Pastry chef goes for the gold

By Bertha Serrano

Waiting for the sound of the bell to ring made Dimitri Fayard anxious. The 10 minute countdown seemed to last forever. A competition he had trained for the past nine months of his life was about to begin.

The competition lasted 13 hours, five hours on the first day and eight on the second. Fayard ended up winning a gold medal at the World Pastry Championship, a two day bi-annual pastry contest in Nashville. Nine countries participated in the competition, including the United States, Japan, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, China, Russia, South Korea and Mexico.

“It’s a blessing because that’s what I wanted to do and that’s the only thing I know of,” Fayard said about winning the gold. “I can’t do anything else.”

He was born in L’isle Arne, France where he was raised by his family. Although none of them were in the pastry business, he knew that pastry was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

“In France,  you kind of have to make up your mind pretty fast. By 16

you should be learning your job, whether it’s a doctor or a mechanic,” he said. “That’s why at 12 I knew what I wanted to do.”

At first, he was going to assist the USA team during the training. Things changed when one of the chefs had to drop out of the championship, leaving a spot for him. Britany Walling, a student at the Culinary Institute of America, was at Fayard’s side during his nine months of training.

“It was a crazy time for him because not only was he doing the competition but he was doing it while running the shop-and he has twin girls and a wife,” she said.

Back at home in Lincoln Park, Fayard is the co-owner of Vanille Patisserie, 2229 N. Clybourn Ave. He looks like a customer rather than the owner and although he is shy and fairly young, his down-to-earth attitude helps him approach the customers more comfortably.

The front window of Vanille used to display the shop’s newest cakes or samples. Now, a sign reads, “Congratulations Team USA World Pastry Champions.” The shop is a small cozy place where many of the customers know Fayard on a first name basis and speak to him in French. Two display cases show the newest of his colorful creations from tiramisu to croissants.

Aside from French pastries, the shop also carries custom-made cakes created by Fayard’s wife, Keli Fayard, who is the co-owner of Vanille.

“Since we opened the business five years ago, we were just going to do this [French pastries] and I said, ‘Well I want to do what I love, and that’s cakes,'” she said. “So that’s why I brought in the American side to the French pastry shop.”

Keli Fayard has known Dimitri Fayard since he was 19 when they worked together  in New York. Since then, they have managed the business together and raise their 6-year-old twin girls. She said it was very stressful while he was away training because he couldn’t help run the business. She remembers  there were times when she didn’t have a day off for weeks.

“Sometimes I would ask him something and he would just say, ‘I’m not here, ask my assistant,'” she said.

Fayard finds himself in a place where he doesn’t know what’s next. He owns a shop, has a wife, has kids, owns a house and is considered the best pastry chef in the world after winning the gold medal-all the things he wanted while growing up.

“It makes me feel good just because everything I do, I do it for myself. It’s a personal satisfaction,” he said. “Those are goals that I set since I started and I’m happy I have reached my goals.”