Meet the French Chef Making Crepes Inspired by Edith Piaf
“I think it’s quite a unique galette and she’s very unique. It just fits her character, in my mind.”
In the middle of London's Covent Garden, sandwiched between the faux French bistros and bakeries peddling stale croissants, Mamie's crêperie is a much-needed slice of real Brittany.
"My family has lived in London for ten years and we've always wanted to find a proper Breton crêperie to go to," says owner and professional crêpier Aymeric Peurois. "The crêpes from street market stalls are often too thick and spongy. And they'll use the same batter for sweet and savoury."
I admit, I was sceptical about exactly how authentic the crêpes and galettes at Mamie's would be. Peurois' background is in finance and I'm pretty sure traditional Breton crêperies don't have hanging succulents in the window. But as Peurois tells me of his Breton roots and introduces head chef Antoine Le Jean, who's from the north western region of France, I begin to change my mind.
"I was working in an office during the week and at the weekends, I was commuting to Paris to work as a waiter in a crêperie," says Peurois. "After I quit, I travelled around Brittany to find the best ingredients, like Breton buckwheat flour for the galettes and cider, which is traditionally served alongside crêpes."
"And then I went to crêpe school."
Aymeric laughs: "Yes, it's a thing! I think more and more schools are opening because people want to learn and then take the idea of a traditional French crêperie, making crêpes and galettes, to other places."
He adds: "The training can range from a few weeks to a few months. Then you'll have parts where you'll have experience in a restaurant."
It's time for my crash course, and we're making galettes.
Le Jean starts adding water to buckwheat flour with a pinch of salt. He then mixes it to make the batter.
"I started in kitchens with my father in Brittany," says Le Jean. "I started making crêpes and learned from there."
The first rule of galette-making? Get the batter right.
"The recipe for the batter is really important," explains Peurois. "It's got to be liquid enough but not too liquid. To get a really thin galette or crêpe, which is what you're aiming for, the batter has to be liquid to spread well. But then if it's too liquid, the milk in the case of crêpes, or water in the case of galettes, is going to boil. You'll end up with patches of flour everywhere."
Of course, Le Jean is measuring everything just by eye.
Peurois continues: "You're also taught how to maintain the billig [the crêpe plate]. For every galette or crêpe that you make, you put some butter on the plate first. You'll get a layer of burnt fat that you have to get rid of every so often, otherwise the crêpe and galettes won't cook the same way."
Le Jean pours some of the batter onto the round plate and warns me: "The first one is never great."
Of course, it turns out perfectly. And of course, there's a knack to spreading the batter correctly, too.
"At the school, they teach you the gesture to spread the batter. This is critical," says Peurois. "Very often you see that gesture where people just turn it around in a big sweep. That's achievable when you've got thick batter which will make the thick street market crêpes. But the traditional gesture is several strokes to make sure that it's spread evenly and to control the shape."
He adds: "Depending on the recipe, you also have to be quick enough that the galette is not going to burn, but the ingredients you put inside will be heated up and cooked."
"You want to know the real secret to making a good galette?" asks Le Jean. "Butter."
A true Frenchman.
Unsurprisingly, it's proven hard to find British staff who can make crêpes to Mamie's' exacting standards.
"It's really hard to find crêpe chefs here in London. When we advertise it, there are lots of people who say they know how to do it or say they're willing to learn," says Peurois.
He continues: "It's different to just being able to make pancakes. It's perceived as being so simple and sometimes people don't realise the amount of professionalism the job requires."
Galettes made, it's time for fillings.
"Aymeric and I talk about our ideas and try to find a mix with the menu," says Le Jean. "I take a little bit from everywhere I've cooked in the past as well as what I like to eat."
Into one galette goes a sausage and in the other, blue cheese, walnuts, and warm pear.
"The galette with the sausage is very typical of Brittany and we've called it La Chateaubriand, after François-René de Chateaubriand, a writer from the region. We wanted to have the names of French figures incorporated into the menu," explains Peurois.
So, who's the other galette in honour of?
"The one with blue cheese is called L'Edith Piaf. I think it's quite a unique galette and she's very unique. It just fits her character, in my mind," laughs Peurois.
I might have just inhaled a second and third breakfast, but in the spirit of the galette's namesake, je ne regrette rien.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2016.