One does not expect a "haute couture" French pastry shop in the Valley, but tucked away in a Scottsdale shopping center is just such a place — JL Patisserie. From a distance, this little gem seems unassuming. You have to look to find the magic word, patisserie. For sugar-lovers, seeing that word is enough to pique your curiosity. As you get closer, especially on a sunny day, the bistro-style wooden table and chairs outside the store beckon you. One of the tables is already occupied with two women, one somewhat older, maybe mother and daughter, maybe friends? They are speaking French. Now, you want to know more. Soon, a couple occupies the only other table. You open the door. Inside, there’s a case of beautiful pastries.
Contrary to the enormous desserts we encounter in the United States, here pastries are petite, chic, and just the right size. On the counter, cloud-like meringues sit atop a cake plate. There are sample cookies. The green one in the middle stands out: Pistachio, white chocolate, sea salted caramel. You buy one just to try a bite, but then take another and another until no bites are left.
The creative force behind these beauties is the young chef Jenna Leurquin, who, at 26, owns JL Patisserie and is in the process of opening a second location in Phoenix. She has a calm demeanor about her — grounded, yet cheerful.
“I knew I always wanted to do pastry,” she says, “but I also loved cuisine so I trained for both. It’s extremely important to know, both because the two parts go hand in hand. The thing I like about pastry is that it’s so methodical you can depend on it. But what I really got from cuisine was the freedom to incorporate new flavors and spices.”
She does not rely heavily on sugar, rather, she uses it more as a spice. Her goal is to enhance the ingredient she’s trying to highlight, whether in pastry or quiche. “I love vanilla beans and European butter,” she says. European butter has a higher fat content, which makes the pastries lighter and flakier in texture. Water tends to weigh the dough down. She shops for seasonal ingredients at farmers markets and constantly is developing new recipes using local ingredients.
She received her cuisine and pastry training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
Leurquin first was recruited by Boise State University on a golf scholarship. There, she double-majored in finance and international business, then traveled to Paris to train at the Cordon Bleu. After graduating from Cordon Bleu, she was hired by a number of companies in France as a consultant in research and development to create a new menu line, manage employee production to increase efficiency, or restructure cost management. Her background allowed her to enhance business as well as food aspects.
“When I would enter the kitchen, a lot of people were shaken by it because I was young and telling them to do things differently than they had done for 20 years," she says. "At the time, I was 23 or 24 years old.”
She found her way to Arizona after marrying her husband, Scott Stiewak, who was on the same golf team as her. Stiewak does a lot of the product research and is the face people see most often when they come to the shop. He humbly refers to himself as the executive dishwasher — though that's hardly the case.
After coming to Arizona, Leurquin worked as the head pastry chef at Scottsdale's Silverleaf Country Club for two years. Then, she started her own business.
“We were baking in a commercial kitchen in Scottsdale and selling at the farmers market or catering events. But people wanted more. They would park near the commercial kitchen, wondering if they could buy pastries," she says. "That’s when I realized we needed a storefront. We started moving in here in October 2018 and it took six months to officially open in March 2019.”
The space is about 1,200 square feet, most of which is dedicated to the kitchen. It’s early in the morning and the kitchen is redolent with the smell of freshly baked croissants. Ovens hum as they bake tart shells and roast pistachios for the divine cookies one of her staff is working on. Tart shells, large and small, take a pew on the cooling rack. Someone is working on bread, another on tart cases, and yet another is preparing butter for the croissant dough. A large pastry sheeter is in the center of the room. Leurquin and one of her team members open it up so she can start prepping the croissant dough.
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She has crew of seven, a team “that supports me and is just as enthusiastic about my project, which makes coming to work everyday fun," she says. "It’s hard work, but when you have the people who support you, it makes it enjoyable.” Her days start early, keeping those typical baker's hours. “Normally, I get here at 6 a.m. on weekdays and 3 or 4 a.m. on the weekend to get ready for the farmers market or any events we may be catering.”
But she makes herself available to talk to the customers. You might even get her on the line when calling to place your order. “I think it’s very important that I stay there with my customers because they are the reason our business is here,” Leurquin says.
One of those customers encouraged her to take over a space he owns in central Phoenix. She is opening a coffee shop on Central Avenue and Camelback Road toward the beginning of December, where she'll offer her own blend of coffee. In choosing the blend, she and her husband have taken into account flavors that complement pastries. They have also researched coffee plantations in Panama and chosen farms with sustainable practices. The space is designed to place the focus on the pastries and customers.
However, if you can’t wait until then, you can try her exceptional pastries at the Scottsdale location, or get thee to the Peoria Farmers Market. She also continues to cater parties and weddings and offers baking classes. Well, there are 24 hours in day.
7342 East Shea Boulevard, #108, Scottsdale
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday to Sunday