Paul Feybesse arrived at my front door wearing a jaunty hat set at an angle. He smiled and handed me a box of éclairs. For a second, I thought an angel had descended from Heaven to bless me with pastries. Then I remembered—this was my order from the Vallejo bakery Tarts de Feybesse. During the pandemic, Paul and his wife, Monique, started to sell baked goods out of their home. The Feybesses are both trained chefs with Michelin-star restaurant experience. But in March of 2020, Paul was furloughed and Monique was on maternity leave.
“We were just trying to survive and help our neighbors out with bread,” Monique recalled. This was in the era when grocery stores were sold out of flour and good bread was hard to find. The Feybesses thought they could pay some bills by baking for their neighbors in Glencove. “We started with one type of bread a day and it would just sell out,” she said. Then the business slowly bloomed and the customer base expanded to all of Vallejo, into San Francisco and then to the entire Bay Area.
“We realized that it was taking over, and we were running out of space,” Monique said. They bought a second refrigerator and had set up a laminator in their home kitchen. With both of them dedicated full-time to the bakery, they decided to rent a production kitchen in Vallejo to maximize production. While they look for a brick and mortar space to land in, the bakery, often meaning Paul himself, delivers to San Francisco, Oakland, Walnut Creek and some other surrounding cities.
The current iteration of the Tarts de Feybesse menu has evolved beyond loaves of sourdough levain. There’s a sophisticated, and delicious, range of French baked goods. Alongside familiar favorites such as chausson aux pommes and brioche feuilletée, the Feybesses alter éclairs, tarts and financièrs with bold, unexpected flavors. I chose a box of éclairs with three flavors ($30), tiramisu (a coffee-flavored delight), coconut and grapefruit. The Feybesse éclair isn’t overly sweet, and the dough is spongy rather than hardened with a sugary shellacking.
The TDF (to die for) Style Banana Bread ($25) is a revelation, a successful reinvention of an exhausted favorite. The bread is essentially a cake encased in a coat of chocolate, with a banana caramel cream filling the center. Monique explained that she and her husband worked out the recipe together. “Paul wanted to make a marble cake, but I don’t really like marble cake,” she said. “I thought, ‘What does everyone love? Banana bread.’” Except for her husband, who was born and raised in France. So they combined the two ideas, glazed it and added crispy banana chips to the glaze. This is banana bread that’s dressed up for a night at the opera. “It’s one of the best dishes we’ve ever collaborated on, for sure,” Monique adds.
Because of their background as chefs, rather than strictly being bakers, they’re drawn to savory as well as sweet flavor profiles. With their white chocolate and sorrel panna cotta tart ($30), for example, Monique explained that sorrel is very tart and bright and pairs well with white chocolate. “We’re always testing things. We tend to add saltier things more than other pastry places because we understand the balance of flavors.”
TV viewers will recognize Monique from this season of Top Chef. She was eliminated on last week’s episode for making fried oysters with assorted beans and pickled okra in a pancetta bean broth. The dish looked unlike anything on the sumptuous list of items on her bakery menu. Competitive cooking races tend to yield the opposite of what goes into the preparation of a meaningful meal or dessert. But being on the show has raised the profile of Tarts de Feybesse, both nationally and locally.
“Today, I had someone come up to me at Berkeley Bowl and they were like, ‘Hey, you’re on Top Chef!’” Monique said, adding that receiving the attention has been humbling and kind of weird for a few months now. “But I’m taking it for what it is, and I’m just grateful.”