PARIS: In the Arabic language, aleph is the first letter of the alphabet. It is the beginning of everything. For Syrian entrepreneur and pastry chef Myriam Sabet, her small pastry business in Paris — Maison Aleph — gave her a fresh start.
Sabet was born in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, to a French-speaking family. The 45-year-old describes Aleppo’s cuisine as diverse, due to Armenian, Turkish, and Persian influences.
“I come from a family, where no one was a professional pastry chef,” Sabet tells Arab News. “But, as with all Aleppian families, we all cooked, we always talked about food and where to buy the best things.”
When Sabet was 10, she moved with her family to West Africa, but their ties to Aleppo endured, and they visited every summer for over two decades.
After finishing her studies in Montreal, Sabet was offered a job opportunity in Paris, in an entirely different field than her current profession: Finance. That was her career for 12 years.
“Paris was always the center,” she says. “I came and lived here as an adult on my own; I was 23. It was a personal choice.” It took starting her own family, as well as the support of her husband, who is her associate at the company, to rethink where her career was headed.
“I think it was the birth of our first daughter that pushed me to ask myself the question, ‘What is it that you want to spend the rest of your life doing?’” she says. So she set about earning her diploma in pastry.
Despite living in arguably the world’s most demanding and competitive culinary city, Sabet was not daunted by the idea of throwing her chef’s hat into the ring.
“The idea was really not to just be another pastry shop in Paris,” she says. “I knew I could bring something different. I like pastry very much. I know the flavors that I like and I’m very strict in terms of quality of products that we use.” Sabet’s produce combines pronounced Levantine flavors with precise French techniques.
Five years ago, Sabet finally opened Maison Aleph in the culturally mixed district of Le Marais. Its fare is vibrant, visually pleasing, and offers surprising combinations: Chocolate bars infused with orange and zaatar; vanilla and saffron ice cream; and a flan perfumed with orange blossom. One of Sabet’s main goals is to present a modern, bite-size take on classical desserts.
Sabet likes to play with words as well as flavors: She has renamed her ‘thousand-sheet-layered’ millefeuille to ‘1001 millefeuilles,’ a nod to the classic collection of Middle Eastern folk tales, “One Thousand and One Nights.”
She also has an eye for detail. Maison Aleph’s pastry boxes are covered in elegant blue lines, which she says is a reference to the geometric flooring of the Great Mosque of Aleppo, a World Heritage Site that dates back to the 8th century CE.
Sabet starts her day early. All the food at Maison Aleph is made fresh, daily, by Sabet and her eight-member team. It is a painstaking process.
“I think people don’t realize how much work goes into pastry,” she says. “Some people know that just to make that small bite, there’s a lot of hours of work. But, most people will look at it and be, like, ‘What? It’s just fruit, cream and butter.’”
Her award-winning patisserie has been a hit, critically and commercially. So much so that Sabet decided to open a second outlet in December last year on a popular shopping street, Rue des Abbesses, in Montmartre.
“The first shop was a test,” she says. “We had no idea if people would like it, because it was such a new creation — it was neither Levantine pastry nor French pastry. And it’s not a fusion, at all. The idea is to propose to Parisian people what I believe is good, and to promote unknown flavors.”