If Madame Matisse, the name of Santa Fe’s new French bakery and restaurant, calls to mind a certain celebrated artist, it’s a fitting association.
Chef Eric De Margerie has long considered pastry to be a form of art, and you don’t have to step far into the bright, airy restaurant on San Felipe Avenue, next to Bodega Prime, to see what he means.
A bank of raised platforms along the front counter showcase his baked goods, all golden sheen and flakes of crisp pastry. One roll is studded with raisins, danishes offer a peek of fruit or a rich cream cheese concoction. Delicate dough is fashioned into various twists, and the croissants — plain, chocolate, almond, savory — are towering tributes to the magic of laminated dough.
It’s no surprise that the chef behind these goodies and the rest of Madame Matisse’s menu has both an impressive culinary background and ambitious plans to share his talents with as many people as possible.
“There are no shortcuts” in his approach, he said. “I’m bringing what I learned and grew up with, as well as what’s new in Paris.”
De Margerie, a native Parisian, honed his skills at pastry school and the French Pastry Academy before working at Le Coq Hardi a Bougival in France as pastry chef, where he said he served celebrities, kings and presidents alike. Other high-profile appointments followed, both in France and in the United States, where he moved in the early ’80s. In California, he worked as pastry chef for acclaimed chef Michel Richard and catered special events for Hollywood celebrities and other power players, before opening his own restaurant with a following of its own.
With its large patio, Le Clafoutis on the Sunset Plaza in Los Angeles was known for 25 years for its people-watching scene along with its French-influenced continental menu and house-baked pastries. It also drew a host of celebrities, De Margerie said, as the restaurant built a reputation for excellent but discreet service.
De Margerie shuttered the restaurant in 2014 and headed to Santa Fe.
“I love the calm, the ambiance, the land here,” he said. “I ran a successful restaurant for 25 years. I was ready for a change.”
But his ambitions haven’t slowed. His new restaurant opened in early April, and he and owner Siriporn “JJ” Khongkabrirat (who came up with the name Madame Matisse) are developing his business concept with expansion plans already in the works.
A takeout shop, Madame Matisse On the Go, is slated to open later this month on Marcy Street in the spot formerly occupied by Verde’s grab-and-go location, he said. Madame Matisse will truck in fresh-baked pastries, sandwiches and empanadas from the main restaurant and sell them alongside fresh fruit and other convenient offerings. In the future, the pair hope to open outposts in Albuquerque, then other nearby states.
“I want to develop branding,” De Margerie said, “which is a different challenge for me.”
For the moment, De Margerie is working on imparting his baking skills to other staff members and refining his breakfast and lunch menus. He’ll be adding true Parisian patisserie to his lineup, including artfully decorated eclairs sold separately and in jewelbox-like assorted boxes.
His breakfast pastries, which run from $2.50 to $3.95, complement organic coffee and espresso drinks from Santa Fe’s Aroma Coffee. Breakfast options include an array of omelets (served with gratin potatoes and fresh fruit), eggs benedict and even huevos rancheros ($10.50 to $12.50). There’s also French toast, waffles, crepes and housemade granola. Lunch is a French-forward medley of soups, salads, sandwiches and quiches, including a croque madame (with ham, Swiss and a sunnyside egg on top) and a similarly savory quiche lorraine.
The breakfast pastries are made from scratch using European-style butter and created from recipes from De Margerie’s time in France. He was concerned about the effects of the high altitude on those recipes, but he said they’ve stood up with only a few tweaks.
“I’m trying to do a more traditional approach,” he said, “more true to what French pastry should be.”
And, he adds, he wants to do it at affordable prices in a space that’s welcoming and reflects a commitment to local sourcing and fresh ingredients. They’re working to fill the walls with works by local artists.
De Margerie said business already has been brisk, largely thanks to word of mouth.
“I’m very surprised and very happy,” he said. “It’s spreading like wildfire. The neighborhood is very supportive; they made a big noise for us.”