Mathieu Choux of Gaston's Bakery: Bread is a part of every meal
Mathieu Choux has an apropos name for a guy who’s a French-born pastry chef.
Choux pastry, known in France as pate a choux, is the buttery dough that makes crème-filled éclairs and profiteroles so irresistibly flaky.
What else is a guy with a name like that supposed to do with his life?
Choux, the man not the dough, doesn’t fuss with éclairs, though. He has earned a fanatical following around these parts over the years for his straight-out-of-France baguettes and flaky patisserie goodies that he once sold retail at Le Café de Paris, and now sells wholesale under the name of Gaston’s Bakery.
Choux arrived in the City of Trees in 2001. A good friend had moved to Boise to go to school, and Choux took a liking to the area during his visits.
Soon after he moved here, Choux opened Le Café de Paris, a bakery and restaurant on Capitol Boulevard — giving Boiseans a true taste of French baguettes and pastries.
“I noticed there was such a need for good bread here. The wholesale part of it was an afterthought at the time,” Choux says.
His crusty baguettes leave customers exclaiming “ooh la la” and wanting more — crumbs clinging to their lapels.
“People were loving it, especially the baguettes and croissants, which have always been popular,” he says.
Even though Boise boasts a French name, it was hard to find a real baguette in the City of Trees up until that time aside from Big Wood Bread in Ketchum, which was making daily deliveries to the Boise Co-op, and Zeppole Baking Co., which had ramped up its production.
Fresh baguettes at the Saturday markets
Not long after Choux debuted his bakery and restaurant, he also started selling his products at the Capital City Public Market.
“Because of his European background, Mathieu gets the whole fresh market thing,” says former Capital City Public Market director Karen Ellis, who now runs the Boise Farmers Market.
Choux is a fourth-generation chef who grew up in the restaurant industry in Chalon-sur-Saone, a small wine country town in Burgundy where his family owned and operated a brasserie that served high-end French fare. But he also worked at a local market on weekends.
“My first job outside the restaurant, when I was in high school, was selling produce for a local farmer at the Sunday market in my hometown,” he says.
To this day, Choux continues to sell baguettes, croissants and other baked goods at the Capital City Public Market, and he jumped on board at the Boise Farmers Market, too, when it debuted in 2013. People have come to rely on his flaky treats at both markets.
Lifelong Boisean George Loucks, a regular at the Boise Farmers Market, typically heads straight to the Gaston’s Bakery booth when he arrives at the market.
“The ham and cheese croissant makes for a very fine breakfast,” Loucks says.
“I also like the chocolate croissants — because they’re not too sweet like American pastries.”
Le Café de Paris, in the shadow of the Capitol rotunda, usually had a long line out the door on weekend mornings with those looking to score patisserie goodies. The full-service restaurant served traditional breakfast and lunch items as well, including pain perdu (think French toast), quiche Lorraine, croque monsieur (ham-and-swiss cheese sandwich) and nicoise salad.
At night, the emphasis was decidedly on Burgundian cuisine with classic dishes such as escargots in puff pastry, beef a la bourguignon and duck confit with sautéed apples and fried potatoes.
Choux, who was building outside accounts for his baked goods while operating the retail bakery and restaurant, decided in 2014 to solely focus on the commercial side of the business.
“I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t we just close the restaurant and only do wholesale?’ ” Choux says. “It turned out to be a good decision.”
He named the bakery after his grandfather, Gaston.
While Choux continues to build the business, his philosophy stays constant when it comes to how he operates on a day-to-day basis.
“We are a smaller bakery on a larger scale, at least that’s how we think,” Choux says.
“We have grown a lot, but one thing that never changes is the way we do things, like hand-forming our breads, using butter and all the time-honored bread-making techniques.”
Moving on up
About a year before he closed the restaurant, Choux moved into a 6,500-square-foot production facility on Overland Road in Boise.
“We were baking everything in the basement of the Paris spot, but we outgrew that space,” he says.
Remnants of Le Café de Paris — like the old signs and such — now adorn the interior walls of the building as reminders of the past. Folks can even pick up freshly baked loaves of bread and croissants at the small retail shop (open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily) right inside the front door.
Choux uses a large deck oven — which runs at 450 degrees for baguettes and hard-crusted breads and between 325 and 350 degrees for pastries — to produce a bevy of freshly baked goods. The list includes poulichette baguettes, boule-style round loaves, ciabatta, focaccia, brioche, hamburger buns, various croissants, fruit Danishes and more.
“The oven goes on at 8 a.m. and stays on till 2 or 3 in the morning. We just have one oven, but we probably need another one,” Choux says.
With all the big accounts that Gaston’s Bakery has landed in recent years, more equipment and employees seem like imperatives if the bakery plans to keep up with the orders.
“I used to employ around 20 workers, but we’ve grown so much I had to hire more staff this summer,” Choux says. His workforce, now more than 30 strong, is a diverse mix of people, many of whom are recent transplants from the Republic of Congo.
“They speak French, so it’s easy to communicate with each other,” he says.
These flour-dusted workers busily move about among the metal cooling racks and piles of 50-pound bags of flour — mostly milled grains from the high plains of Montana and Colorado — producing the various baked goods during three shifts per day.
The jobs include mixers, bread formers (this is where new workers start out, at a large stainless steel table forming loaves), bakers, packers and delivery drivers, not to mention those who hawk the freshly baked goods at the Saturday markets.
Besides maintaining more than 200 restaurant and coffeehouse accounts around Southwest Idaho, the bakery also distributes its products through Idaho’s Bounty and U.S. Foods, which delivers to restaurants and resorts throughout the West.
About three years ago, Gaston’s Bakery started making frozen, uncooked croissants (in cases of 15) for Sur la Table, a nationwide kitchen store that was founded in Seattle’s Pike Place Market in 1972. Customers can simply buy the croissants (kept in freezer cases at the stores) and thaw, proof (allowing the dough to rise) and bake them at home.
“It’s really easy. They (Sur la Table) even have a video on their website about how to bake the croissants,” Choux says.
Choux also secured a contract with Albertsons about two years ago to make sandwich breads for the deli sections, and he expects to also have baguettes in stores around these parts by the end of the year.
Building relationships with customers large and small
The larger accounts are surely the bread and butter for Gaston’s Bakery. Yet farmers markets and the smaller accounts, like restaurants and coffeehouses, are equally as important to Choux, who has built strong relationships with his customer base over the years.
“Mathieu’s a good friend, and if anything ever goes awry, I just call him and he takes care of it,” says John Berryhill, chef and owner of Berryhill and Bacon.
“He’s very customer friendly. Plus, he’s got that sexy French accent.”
Berryhill has relied on Choux for everything from hamburger buns to croissants to custom slider buns. “He makes a slider bun for us that’s slightly larger than regular slider buns, and we played with stuff for a while at Bacon to get the pastries right,” Berryhill says.
Gaston’s Bakery makes custom breads for other local eateries as well, including egg-washed potato hamburger buns for Boise Fry Company and sandwich breads for Dustan Bristol’s On the Fly deli.
“We make a special white bread and rye panini bread for Dustan,” Choux says.
Gaston’s Bakery is growing to be a tour de force in the bread world, but Choux has never lost sight of who helped to get him there.
“We look at it the same way. It doesn’t matter the size of the account, whether it’s a few loaves or cases of bread,” he explains. “All of our customers are important to us.”
James Patrick Kelly, the Idaho Statesman’s restaurant critic, is the author of the travel guidebook “Moon Idaho.” The latest edition hit the shelves in March. Kelly also teaches journalism at Boise State University.
Where to get the bread
In addition to a multitude of restaurants and coffeehouses, you can buy Gaston’s Bakery products at these retail outlets and farmers markets:
3651 W. Overland Road, Boise
Boise Co-op (both locations)
888 W. Fort St., Boise
2350 N. Eagle Road, The Village at Meridian
Whole Foods Market
401 S. Broadway Ave., Boise
300 S. Capitol Blvd., Boise
All Treasure Valley locations
600 S. Rivershore Lane, Eagle
Sur la Table
3540 E. Longwing Lane, The Village at Meridian
Boise Farmers Market
Sets up on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at 10th and Grove streets, through Oct. 29. The market moves inside (the site has yet to be determined) through Dec. 24.
Capital City Public Market
Sets up along the 8th Street corridor on Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. through Dec. 17.
You’ll find lots of baked goods and treats at area Saturday markets. Here are some highlights:
Boise Farmers Market
Acme Bakeshop: Artisan breads such as baguettes, ciabatta, focaccia, brioche, pretzels and more.
Sweet Valley Cookie Company: Chocolate chip cookies, gingersnaps, snicker doodles, oatmeal-raisin cookies and frosted sugar cookies.
Blue Feather Bakery: Small-batch hand pies and personal fruit pies and other baked goods.
Volcanic Farms: Freshly baked fruit pies, including berry, apple, peach and pumpkin later in the season.
Capital City Public Market
Zeppole Baking Company: Crusty loaves of bread, pastries and those yummy pesto-coated breadsticks.
A Touch of Dutch: Dutch-style cookies such as stroopwafel (caramel-filled waffle cookie), gevuldekoeken (almond shortbread cookie), spiced cookies and more.
Black Canyon Fudge: Freshly produced fudge made with real cream and butter. Seasonal flavors include raspberry cream, key lime pie, dulce de leche and pumpkin.
Blue Feather Bakery: See description from the Boise Farmers Market.
Blue Dog Bakers: Specialty baked goodies for your pooch. Expect to find bones and other tasty snacks for Fido.
Eagle Saturday Market
(in Heritage Park from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Oct. 15)
Grateful Bread: Freshly baked breads, muffins, cinnamon rolls and desserts.
Great Harvest Bread Company: A gamut of breads, fruit bars, big cookies, scones and cinnamon rolls.
The S’mores Station: You guessed it. Gourmet S’more-inspired desserts and other creations.
Sweet Linnea’s: Assorted cupcakes, seasonal cakes, breads and more.
Megan’s Mobile Cupcakes: Real buttercream-frosted cupcakes and freshly baked cookies.
The Mystery of the Eiffel Tower
Remember the 10-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower that once stood next to the sidewalk patio at Le Café de Paris? It was hard to miss while dining al fresco at the restaurant or even driving by on Capitol Boulevard.
Well, Mathieu Choux didn’t purchase the eye-catching tower as most people assumed.
“I heard they were using it for something at the Boise River Festival when that was going on, and when they were done with it, someone just dropped it off next to the restaurant one night,” Choux says. “I don’t know who did it.”
After being a fixture for about five years, the tower disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared. “A customer asked me one morning, ‘Where’s the Eiffel Tower?’ I don’t know where it went or who took it away. The whole thing was really strange,” Choux says.
There have been rumors that it ended up somewhere in the North End and even as far away as McCall, but only one person knows for sure what happened to Boise’s little Eiffel Tower — and he or she isn’t telling.