Sebastien Thieffine has been delighting the Paradise Coast with his sweet creations since he started as executive pastry chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples in 2007. In late 2019, he moved to Seed to Table, the 75,000-square-foot superstore opened by Alfie Oakes of Oakes Farms. NI caught up with Thieffine to talk all things pastry.
NI: Why did you become a pastry chef?
Theiffine: My two grandmothers cooked all the time, and my grandfather was a baker. When I was small, he used to take me around to professional kitchens and pastry shops. I started at 13, cleaning sheet pans and sweeping up flour from the floor. It was menial work at first, but I loved it. He was my inspiration, and I wanted to make him happy.
How many people work with you at Seed to Table?
I have a staff of 75, including two pastry chefs and a head baker. We have an in-store pastry shop, an ice cream parlor, and a bakery where we make bread in front of the customers. We really produce everything, including cakes, pies, pastry, cookies, ice cream, and sorbets, as well as special orders.
How important is visual appeal?
Presentation is crucial. It’s the opposite of a restaurant, where a guest might order a dessert based on the menu or a server’s description. We sell a lot of grab-and-go items, and people have to be able to see the product— otherwise they won’t buy it.
Describe a typical day.
I haven’t had one yet! We run a 24/7 operation, and I try to see the people on every shift each day. I never sit in an office; I’m always in the kitchen, helping out and jumping in wherever I’m needed.
Tell us about your famous gingerbread house.
I started the tradition when I was at The Ritz-Carlton. It’s nearly life-sized and contains 40,000 pieces of candy, 800 gingerbread bricks, 350 gingerbread shingles, 600 pounds of all-purpose flour, 300 pounds of icing sugar, 320 eggs, and hundreds of pounds of honey and sugar. When I interviewed for the job, Mr. Oakes showed me a picture of his family in front of the gingerbread house at The Ritz and asked if we could have one at the market.
Do you have a favorite part of the job?
I love interacting with our customers. My favorite part of the job is our commitment to quality. The happiness of our customers is more important than any money we could possibly make. And as I get older, I return more and more to the basics. Trends are fine, but there’s a reason bread and pies have been around for a long time.