Fabrice Rizzo, chef and owner of the recently opened Macaroon Boutique, speaks rapidly and waves his hands animatedly when he speaks, particularly when it's a subject he's passionate about. When it comes to baking, though, he understands the delicacy and composure required to bring the pastries of his homeland to the streets of the Holy City.
"The new economy is all about faster, faster," complains Rizzo. "My vision is a typical, authentic, very, very old-style bakery."
That authenticity, according to Rizzo and his wife and co-owner Fabienne, requires a 165-year-old starter recipe for his bread, allowing the dough 14 hours of resting and rising, and using a 63-year-old knife passed down from the master chef who trained him.
"You must have time. Without something like this," he says, indicating the blade, "you have nothing."
His creations include French-style macaroons (or macarons), croissants, cookies, and other pastries, as well as crusty rolls and baguettes.
Ninety-nine percent of the ingredients at the boutique are local, but Rizzo is proud of the 1 percent that's not, including the dark, fruity chocolate from Madagascar or the coarse, gray sea salt harvested off the west coast of France.
If you're on a budget (wallet or calorie-wise), avoid distractions and head straight for the macaroons. They're available in bags of six, featuring pistachio, chocolate, and raspberry flavors or you can go for a single large macaroon in the featured flavor and filling of the day. The basic macaroons have a buttercream filling matching the flavor of the cookies that sandwich it; there's a special spot in French heaven reserved for these fragile masterpieces.
The crust breaks immediately — even before you fully bite into it — but maintains enough crunch for texture before the buttery filling takes over. Banish any thoughts you might have of the typical coconut macaroon you've eaten elsewhere. The French-style macaroon is very simple — two cookies pressed together around some kind of filling — but it's not so easy to prepare. They're usually made from a meringue base and mixed with powdered sugar and almond meal. Technique is important, especially the precise amount of time the egg white-sugar mixture is whipped. The exact ratios of the basic ingredients are also significant, and these little baked goods have inspired a fair amount of debate on both sides of the Atlantic.
The croissants are also good, and the dark chocolate cookies, available in bags of six, are an interesting treat. They have a fudge-like lightness and an intriguing salty flavor.
Macaroon Boutique, near Chuma Gallery and Paolo's Gelato on John Street, is open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Fri. and Sat., and 8 a.m. til' on Sundays. The shop opened a month ago, but Rizzo first made the decision to move to Charleston when he visited a couple of years ago.
"I like the people, the art, the music. For me it is like a dream. The people are so nice," Rizzo says.
Rizzo is at his most garrulous discussing his new locale, but as he moves back into the kitchen, his movements become more controlled and methodical, even as the words continue to flow at impressive speed.
Personifying the balance he maintains between patience and passion, Rizzo makes an impulsive decision to publicize his time-is-good mantra for all his customers to see. He stops what he's doing and gestures toward the wall behind the counter.
"I will put 'time' right there."
And Rizzo can have whatever he needs in order to keep making his rich concoctions.