Loves every aspect of the pastry business

Sophie Evanoff

Owner, Vanille Patisserie

2229 N. Clybourn Ave. and at the French Market, 131 N. Clinton St.

When Sophie Evanoff was a kid, she baked from scratch with her mother and occasionally took a day off school.

"Any time the church would have a bake sale, I would miss school to bake with the older ladies," says Evanoff, 30, who was born in Royal Oak, Mich., and grew up in Troy. "They teach you through motions and what it looks like and what it feels like."

Still, her parents weren't thrilled when she wanted to pursue a culinary career.

"My dad said, 'You should go to college for business, then pursue cooking' ... and I said no because he told me to and I was 17." Instead, she headed first to a community college, transferred to the University of Michigan at Dearborn and graduated with a psychology degree. Then, rather than pursue a master's, she got a job as a pastry cook at Steve and Rocky's in Novi, Mich. She was taking cooking classes at a community college but finding more questions than answers.

After some research, she enrolled at the French Pastry School with a partial scholarship, took out student loans and did some baby-sitting. After graduation she worked in research and development at a suburban chocolate firm — "It's machine driven. You have to train your mind to think a little differently." She worked at a cake bakery, then at an online gourmet food company. Then she heard that her former French Pastry instructor Dimitri Fayard had put Vanille Patisserie on the market. She checked it out, but had one reservation: "How are people going to take it now that Dmitri's gone? And am I going to be able to keep the brand and the shop up to his standards?"

After two years at the helm: "It's growing faster than I anticipated and that's the struggle," says Evanoff, who has expanded the shop's wholesale business and is opening a third wedding cake-focused location on Clark Street in Lincoln Park this summer.

"I never wanted to be a pastry chef. I always wanted to own a cookie company, then a candy company," she says. "It took me awhile, but it's the pastry business that really drives me. I love every aspect."

Most important tool?

"My hands. Once you train yourself, you can do certain tasks with two hands versus one, so it cuts your time in half. That's what they're there for. You don't need fancy tools."

Ingredients you love playing with?

"Any chocolate. ... When your hands are in the chocolate, it's very therapeutic."

Toughest thing you've had to learn?

"Macarons because the batter's so temperamental. Season's change, you change the batter. Humidity affects it."

Ever make mistakes?

"Oh yeah. Some of the best things are made by accidents. ... Creativity is a force."

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