Inspired by the holiday sweets of her childhood, Tzurit Or started her company, Tatte, by selling exquisitely made nut-and-pastry “boxes” and tarts at Boston farmers’ markets. Since then, the Tel Aviv-born chef has opened two shops in Massachusetts and become renowned for her beautiful, delicious pastries, which her small team bakes using only the finest ingredients. Here, Or shares some of her earliest baking memories, the story behind her success and her personal favorites from the Tatte kitchens.
How did you get started baking? Tell us about some of your early memories in the kitchen.
I started to bake at a very young age — I was born into a “baking family.” My mom used to bake every day for family, neighbors and the events in our community. I still bake some of her baked goods today. Throughout most of my adult life I always baked for family, friends and events; there was always the new cake or ingredient to try, always the next challenge, and I was always first in line to try it. Baking, in a way, was always part of my life. I was a film producer for half of my adult life, and when I moved to the states I felt it was time for a change. It was obvious to me I should try and go back to my roots, and I did! Today, half of our morning pastry offerings are the one I baked as a kid with my mom; the cheesecakes and tarts are all from my childhood. In a way, it’s a beautiful life circle.
One of my early kitchen memories is baking my first chocolate ganache cake. I found out after it was ready that I had forgotten to add the yolks. It was still delicious. Recently I upgraded this cake and still make it today; it’s our family favorite birthday cake. I remember stealing the crumbs that my mom set aside to top the cheesecake — the same cheesecake so many customers are enjoying now. The same thing still happens today in the Tatte kitchen: our pastry chef, chef and bakers are all “stealing” them right when the cake is out of the oven. It makes me laugh and brings the sweet childhood memory to mind.
My first big baking memory is of my mom and me, taking over the commercial kitchen where we lived for the weekend and baking dozens and dozens of yeasted rolls, brioche and all kind of morning pastries. I was 12 and was in charge of pastry finishes: glazing, sanding, brushing. I watched the oven temperature and the mixers. I was not allowed to roll the dough yet.
How did you turn your love for baking into a business?
When I started Tatte, I just started to bake — I baked 20 hours a day. Not knowing any American baked goods or any bakery in town, I just baked what I knew how to bake and took a chance trying to sell my creations at a local farmers’ market. The positive reactions from customers pushed me into my own first shop, and before I knew it I had newspapers, magazines, TV and A-list celebrities at my door. They all wanted Tatte! I had to move and I had to move fast.
In less than a year we were selling our products in New York City and around the country. I used my management and production experience and treated it as my life production. I can tell you it was not like any film productions I did before, but it was a fun and challenging roller coaster for 5 years. I learned as I went; I learned the language, I learned it all. I was loved from the minute I started. I am lucky to have the best customers, who supported me from day one when they had to pick up their orders from my house.
It’s still a daily fun roller coaster, but I share it with a great team of people who work with me every day and help me to make it even better. We are now opening our third location, and we are proudly partnered with Williams-Sonoma and working on 2014 – 2015 projects.
Our cakes, tarts, cookies and pastries are unique in their artful look and their flavors. One of the things that sets our products apart is the way we work with our ingredients. Everything is handmade from raw ingredients with extreme care and attention to detail. Our baked goods are made by passionate people who love baking (and can test, taste and talk about it endlessly). We keep them as close as possible to the source; we create our pastries so the star ingredient in each will shine.
To make each product unique, both the flavor and look must be exceptional. You can see the perfectionism in each of our products; they have to be one-of-a-kind, they have to be delicious, or they won’t be Tatte.
How do you come up with a recipe? What’s your process?
There are my family recipes that I use as my basic recipes, and with those I work and play, tweak and change them. Some I upgrade or create a whole new product. This process involves a lot of testing and experimenting with old and new ingredients. These recipes are the ones that guide me with everything at Tatte, the ones I grew on.
Then there are the recipes I create from my travels around the globe, mostly from Europe. When I eat a dessert I love and it’s absolutely delicious, I take notes in my head and create my own version of it. That’s a lot of fun; I love doing it. It also involves a lot of testing. Sometimes it turns to be even better, and sometimes it never reaches the customer because I wasn’t able to reach that perfection in flavor and texture. That’s the fun part of this job — it’s emotional and very rewarding. It also leaves you with a sweet memory of your travels.
And finally, there are the recipes I create because I feel something is missing. I close my eyes and I can feel that there’s a taste, a thing that I am missing. This is a very long process, and it involves testing with lots of ingredients until I reach a product I am happy with.
What are some of the biggest challenges of your process? And the biggest rewards?
At first it was learning to bake in English and to source here all of the ingredients I used to bake with. I had to match them and to be happy with the flavors and quality. It took some time to educate our local customers about what we do here and why Tatte is different. The idea of baking from scratch using the highest quality of raw ingredients was not obvious to them, and some were not willing to pay the price that comes with it. We proudly think we have succeeded in that.
I grew up in a place where, if you wanted to eat, you had to make your food most of the time, plant and grow it. We did not have ready-made mixes. We milked the cows, we grew the berries, we harvested the wheat — everything was fresh, and you appreciated every bite you took. On my first supermarket shopping trip in America I got lost in the boxes. It took some time to source my ingredients and understand that things work a bit differently here unless you create things on your own. And I did.
Finding good people to walk this long, creative challenging walk with me was and will always be a challenge.
Rewards — wow, I have had so many rewards along the way. First, of course, is seeing the lines of people who come to our shops and the love and support they are giving us. It’s overwhelming. To see people from all over the world, from different cultures, asking for their favorite dessert when you know Tatte is the only place they have ever had it and you are the one to bring it to them — that’s a huge reward for me. To see Americans, Asians and European asking for Halva pastry or a shakshukah dish with a smile on their face simply makes my day.
To see happy customers bring us into their homes, sharing Tatte with their family and friends around the country — that is huge. The hundreds of emails, the requests to open Tatte stores from so many customers around the globe. To pack tarts for French customers because they can’t find them in Paris. To ship to Tokyo and London year after year. To be able to do only what your heart tells you to do and always think about the quality and the customers — it’s a privilege and my biggest reward.
What is your favorite thing to bake?
My favorite things to bake are our fruit tarts. I love pairing the right fruit with the right filling, liquors and textures. I love everything yeast; it’s live and breathing. I love nuts! The texture and aroma they add to the product — it’s like a baker’s playground.
What’s your favorite aspect of owning Tatte?
The freedom to be creative and challenged in my own way and to bring the best baked goods to people’s lives. To be part of so many people’s lives. To build, create and achieve on a daily basis. The opportunity to educate, train and shape new bakers to use only fresh raw ingredients — to be unique, to love and be proud of what they do.
What are some of your personal favorite baked goods that you sell?
What has been the response from your customers at your bakery locations?
Most of them come in and their jaws drop. They are overwhelmed by the product and the design of each of our locations. Then, they feel like they want to stay. “We could live here!” they say. They can’t decide which product to try, so there are plenty of questions and excitement. In a way, they feel like they’ve entered heavenly Europe for a moment. The European customers feels like they finally found a place like home. Some even say it: “we are home!”
They buy for themselves and they buy for their friends and family. They keep coming back. They take plenty of pictures; they are extremely inspired and happy!
They tweet about us, use Pinterest and Instagram, blog about us — so many blogs love us and we love them back. I feel loved, hugged and thanked by my customers every day. I appreciate every comment, request or suggestion they have given me over the years.
If you weren’t baking, what else would you be doing?
That’s a great question. I would be a vet! I love and care for animals more than anything else. My “after Tatte” life would be dedicated to helping and saving animals.