Alex Tallen: French pastry chef in Boothbay Harbor
If you think the bread and pastries at the Boothbay Harbor Country Club were good last summer, you're in for a treat when you dine there, and at the new Boothbay Harbor Oceanside Golf Resort's restaurant, Coastal Prime, this season.
The new French pastry chef, Alex Tallen, earned her “grande diplome” from a cooking school in Paris, the Ritz Escoffier. She moved to Paris when she was 20 to be with her future husband, the French actor and director Aurélien Recoing. At the culinary school, she trained in basic culinary training and earned a master’s in pastry.
Tallen developed her love of cooking, partly out of necessity, when she was 12. She told her parents she was going to be a vegetarian. “My mom said, 'Fine, but you'd better learn to cook, because I'm not going to cook two separate family dinners every night.’”
At 38, she’s is still a vegetarian, and she has never stopped cooking.
Living in Paris proved to be stressful after marrying and having two children. “It was intense raising kids in a big city, with the polluted air and the necessity of taking the metro everywhere,” Tallen said. The couple started playing with the idea of moving to a quieter, cleaner place. They looked at other locations in France, but none met their requirements.
Then one day, what had started as a joke between the two became a reality. They had seen a story about Maine in the New York Times. “We had never been here, but every time we talked about being sick of Paris and the pollution, we'd say, jokingly, ‘We should just move to Maine.’ It was a running joke for two years. I was perfectly content with the running joke,” Tallen said.
But Recoing said he thought they should check Maine out. They came in 2013, drove up and down the coast looking at houses and visiting schools. They settled on a house in Boothbay Harbor, near the Southport Bridge. “It was crazy,” Tallen said. “It was April when we first saw Maine. It was snowy and cold, so we had our fingers crossed.”
When they were on their way back to Paris to sell their house, Recoing called a cousin in New York. He knew she had visited Boothbay Harbor the previous summer, and he told her they had just bought a house there. He told her where it was. She knew the house. She said she had noticed it, with a For Sale sign, when she was here, and had driven by it several times, coveting it. The family moved to Boothbay Harbor in June 2013.
Tallen's first job in Boothbay Harbor was as a pastry chef at the Thistle Inn, where she worked for a year.
Last summer, she went back to Paris where her husband still works, and while there she got an email from the Boothbay Harbor Country Club. They were looking for a pastry chef, but more specifically, her. She came back in September 2016 and started dreaming up her menu.
Tallen has spent time over the winter playing around with bread to serve this summer at the country club and Coastal Prime. She has decided on a traditional French country boule, a round loaf of bread, that will serve as the house bread at both places.
On April 19, Tallen prepared a “spring dessert” that will be served at the country club when the season begins on May 17. It was vanilla bean pound cake, seared in salted butter, served with vanilla bean mascarpone cream, strawberries, rhubard confit and basil ice cream – homemade, of course. “It will be my take on strawberry shortcake – not your grandmother's strawberry shortcake.” The salt she likes to use in many of her sweet desserts isn't your grandmother's table salt, either. “I use a coarse grey sea salt, that is commonly used in France,” she said. “It adds a little crunch.”
Tallen said she loves pairing different ice creams with a fresh fruit galette, a French free-form crusty cake, or tart. “I'll make honey ice cream, hazelnut praline ice cream, orange cardamom ice cream, mango and apricot sorbets, a strawberry buttermilk ice cream, and of course a chocolate and a vanilla ice cream.”
Tallen is helping write the menu for the coffee shop at Coastal Prime, and her pastries and savory sandwiches will be available there, along with those of another pastry chefs who will be working there.
She’ll have her work cut out for her this summer making bread and pastries at both locations, but she's up to the task. She loves her work. “I won't have a set menu all summer – I like to change it frequently,” she said. “I like going to the farmer's market and changing ingredients with the seasons. I love having the freedom to play around with different ideas.”
One of Tallen’s elegant desserts to look for this summer will be a financier – named for its rectangular shape – “like a little bar of gold.” She describes them as little French cakes made with almonds, egg whites and browned butter. “They’re very chewy and crispy, and they go great with a dollop of lemon curd.” There will also be small chocolate mousses and petit fours. Unlike the little pre-packaged, box-shaped coated cakes we in the U.S. have come to think of as petit fours, Tallen said they are really just any small bite-sized sweet treat.
Tallen said what’s most important to her is that her food is delicious and beautiful, and she tests all of it. “I don't eat full-sized portions every day, but I have to taste everything.
“I love sweets. I probably landed in pastry because, really, I like to cook what I want to eat. I always start from the idea of what will taste good, and then make it look good.”
On June 15, Tallen will teach a class on making petit fours for members of the country club.