The air at “Le Comptoire du Père Sotieu” is filled with the smells of pains au chocolat, croissants, tarts and tartlets. Little chocolates, colourful macaroons and small cakes of all kinds are on display, all named like little treasures: Griottine. Suprême. Mont Joly. And then there are the Chocadrines, small chocolate cakes covered with a little layer of nougat, one of the house’s most popular treats.
“The Chocadrines are our signature creation,” says Monsieur Socquet who runs the small, cosy, three-storey shop together with his wife and eight employees. It is his third shop already, yet the tearoom is a novelty. “My wife wanted the tea. I for my part would prefer a glass of wine,” he says and laughs. There are 18 kinds of tea on the menu, all made by a small local manufacturer. In winter, guests enjoy their cup of tea (or coffee) on the first and second floor; in summer, they head to the garden to indulge in one of the delicious ice cream creations. Followed by a Flocon de Neige or two, round little chocolates made of chocolate and almonds that look like snow flakes.
A mélange of modern and traditional
“Already as a little boy I loved to bake with my mother,” remembers Monsieur Socquet, “and I knew early on that I wanted to become a confectioner.” So he did just that, apprenticed and worked at a pastry shop and became a master pâtissier. Moreover, he has further advanced his skills by learning from world-famous pastry chefs. In 1988, he made his dream of becoming his own boss come true. “Our first shop in Megève had no more than 6 square metres. But I was finally in a position to do what I really wanted to do,” he recounts. As a boss today, he likes to get his employees involved in the creative process. “We really like to put our heads together and come up with new ideas.” The signature style of “Père Sotieu”, which, by the way, is the Savoyard variation of the name Socquet, is a combination of modern and traditional elements, a mélange that makes his customers happy. And after all that is what it’s all about. “In our showcases you will find simple lemon tartlets, éclairs and other classics of French pastry, all made, of course, from only the best ingredients. But there are also more sophisticated creations with unusual ingredients like yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit,” the pastry chef explains.
An edible Ferrari
And then there are the custom-made creations. “We once made a Ferrari-shaped cake for the 16th birthday of a young prince – who, by the way, also got the keys to the real car, of course. And once we made a copy of a chalet of an American family with miniatures of them standing on the balcony. That cake was so huge we had to rent a big car just to deliver it,” Monsieur Socquet remembers. More recently, they also made a Star Wars cake in the form of Yoda, but the main focus, of course, is still on the daily business. Which is a lot of work, there is no sugarcoating that: Monsieur Socquet gets up at 4 am every day.
“Chocolate is like wine”
When you see him and his employees work on pains au chocolat, Flocons de Neige, Chocadrines and the like before sunrise, you can see decades of experience paying off. Everyone knows exactly what they are doing, every movement is coordinated. The radio is playing in the background but there is not much talking. This job requires concentration. After all, the chocolates and tartlets and all pastry have to be as close to perfection as possible. That’s all part of the joy, the pleasure of finally eating them. “Chocolate is a very precious ingredient. It is like wine – there are a lot of different kinds from various regions, all tasting slightly different. Once you now how to master chocolate, working with it is such a great joy. There are so many options. You can, for example, combine them with fruit or nuts or do so many other things,” raves Monsieur Socquet, more from the perspective of an artist or craftsman than from a chocolate lover. Interestingly, he rarely eats sweets. “It has indeed happened that we completely forgot about desert when entertaining guests at our house,” he says and laughs. Understandably, you have to stop somewhere when you’re working with sweets from 4 am to 8 pm every day. But indulging in your sweet tooth doesn’t have to mean you have to go overboard. So from time to time Monsieur Socquet treats himself to one of his creations, “My favourites are the simple, honest things like strawberry cake or pear and almond cake.” A perfect fit for an open, straightforward man like Monsieur Socquet. And for his customers who come again and again – for the classics, and also for the sweet, sweet new creations.
March 23, 2017