Four facts about Sophie de Bernardi, Café de la Paix’s head pastry chef

14 November 2019
Sophie de Bernardi - ICF
Sophie de Bernardi is going places. This young pastry chef is not yet 30-years-old, but she has already worked in the kitchens of some of the biggest name restaurants—including some with Michelin stars—and launched a hotel-restaurant in Fontainebleau. For almost two years now, the talented pastry chef has been at the helm of the legendary Café de la Paix in Paris. She leads a team of 22 people there, dusting off traditional pastries by bringing a touch of modernity through floral flavours and colours. We met up with her to find out more.

She wanted to become a history teacher

She didn’t set out to be a pastry chef. With an engineer father and a mother in the legal profession, from a young age, Sophie de Bernardi had her sights set on becoming a history teacher. But one day, her mother, seeing her love for pastry, gave her a completely different idea. "She called the person who had taken over my godfather's bakery, in Etampes, and got me a weekend work placement," the pastry chef reminisces. "I ended up spending my holidays there—I immediately fell in love with it."

She was François Perret's first apprentice

Once she had her goal in sight, the budding pastry chef gave it her all. After graduating from high school, she began a BEP apprenticeship in baking, before going on to a vocational qualification in restaurant desserts at the Lancaster restaurant, in Paris.

"I got on really well with François Perret [named as “Best Restaurant Pastry Chef in the World” in 2019]," she says. "It was his first position as a chef: he had just left George V and I was his first apprentice. I stayed a year, before going on to study for a BTM qualification. I then followed him for the opening of Shangri-La, a Parisian hotel-restaurant." After obtaining her BTM qualification, with honours, Sophie de Bernardi set out to conquer the kitchens of France.

She became a head pastry chef at the age of 25 under the expertise of Jessica Préalpato

She met Jessica Préalpato [named as “Best Pastry Chef in the World” in 2019], with whom she worked at the restaurant 39.5. Préalpato then promoted her to the head of a hotel-restaurant in Fontainebleau, for which she oversaw the launch and managed the pastry department. "It's called La Demeure du Parc," explains the pastry chef. "It was my first job as a head chef, at 25 years old. I stayed there for two and a half years. This place was my baby, the chef was a friend of mine, and it enabled me to have confidence in myself and to feel up to scratch as a pastry chef. It was a great experience."

She took over at the helm of the famous Café de la Paix

But the chef is incapable of staying still. Two years after the opening of the hotel-restaurant, she left in search of a new challenge. It was at this point that a position became available at the Café de la Paix. And even though the role was somewhat intimidating, she decided to give it a try.

"I thought, 'Go ahead and give it your all, you have nothing to lose,'" she said. "I went there, I made things that meant a lot to me, and the test went really well. The chef told me that I was his favourite and offered me the job soon after."

The 17th December will mark two years since Sophie de Bernardi started as head pastry chef at Café de la Paix, a role in which she feels total job satisfaction. "It took time to get used to it, to understand the house. La Demeure du Parc was like my little paddling pool and the Café de la Paix is my Olympic-sized swimming pool," she laughs. "Today, I am delighted and, thanks to Café de la Paix, I have incredible freedom of expression. I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who have placed their trust in me so that I can express myself and find what is important to me."

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