BANGKOK — Some of the best croissants and macarons in Bangkok are actually made in a small café run by a French of royal Laotian descent.
Marcel Chatenet, owner and chef at Maison Chatenet on Bush Lane, just off Charoenkrung 30 Road and a stone’s throw from the historic Portuguese Embassy, has been quietly preparing some of the best croissants and macarons in town for the past two years since it was founded.
Most days of the week at 2am, the 47-year-old Chatenet reports to the pastry room to prepare the flour and other chores so the café can be ready to serve them at 8am.
Given such demanding hours, Chatenet, whose family adopted the French family name due to political reasons and is descended from the Champasak royalty in Laos, closes the place on Mondays and Tuesdays. He aims to bring the best of France patisseries to Bangkok.
Both flour and butter are imported from France for small-batch croissants, made 30 pieces at a time for 70 baht apiece.
“We need to educate the people what’s the real thing. So we bring what is best from France to the Thai people,” said Chatenet, who might be mistaken for a French diplomat in the manner of his speaking.
Chatenet migrated to France at the age of eight. His father, an army colonel of Champasak royal blood, was detained in Laos after the communist revolution before being released 15 years later to join him in Montmagny, north of Paris, to lead a quiet life of exile.
Chatenet says many locally-made croissants are not even made with butter but margarine. Speaking with a passion for culinary excellence, Chatenet said he learned the trade from his younger brother, a professional chef and pastry maker. He went on to receive a diploma from Lycee Guillaume Tirel culinary academy in Paris.
Besides macarons and croissants, Chatenet says he does a selection of pastries in rotation but there is no fixed menu. You simply have to call or drop by at the café which seats 48 people to find out the pastry du jour. The pastry chef, who is assisted by four Thai staff, insists what’s on offer is only a fraction of what’s available in France.
For October, which just started, you get apple tarts and Paris Brest, which is a French pastry made of choux pastry and a praline-flavored cream.
Chatenet says he is not competing with big bakery chains from France in Bangkok and his volume is really tiny compared to them.
“We have our own clients. Most of our clients they don’t go for Paul. Paul is volume. There is no competition at all,” Chatenet said. One of his regular Thai clients sends a Grab deliverer to fetch six croissants and teas to deliver once a week to his home in Rangsit, just north of Bangkok.
“We give choice to people. This is real croissants,” he declared proudly in his French-accented English.
Chatenet is passionate about French pastries and laments how the turnover is high among his Thai staff. So when he returns home to visit France for 10 days, as he did last month, the café had to be closed.
“You need to have passion and be patience. Some don’t,” he says of working with some of his staff who are required to be at his patisserie at 6am, four hours after he arrived.
Some customers are now urging Chatenet to offer authentic French food as well, something he is seriously toying with. Perhaps a bistro, says the soft-spoken Chatenet.
One thing Chatenet immediately rules out is not pastry or food, however, but politics – Laotian politics to be exact. His family is still viewed with suspicion by the Laotian communist state because they may still enjoy some royalist support there.
“We don’t do politics,” Chatenet says as he excused himself to prepare the offerings for tomorrow.
Maison Chatenet, located on Charoen Krung 30 Road, opens from Wednesday to Sunday from 8am to 4pm.