KEARNEY — For a limited time, a little bit of French culture has invaded a downtown Kearney coffee shop and kitchen.
At Kitt’s Kitchen & Coffee Bar, customers have peered through the glass bakery case and oohed and aahed at delicate French pastries positioned next to American bakery staples.
Among the authentic French pastries were flaky and buttery croissants; pain au chocolat, laminated bread filled with ribbons of chocolate; cream and mousse filled tartlets garnished with fruit and/or cream; and entrements, mousse-filled desserts atop cake and finished with a glossy dome.
The beautiful additions to Kitt’s Kitchen & Coffee Bar’s case have been created by Lucas Tessier, 20, of Lons-le-Saunier, France. Since Feb. 11, the first-time U.S. visitor has been practicing his pastry making skills in Kearney.
Tessier said his passion is baking, but he is studying economics in France because he wants a diploma, and patisserie school admittance is competitive. Because he likely would need a patisserie diploma to work in a French bakery, Kitt’s Kitchen owners Brock Arehart and Andrew Brackett are offering Tessier experience working in their restaurant’s kitchen. Arehart also is hosting Tessier at his home during the visit.
Arehart said Tessier volunteers his time at their establishment at 2001 Ave. A. He often arrives at 6:30 a.m. to bake and he leaves at 5 p.m.
“He’s spending all of that time just because he enjoys doing it. So we gave him a place to play, really, and to bake and to create things. He doesn’t work for us,” Arehart said.
The experience has solidified Tessier’s love for the art and craft of baking.
“It was my first time working in a bakery,” Tessier said. “So I really love it now.”
Arehart added, “And this was the first time that he got to see his pastries in a case for people to come in and buy it.”
Tessier is offering only a limited number of his creations to Kitt’s Kitchen customers through mid-March.
“He makes what he makes, puts it out there and sometimes it disappears very quickly. It just depends on the day,” Arehart said.
Though Arehart has been watching Tessier bake, he said he likely won’t attempt to replicate any of Tessier’s recipes when he’s gone.
“That wasn’t really my goal,” Arehart said. “I wanted to, in a selfish way, to experience what this tasted like on a daily basis, and I will probably gain 20 pounds before he goes home.”
Arehart said he also wants his customers and baristas to experience another culture, even if it’s for a short period. Tessier said he would like to return to Nebraska on a more permanent basis, but he doesn’t know when.
Tessier and Arehart’s paths cross
Arehart learned about Tessier and his passion and skill for baking after one of Kitt’s baristas traveled to France for a wedding. After meeting Tessier, the barista told Arehart about him and his career goal. Arehart said he wanted to visit with Tessier and help him achieve his dream.
When Arehart, 58, learned about the challenges of becoming a pastry chef in France, he saw himself in the younger Tessier.
Tessier learned to bake and cook from cookbooks and YouTube videos at a young age. He often would cook meals for his family when his parents, owners of a civil engineering business, worked late nights.
Arehart, of an earlier generation, learned to cook and bake from encyclopedic cookbooks on his parents’ rural Wilcox farm. He bought the cookbooks, he said, from a traveling Bible salesman.
“I bought my first cookbook from him, along with a couple of Bibles, and I started exploring this cookbook,” Arehart said in a December interview with the Hub. “I’m 14 years old, coming home after sports hungry, and mom was working and I got tired of French toast and the easy things I could cook. So I started learning how to make things like Chateau Trillion baklava when I was a teenager.”
Arehart began working in diners and restaurants when he was 19. But Arehart learned he couldn’t climb the ladder to chef because he didn’t go to culinary school. He took a detour and earned his bachelor of arts and master of arts in English and taught at the college level for a while. Arehart returned full-time to his passion for cooking and baking when he and Andrew Brackett opened Kitt’s Kitchen & Coffee Bar in February 2017.
“So that resonated with me when he (Tessier) was telling his story, and I knew what it felt like to be frustrated knowing where you want to get to but knowing that opportunity was going to be really difficult,” Arehart said.
Though Arehart and Tessier aren’t classically trained, they have been told that their food is delicious.
While working at another Kearney restaurant, Arehart said women constantly asked him for his soup recipes. He now serves soups for lunch at Kitt’s, as well as American classic goodies such as muffins and blueberry buckle.
The Hub’s videographer Ana Salazar had a chance to try Tessier’s croissants. She said it tasted just like what she ate at a French bakery in London.
“It just transported me back to the summer I had them,” Salazar said.
The croissants were delicious, she added.
Making French pastries
Tessier believes making French food is simpler than American cuisine, but Arehart disagrees.
Croissants, for example, are made with laminated or layered dough.
“He makes the dough. Then that sheet of butter goes in and he folds it over, roll that out and then they fold it over,” Arehart said.
Tessier’s favorite dessert to make are entrements because “they look amazing.”
The glossy, almost glass-like exterior is made from a sugar and gelatin mixture. Arehart said other parts of the process are more complex. The filling is made in a mold and then set inside another mold.
“So I say it’s much more complicated than a muffin,” Arehart said with a laugh. “A muffin, you stir stuff up.”
Arehart compared eating one of Tessier’s chocolate entrements to ice cream. But it’s not frozen, he said.
Tessier also has had an opportunity to experiment with new ingredients, such as Arehart and Brackett’s roasted coffee, Calico. He infused the espresso into the cream filling of one of his tartlets, Arehart said.
He just doesn’t dabble in sweets either. Tessier has made breads and baguettes. Arehart said he now prefers Tessier’s French breads over American supermarket bakery breads.
When asked what Arehart is going to do without Tessier, Arehart said: “I don’t know. I’m already dreading that thought.”