Bonjour tout le monde!
This week, we are so excited to publish an interview with Aude, the owner of Un je ne sais quoi in Dupont Circle. For those of you who don’t know, Un je ne sais quoi is a magnifique bakery/café located in Washington, DC. The atmosphere, cuisine, and ambiance can’t be beat. It’s a great place to go and practice your français!
French in D.C: What region/city of France are you originally from?
Aude: We both are from Lille, in the North of France. It’s located two hours from Paris, and one hour from Brussels and London.
French in D.C: What made you decide to open a patisserie in Washington, D.C? Did you own one in France as well?
Aude: We came to D.C to visit because François wanted to see the Lincoln Memorial and we fell in love with the city. We did not find a large offer of French pastry shops, so we decided to open one. In France, François used to own a wine shop, and I worked in communication at the unemployment agency. François did culinary school when he was young, so he knew the basics. He sold his wine shop, and then worked in a bakery to learn new recipes.
French in D.C: What is your most popular item, and what do you think makes it so delicious?
Aude: Everybody loves our almond croissant. It is so popular that we had to double the quantities we make on the weekend. We also have a pistachio version and almond, and pistachio and pecan versions for the pain au chocolat. François is very generous regarding his pastries so his almond or pistachio croissant is very well-stuffed with homemade frangipane. It’s crunchy on the outside and smooth on the inside.
French in D.C: Do you have a favorite item to make?
Aude: The St. Honoré because you use different techniques when making it: flaky dough, pâte à choux, ganache, icing, or caramel and pastry cream.
French in D.C: Could you tell us about the different techniques used to make the pastries served at Un je ne sais quoi ?
Aude: The techniques are numerous, but the one you use the most is the pipping. We use it from early morning with the pâte à choux to make the chouquettes (these little hollow choux with sugar on top), the Paris Brest, the éclair, to the afternoon to make the meringues for our Merveilleux.
French in D.C: Which pastry, in your opinion, is the most quintessential French pastry?
Aude: In our opinion, the St Honoré is the most quintessential French pastry. This pastry was named after the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs, Saint Honoré. He was the Bishop of Amiens, and was invented in 1847 at the Chiboust Bakery on Rue Saint Honoré in Paris. The first one was vanilla flavor but now you can have several other flavors like chocolate, strawberry. As described before, you use different techniques, so it makes it a very challenging cake to make.
French in D.C: We noticed that the “mascot” of Un je ne sais quoi is a deer eating a Merveilleux. We bet there’s a story behind that. Where did the idea come from?
Aude: When we had the idea of opening a pastry shop in D.C, we wanted to make only our specialty, the Merveilleux, which comes from the North of France. It is made of meringue, ganache, whipped cream and shavings of chocolate. Merveilleux is a term used in French to speak about magic and fairy tales. When we were looking on the web to create a fairy tale universe, we found Claire Guiral, a French artist from Bordeaux. We visited her and her universe of characters made of paper, and it was perfectly matching the idea of what we wanted to create. We asked us to create one character per pastry: the deer for the Merveilleux, the Unicorn for the Mythique (white chocolate), the jay for the Memorable (coffee), the fox for the Majestueux (speculoos), and a beautiful fairy for the Magique (violet). A few weeks later, she sent us the drawings which are now on the wall of the pastry shop and we agreed that it was exactly what we wanted.
French in D.C: We imagine that you had to make some adjustments due to the COVID restrictions in cafés and restaurants. How did Un je ne sais quoi adapt to this challenge?
Aude: The pandemic period was very tough, but our customers always showed their support. We had to close one month in March/April 2020 and when we reopened, we had to limit the seating. So, we decided to offer delivery through UberEats. The Mayor of DC, Muriel Bowser, limited the delivery app fees for the restaurant at 15%, which was a big help, because it was at 30% before.
French in DC: For our students who are débutants, what is the best way to order a pastry in French?
Aude: Bonjour, j’aimerais commander un St Honoré au chocolat s’il vous plaît. Merci.
French in DC: What else would you like us to know?
Aude: We are very happy and proud to be part of the DMV community. It has been a big challenge for the whole family to come to the U.S, because we did not know if our project will be a success or not, but we never regretted our choice. We would like to thank our customers, regular or new, for their support since we started our pastry shop. When we opened, everyone was encouraging, asking us how the business was and telling us that they were happy that we were here. We are really thankful to have this everyday support since then! Merci beaucoup !