. I don't know how it is in Paris but it was very heartening to see more and more women in the kitchen. That's why Cherry Bombe is so important to really bring this to light and to celebrate and talk with other women. What's going on with you? How can we change it?
Michelle Hernandez: Now, I feel much more empowered to speak about it. All the restaurants, they need options for women to change out, even if there's just one of us in there. It's not acceptable. We shouldn't have to be afraid to go to work.
Kerry Diamond: We'll be right back after this word.
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Kerry Diamond: Now back to my conversation with Michelle Hernandez of Le Dix-Sept. Let's jump forward. Did you know you'd go back to San Francisco?
Michelle Hernandez: When I originally left, yes. I was like, "I'm going to spend 16 months in Paris, and then I want to come back." But I got there and I remember the first I got out the Metro. Saw the Eiffel Tower and I was like, "There's something about this place." It's obviously magical but for me, I feel really creative. I feel like the city speaks to me. It is my place.
Kerry Diamond: I feel the same way about Paris.
Michelle Hernandez: I mean, part of it is it feels and looks extremely romantic. It's magical. Paris is really magical. I could have continued to stay I think and I'll live there probably at some point, again, but I went back to San Francisco and it was-
Kerry Diamond: Now, you must have had a plan because just based on what you've told us to date-
Michelle Hernandez: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: … you are not a girl who does something impulsively?
Michelle Hernandez: No. My plan was I was going to finish up my job. I was doing both the savory and the pastry at a restaurant, but I left that restaurant and I think I took like a month off but before I left, I kind of set up in place. I called up Gap and I was like, "Hey, I'm going to come back to San Francisco. You guys need any help while I transition? Can I do something from here and then transition back and then I'm going to work in food?" They were so great, and so I was working for them remotely as I did my transition-
Kerry Diamond: Gap must really like you?
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: It's like why don’t I just call this billion-dollar company and see if I can help out?
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah. See if I can help out. I did and I transitioned back to San Francisco. Actually, while I was in Paris, I fell in love with this guy. He came back with me. He was a French chef. He is a French chef and when I went back to San Francisco, he's like, "We can't both work in the food industry. I don't think that's going to work because San Francisco's extremely expensive." I decided to stay with Gap and launch my company at the same time. Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Again, of course, you did.
Michelle Hernandez: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: But that's kind of smart. I feel like it is good to have a safety net.
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah, and it was not even a safety net. I didn't have a choice. The reason it launched so quickly when I came back was I started getting just so much interest. People were like, "Oh, you went to Le Cordon Bleu. What can you do? What can you make?" Early on I got a big corporate order around the holidays so I actually had to make a company like real. I had to get the permits and I had to get the, like my LLC all set up.
Kerry Diamond: What was the vision versus what Le Dix-Sept became?
Michelle Hernandez: Honestly, at that time, I just wanted to start making all of the things that I had learned. I wanted to just start but it wasn't-
Kerry Diamond: Like such as?
Michelle Hernandez: Such as macaron. I mean, there's such a hunger in San Francisco for that. Like with a real Parisian macaron and the tarts, not necessarily cakes. I wasn't into two cakes when I got back, because you actually don't … What you learn in French pastry school is entremet, which are like layered desserts which are very uncommon in, at least, on the West Coast.
Michelle Hernandez: You get it for, if you're at a sit-down restaurant, but you wouldn't buy an entremet the way you just buy an entremet like on a Wednesday night in Paris, which I love. I love like those mousey cakes and all of that. The feedback I got and what I heard from that is this is not a Wednesday night indulgence. In France, that's not an indulgence. That's like on Wednesday. It's not special. I'm eating this beautiful pastry.
Michelle Hernandez: I still hear that now and then, now here and there, but so much in 2011, 2012, 2013, there still was not very many pastry shops. It's exploded now. I think there's still a lot of room but people just didn't … Like it was just too special so I had to see like what was, kind of like temper the market, and then kind of change a little bit the style. I came back and I definitely had this attitude of, "Why don't they like these fancy things?"
Michelle Hernandez: I think it was just like the timing wasn't right. I just have to … I changed it a little bit, the style of it and now I'm able to change it back to what I like and it's … I've really grown a great clientele who is accepting of the work that I do and doesn't feel like we can't have it on a Wednesday night. But the company really has just grown from catering here and there and specialty orders, and then I went into a farmers market. Then, the nougat developed, and so I'm able to get a broader reach.
Michelle Hernandez: My products are here in Marie's and New York, and then I have another place in Boston, but really all over the Bay Area. It's just really grown and I think I wanted a retail space like years ago and have I gotten it, I wouldn't have refined the work that I did. I wouldn't know the market as well as I do now. It wasn't the right time and I think now is the right time and that's something that I'm working on. Hopefully, we'll be open before the end of the year.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, so exciting.
Michelle Hernandez: Uh-huh (affirmative). Right now, it's custom orders only or events. I do pop-up events or my wholesale that you can get in different specialty shops.
Kerry Diamond: I want to talk about the things that you make and specialize in. There's nougat which-
Michelle Hernandez: Yes. Nougat.
Kerry Diamond: … we would probably call nougat here.
Michelle Hernandez: Yes.
Kerry Diamond: Tell us what nougat is.
Michelle Hernandez: Yes. It's a honey-based confection. Right now I always have two standard sets of our classic flavors. One is Le Blanc, which has organic dried mangoes, cacao nibs, and roasted almonds. It's just like a beautiful flavor. It is really floral. I use a floral honey. I have another one that is chocolate, which uses dandelion chocolate which I'm a collaborator with-
Kerry Diamond: The San Francisco chocolate company?
Michelle Hernandez: Yes. I use a 70% chocolate from Ecuador. Then, it's black mission figs, hazelnuts, and pumpkin seeds. It's like I got this really rich-
Kerry Diamond: Sounds so good.
Michelle Hernandez: … beautiful flavor.
Kerry Diamond: I haven't tried the chocolate-
Michelle Hernandez: Yes. It's really delicious. I do that, and then I also do specialty flavors like for the holidays, and then, of course, for Cherry Bombe. One of my other specialties is the love knot, and it is a brioche-style pastry in which I actually braid it and knot it and it comes in the classic flavor is the rose raspberry but I also do vanilla bean and blueberry, which is delicious. Then, a cacao one which is great because it's great to temper this sweet pastry with real cacao.
Kerry Diamond: You're into cacao? It's the second time you mentioned it.
Michelle Hernandez: I am into cacao. There's a whole history of cacao and Mexico and that's part of my heritage. That's why I love being a collaborator with the chocolate company. I get direct access to the beans and the beautiful chocolate. It's got such a rich history and I want to bring that forward.
Kerry Diamond: How are you funding your brick-and-mortar?
Michelle Hernandez: Right now, I am currently applying for a small business loan in San Francisco with a company that has funded a lot of food companies in San Francisco, and you have to be a San Francisco-based company I believe.
Kerry Diamond: You've been very patient and very deliberate but you have such a beautiful product and you really deserve a place.
Michelle Hernandez: Thank you. I appreciate that. I think, yeah, I'm ready.
Kerry Diamond: Good. Well, like I said, whatever we can do-
Michelle Hernandez: Thank you.
Kerry Diamond: … to help on this end.
Michelle Hernandez: I appreciate it.
Kerry Diamond: We will.
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah, and whenever you guys are out in San Francisco, definitely come and see me.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, my God. Absolutely.
Michelle Hernandez: Yeah. Have all the nougat.
Kerry Diamond: We do a little speed round.
Michelle Hernandez: I'm nervous. I listen to everyone's and I was like, "Oh, this is so my answer." But I've blanked out right now so-
Kerry Diamond: Who makes the best macarons in the world?
Michelle Hernandez: I do.
Kerry Diamond: Good answer. Most loved kitchen utensil.
Michelle Hernandez: It is a thing called (French word for raclette spatula). It is a scraper. You know raclette?
Kerry Diamond: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michelle Hernandez: It's like you're scraping the cheese. It is shaped like a half-moon a bit but it has got the right kind of like bounce and like flexibility. It's still hard but it's clear so if you've thrown in the dishwasher, you will lose it. It is absolutely the best. I cannot say … like it is my friend.
Kerry Diamond: Song that makes you smile.
Michelle Hernandez: Right now, I'm in love with this song from Dua Lipa. I don't know if that's … it's Electricity.
Kerry Diamond: Who would you most like to make nougat for?
Michelle Hernandez: The Obamas. Oh, my God. One of my like on my list is to meet Michelle. I mean, obviously, Barack, but Michelle is like … She is everything.
Kerry Diamond: If you were trapped on a desert island with one food celebrity, who would it be and why?
Michelle Hernandez: Originally, I was going to, I think I would say Cedric Grolet. He was named the best pastry chef in the world just because I think I have so much to learn, but really I met Samin, and I feel like-
Kerry Diamond: Samin Nosrat?
Michelle Hernandez: Yes. We would have so much fun but also we get … that I want somehow. I think between the two of us, we could do it.
Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you so much to Michele Hernandez of Le Dix-Sept. Be sure to check out her work online and on Instagram and maybe even order some of that nougat. Michele, we're so excited for the next chapter in your career. Also, thank you to today's sponsors. Traeger Grills and Le Cordon Bleu culinary schools. Don't forget, we'd love if you could support the Hunger Doesn't Take a Break Initiative from the Food Bank for New York City. Visit foodbanknyc.org for more.
Kerry Diamond: Radio Cherry Bombe is a production of Cherry Bombe Media. Our show is edited, engineered, and produced by Jess Zeidman. Our special projects director is Lauren Paige Goldstein. Our publisher is Kate Miller Spencer, and our intern is Julia Fabricant. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala. Thanks for listening, everybody. You're the bombe.
When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.
Cheryl Day: Hi. My name is Cheryl day and I'm a baker and co-owner of Back In The Day Bakery in Savannah Georgia. Do you want to know who I think is the bomb? Nicole Rucker. She's a cookbook author and the pie queen of Los Angeles. She's an amazing self-taught baker who honed her craft through hard work and dedication. She still blows my mind with her delicious creations.