In Marseille, “Oh faon!” is a familiar phrase used to express surprise. It is also the name of a vegan pastry shop. In the kitchen, Kevin Yau (H.13) and Jérôme Rafaelli concoct astonishing sweets with seasonal products, the result of a delightful encounter.
“Jérôme and I have always loved baking cakes,” explains Kevin. “Both of us come from families that adore cooking and food. We have been immersed in the world of gastronomy since childhood.” Surprisingly, the two boys first met on a movie set. “At the time, I was working in TV production, and he was a director. Then I did consulting.”
Kevin left Paris behind to move to the Phocaean city when his partner decided to start a pastry shop. Oh Faon! was a double career change: Jérôme was an assistant director, and Kevin was a digital marketing consultant. “My childhood dream has always been to open a restaurant. Today, we run the shop together.”
He doesn’t regret this life change for a second. “Consulting is a job I loved. I met many different people, and the corporate world fascinates me, but I also have a strong connection to hands-on work. With my inclination for gastronomy, this career change seemed obvious to me!” Culinary schools don’t teach you how to perfect a recipe or laminate puff pastry. Kevin had to roll up his sleeves and “get hands-on to learn on the job.“
Being a pastry chef is also a retail job. “When we opened Oh Faon!, I was alone in sales. I liked it a lot because I needed to be in contact with customers. It’s a rewarding experience that is unfortunately rare in traditional tertiary jobs,” he says. From his education at HEC, he remembers discipline and organizational skills that are of great help in running the shop.
While the pastries at Oh Faon are exclusively made from plant-based and organic ingredients, the shop does not particularly advertise its vegan character.
The term ‘vegan’ is not displayed anywhere in the shop, assures Kevin. ‘Vegetal Pastry’ is written on the door, but no one pays attention to it. We assumed that vegans know we exist, so they come to us. But our goal is to surprise customers and make cakes that will appeal to vegans as well as others
Regarding the origin of their ingredients, the shop demonstrates transparency: products from a short and local supply chain, and fruits cultivated within a radius of less than 100 km. “It’s a real luxury, as the fruits are picked at full maturity; they are not imported. This allows us to reduce the sugar content in our preparations,” explains the committed pastry chef.
Consuming locally, yes, but also seasonally! Even if, for some customers, not finding raspberry tart in the middle of winter is hard to swallow, the pastry duo is uncompromising on this principle! “In the kitchen, the idea of seasonality imposed itself quite easily; everyone understands that we don’t eat tomatoes in December. In the pastry domain, it’s more complicated; customers have a harder time accepting it. Yet, it’s essential to respect the seasons, not only in terms of costs but also for taste! The real luxury is eating fruits that have ripened in the fields, not having strawberries in winter,” he says. An environmental commitment that also challenges the chefs to update their menu through the seasons.
“Rather than talking about veganism, we prefer to speak of ethics.” And this sense of ethics is a true calling: to create recipes without any animal-derived ingredients, the two cooks worked tirelessly for a long time. “We spent a year and a half on it. Replacing butter, milk, eggs, or even gelatin with plant-based ingredients was a massive R&D effort! When we opened in 2017, vegan pastry as a movement was in its early stage. There were no recipes or training. But we knew where we wanted to go: we wanted to create original recipes with unique textures and flavors!”
Young and Famous
An exquisite and largely successful gamble as, last September, their butterless endeavor received the World Pastry Prize for Ethical and Environmental Responsibility! “Being nominated was a shock! Cities outside of the capital are not often in the spotlight, especially in the field of vegan pastry. Moreover, we are still newcomers in the pastry world: we got our degree not so long ago… But word of mouth and the support of our fellow pastry chefs, including Pierre Hermé, have greatly helped us get recognition,” Kevin says, proudly. “This distinction was an honor for us and a significant resonance within the vegan or organic communities.“
The future of Oh Faon ! still holds some surprises, as the two pastry chefs are currently reproducing historical recipes for the needs of a culinary series currently in production. To be continued…