Three sweet decades on the Main Line for a French pastry chef

Patrick Gauthron and Nina Gauthron at their pastry shop, Aux Petits Delices, in Wayne, Pa.

Fifty years ago, Patrick Gauthron first stepped into a pastry kitchen as he began an apprenticeship in Beaune, the capital of Burgundy. Seeking work, he ventured outside his hometown. He wanted to go to America. A friend put him in touch with Georges Perrier. Two air-mail letters later, he was hired as the first pastry chef at Le Bec-Fin. Thirty years ago, he opened Aux Petits Delices -- "the small delights" -- in a storefront on Lancaster Avenue in Wayne.  

Gauthron runs the shop with his wife, Nina.

Wait. You began working in pastries 50 years ago?

I started at 13½. I'm from the old apprenticeship school. I graduated at 17½.

Was your family in the business?

No, I baked with my mother. I'm from the farmland. Grew up in the farms, so I had great ingredients to eat every day and Sunday a big meal, and I was always interested to make dessert with my mother. I was not going to stay on the farm, so I was debating what I was going to do and said, "Well, I'll go to school for pastries." I graduated in 1968.

Tell me how you came to the U.S.

After working in Dijon, south of France, I went on the road to get more experience. I was in Divonne-les-Bains, on the border of Switzerland, where I met a chef. My dream was to come to America. That chef agreed to sponsor me. I sent two letters to Georges Perrier, and one day he answered the letter that he needed a pastry chef.  I came to work for  Perrier in November '78. I stayed with him until '84. By then, I had my business plan to find a place, and in March 1987, I found this place and moved here.

How has the public's taste in pastry evolved since 1987?  

I've tried to stay classical French. The big evolution is on wedding cakes and the internet. Anything an artist does on the internet, they want you to duplicate. That's the challenge because it's not easy. We do a lot of customized cake. You see them in the window. We do anything from a Louis Vuitton bow, a castle, everything.  But I still make my pastry -- my croissant, my napoleon, my éclair.  That's what the people come here for -- a custard is a custard, a mousse is a mousse. Here on the Main Line, people are really -- how you would say? -- they don't want to experiment too, too much. 

People don't like you to go outside the box?

I would not say that, but you have to do baby steps when you try some new thing. I had one dessert with passion fruit and mango. Lovely. I like the bitterness of the passion fruit. But only the Asian people will buy it. Now, if I'm in New York City, that's a different story. 

When did you meet your wife?

I met my wife in 1992. We met on a plane going to the Olympics. It was the Winter Olympics in Albertville.  She was on the front of the plane, and I was on the back of the plane. So when things are meant to be. ... We got married in 1994, and we have a 16-year-old son named Blake.

Does Blake want to get into the business?

 I don't know, maybe management, maybe hotel manager or something. He's a little interested in baking, but he's only 16. He works in here, and he has a job at 333 Belrose, too. He works in the kitchen.  He might be interested in doing this as a career, but we don't know. He's too young.

But you were 13½ and you were baking.

Well, that was an apprentice. That was amazing. That was the last year from my generation. I dropped out of high school to go to apprenticeship. In 1968, they changed that. Before, they didn't want the kids to have more education. But I went to pastry school, and going on the road, you know you learn so much.

Why did you leave Le Bec-Fin?

I wanted to move on to be on my own. I had been doing freelancing. I liked it. I left to look around and do a business plan, and while freelancing you have a chance to get lots of new recipes. 

What made you then take a storefront?

I got lucky, because this store was open for one year, and a good friend of mine who lives in Wayne told me it was up for grabs.  I wanted to go back to the pastry side of the business.  I wanted to be recognized for what I do.

 Do you ever think of retiring?

One of these days I will. In a few years. I cannot take a lot of vacation. This is me and my wife running this place. The time out for me is very limited. The only reason I would do it is to travel. ... It is very demanding to run,  people are more  demanding. The thing is, when you're on top and bringing in good money, just like a singer on top, it's the hardest thing to stay there. Right now, I'm so on top, one little thing goes wrong, people get mad. You have all the typing now. That's killing us. You know, the Yelp. I do have enough people to [run the shop]. I still go to France for two or 2½ weeks. But I always have to worry if something goes wrong.