Behind the Counter with Seattle Pastry Chef William Leaman of Bakery Nouveau

When girding up for holiday festivities, did you know that Valentine’s Day ranks second behind Christmas in consumer spending? According to the National Retail Federation, Americans dished almost $19 billion celebrating Valentine’s Day in 2015. Chocolate accounts for at least 50 percent of Valentine’s Day purchases, including artisan treats concocted by pastry chefs.

In Seattle, chocolate lovers swoon over enticing assortments available at specialty chocolatiers like Fran’s Chocolates, Theo Chocolate, and Chocolopolis. But for those in search of the perfect patisserie, Seattle cult favorite Bakery Nouveau beckons.

Here, Foodable TV sneaks a peek behind the counter with Bakery Nouveau’s award-winning pastry chef William Leaman to find out some of the secrets behind his sweet success.

Chef William Leaman | Bakery Nouveau

Bakery Nouveau’s pastry chef William Leaman imparts an international panache at his beloved bakeries on Capitol Hill and in West Seattle. From crusty baguettes and brioche, to fabulously flaky croissants and multi-colored Parisian-style macaroons, his delicacies delight new and returning customers alike.

Comfortable conjuring up classics as well as American-style desserts, Chef Leaman boasts over twenty years of pastry, bread and chocolate making experience, including a prestigious win at the 2005 Coupe du Monde de Boulangerie (World Cup of Baking) in France.

His accolades accumulate from years of patience, persistence, and passion. Leaman recounts the defining moment when he decided to pursue the path of a world-class pastry chef, “I came across a copy of Bo Friberg’s professional pastry book in the mid-late 1990s,” he recalls. "I was already doing kitchen work (bread and cheesecakes), and that book showed me a whole new world of craft and artistry, one I really wanted to learn.”

Today, Leaman delights in running a company based upon creating delicious food which allows him an avenue to pursue his obsession: chocolate. Leaman acknowledges, “My current interest is working with chocolate, and developing products based on it. Being able to make chocolate delicacies.”

Perspective

When prepping for holidays like Valentine’s Day, Chef Leaman admits his versatile background provides a different perspective than perhaps other pastry chefs.

“I’m more willing to mix and match American style desserts and classics with continental or patisserie-inspired desserts,” Leaman confesses. “I’m also a fan of a continental-style use of chocolate molding shaped boxes out of chocolate to hold our candy, and creating small chocolate center pieces.”

Pan Au Chocolate | Photo Credit Nouveau Bakery

Pan Au Chocolate | Photo Credit Nouveau Bakery

Leaman observes that chocolate remains a mainstay traditional gift for celebrations, both in the United States and abroad. However, customers also frequent his shops for Parisian-style macaroons in different sizes and shapes as a unique dessert option.

“Being retail, we do look at trends, and those can inform our offerings,” he concedes. “What we’ve noticed in the last few years is a preference for unique, smaller, high quality products that are both beautiful and delicious.”

Leaman elaborates on this trend towards the bespoke, adding, “Items with a bit of a signature look to them. Patisserie-style mousse desserts in individual or sharable sizes, both with and without chocolate. Products of that nature.”   

Perennials

Regardless the season, Bakery Nouveau followers do have their favorites. Perennial darlings include chocolate cake and Praline Dream, along with carrot cake. Creamy desserts like Passion Fruit Mousse and the Pamplemousse (Pink Grapefruit Mousse) also share in popularity. Additionally, pastries like kouign-amann (a round, crusty Breton cake made of bread dough, butter and sugar) and kugelhopf (dense bundt cake) enjoy a dedicated following,  while scones do well on Capitol Hill.

As for predilections between shops, Leaman proffers, “Capitol Hill seems to favor tarts more than in West Seattle. West Seattle seems to prefer chocolate items a little more. There aren’t huge differences, but more of a difference in the personality of each shop, so to speak.”

Paying It Forward

Chef Leaman credits a few key components to Bakery Nouveau’s success as a community cornerstone for holidays and celebrations.

“Investing time with dedicated craftspeople, continually working on craft, organization and efficiency, and being willing to work any and all hours necessary, whether practicing for a competition, working with the production teams during holiday seasons, or getting a shop off the ground. So I guess time and effort, and a whole lot of each.”

He also ascribes his own career trajectory to a little luck, and a big mentor. “Didier Rosada has been a mentor since I met him at what was the National Baking Center in the late 1990’s. He is a craftsman with bread, an educator and also works internationally. His example of developing his craft, businesses and professionalism is one I greatly admire.”

As for luck, Leaman volunteers, “Luck is what you make of it. I’ve had some luck with meeting good people and having a couple of key opportunities, but it was being willing to put the time in, work hard, listen, and learn from others that made the difference.”

At the end of the day, Leaman concludes, “I’m most proud of both of the Bakery Nouveau shops being part of their communities and creating good jobs for the people we employ. I’m also at a point where I can assist people with dedication in furthering their craft and skill, and pay forward for the mentoring and education I’ve received along the way.”