by Bill Batson
On the evening last July when a lightening strike set his patisserie ablaze, Didier Dumas was watching the World Cup at Avida. “I saw a flash and heard a sound like a bomb, and I said, ‘I am glad that didn’t hit my building.’” But Didier and his beloved French bakery had not escaped unscathed. “An employee came in a few minutes later and told me that black smoke was pouring through the windows.”
This Thursday, after eight months of renovations, Didier will reopen his eponymous eatery. “I always knew I was going to reopen. I thought it would be three months. But then we found one problem after another.”
“I want to thank everyone who wished me well,” Didier said referring to the multiple posts on social media that pined for the return of his pastries. “I went through some tough and stressful times. Reading what people said has helped tremendously.”
A few weeks from now, when his operation is back up and running, Didier plans on holding a grand-reopening party. “Everybody will be invited. It will be like Bastille Day.”
This interview, published six months before the fire, reveals the inspiration that fuels this pastry chef as he rises, pheonix-like, from the ashes. Discover Didier’s “je ne sais quoi” that kept a legion of loyal customers waiting for his doors to reopen.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a pastry chef?
That was as far back as I can remember. As a child in Marseille, I was always looking in the window of the neighborhood bakery wondering how they were making these cakes. The shop was owned by Mr. Zeppini. He became my mentor.
After growing up in New York City with a French bakery just around the corner, I’m happy to have Didier Dumas right down the street in Nyack. I have tried almost everything in his cases and it’s all delicious, from his small sized desserts to his wonderful crepes and sandwiches.
Didier proves it’s not location, location, location, — it’s product. If you serve something authentic, people will come.
Nothing had succeeded there until Didier opened. I have never seen a business do that well so fast, and in the process, he has extended Main Street.
This man, this artist, has the hands of Monet; with butter and flour and sugar rather than paint. He does for pastry in Nyack what Monet did for water lilies in Giverny!
I would make a special trip up to this ‘burb’ of Manhattan they call Nyack just to enjoy Didier’s again.
American Woman M from Yelp
Was there anyone else who inspired you to enter the culinary arts?
One person who inspired me was my grandmother. She was always baking something, flan, or pies or tarts. My aunt was also always baking at my grandparents farm. I started by baking cream puffs and puff pastries with her.
What brought you to Nyack?
I used to work and live in Westchester. I came to Nyack to study Kung Fu on Main St. I fell in love with Nyack. It felt like a friendly neighborhood with a lot of people always going out. I said to myself, ‘ a French bakery could be a nice addition to this lovely town.’
When did Didier Dumas open for business?
November 2006, a few days before Thanksgiving.
How is Nyack similar to where you grew up?
In French cities, you have a lot of different little neighborhoods; where you work, shop, and eat. Each neighborhood in the city is like a little village.
Nyack reminds me of some of the neighborhoods in Marseille. People in Nyack walk around and say hi. They know each other. They are very warm.
I didn’t have this feeling when I lived in Westchester. I lived there for seven years and needed my car for everything. After seven years, I didn’t really know anyone.
What is the biggest challenge of managing a kitchen and a business?
Trying to spend as much time in the kitchen as I would like to, without neglecting the other aspects of the business, like spending time with my accountant, doing some paper work, dealing with the employees, talking to customers.
I noticed a lot of young people work at your patisserie. Are you passing on your craft to the next generation?
I do my best to teach the people at the counter to be familiar with the product, to try the pastries so that they can answer questions for the customers.
In the kitchen, I have them for a few years so I am teaching them to be pastry chefs from the beginning. I try to show them the love in a job well done. I train them the way that I was trained when I started.
What are your favorite desserts to prepare?
I don’t have a favorite anymore. I used to when I was younger. What I like the most to do now in the kitchen is create new recipes.
Is there a new recipe that you are particularly proud of?
That would be my signature dessert, the Royal Chocolate Cake.
What are your favorite desserts to eat?
It depends on my mood. I eat a piece of pastry on a daily basis, sometimes a macaroon or a slice of cake.
What is the busiest time of the year?
The end of the year is the busiest time for me. It’s like a three course meal: Thanksgiving is the appetizer, Christmas is the main course, and New Years is dessert.
What have been some of the challenges to having a business above Franklin Street?
At the beginning, people told me that it was not a good location, that it was too far from downtown. I did not see it this way. I think if people know that there is a French bakery doing a good job they will come.
I like my location. We have become a destination. At evening time, it is more quiet than downtown. In the summer, there is not that much noise so you can sit outside and enjoy your pastry. We also have parking right across the street.
Several people that I have spoken to describe your bakery as one of their favorite things about Nyack. What are some of your favorite things about the village?
My favorite thing about Nyack are my customers. From the beginning they have always come first. I have made friendships. I have been invited to New Years parties, barbeques, and Easter dinners, especially when my family from France is here.
Welcome back Didier! Bonne Chance!
Photo Credits: Didier Dumas (Nancy Eisen), Fire (Bill Demarest)
Patisserie Didier Dumas is located at 163 Main Street in Nyack, NY.
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Didier Dumas Redux” © 2015 Bill Batson. In Dec. 2014, Batson published “Nyack Sketch Log, An Artist and Writer Explores The History of A Hudson River Village.” Copies of the book can be purchased at billbatsonarts.com.