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While many dream of quitting their jobs and moving to Paris, the reality of the matter often isn’t that simple. From visas to job searching and yearly trips to the préfecture, Versailles-based pastry chef Molly Wilkinson has seen it all. After leaving her job in digital marketing, she made the leap across the pond to study pastry at Le Cordon Bleu, and eventually start teaching her own pastry classes!
I recently sat down (virtually) with Molly to discuss her life in France and all things pastry, including her new book French Pastry Made Simple.
Where are you from and what brought you to France? How long have you lived in France and where?
I’m originally from Dallas, Texas. I first came to France when I was studying abroad in college. I was here for two weeks and absolutely fell in love with it. Then, I came back to study pastry at Le Cordon Bleu. The programs in France were cheaper than in the U.S., so I was able to move to Paris and continue working remotely while exploring the city and learning where pastry really originated.
Since then, I’ve been in France for about seven or eight years, on and off. I lived in Strasbourg for one year, then Paris for three or four years. I moved to Versailles in February of 2019.
How did you manage to stay in France originally and how have you stayed in France all these years? (different visas, etc.)
The easiest way to move to France is to get a student visa. I started with that when I was at the Cordon Bleu, and then I stayed up until four days before my visa was up. I knew that I wanted to come back to France, but it actually took me a year to do so. I went back to the States for a year, and then came back to France for three months since American citizens can do that without a visa. While I was here, I spread my CV anywhere that I could possibly think of—all of the different boulangeries and pastry shops, and especially those that had more of an American influence, and then a cooking school where I ultimately ended up. From that job offer, I was able to get a jeune professionnel visa, which is relatively easy to get since it’s a temporary work visa. The next step was the paperwork, which took about three months to process.
I extended the jeune professionnel visa for as long as I could, which was 18 months, and then applied for the profession liberal visa, which is what I have now. This application was a lot more tedious, it was 60 pages long, and my renewal was actually 100 pages. I’ve had that visa for about four years and right now I’m good until 2023, which is fantastic. The goal is ultimately to get citizenship so I don’t have to keep going back to my préfecture every year.
What are some things you love about French culture compared to life in the States? And any you don’t love?
I love the food culture. There’s such a tradition behind the cuisine here, and it’s really treasured. Traditional dishes like a boeuf bourguignon or Saint-Honoré pastry are expected to be done the way it’s always been done. The recipes here are so fantastic because they date so far back and have been perfected over the years. I also love the market culture so much; the produce is incredible here.
As for what I don’t like so much: the bureaucracy. That’s the easiest and the most truthful because even the French will agree with that.
What inspired you to change careers from digital marketing to pastry? What advice would you have for someone who wants to make a drastic career change?
I would say to believe in yourself, but also take it slow. It worked really well for me because I was able to transition over the course of multiple years, allowing me to grow into my own style in pastry, but also have a way to support myself. I was really lucky that the company that I worked for in the U.S. allowed me to work remotely when I was in school.
I would also say to research a lot. I researched for a year before I left to figure out what made sense. And then just be open to the craziness in your life and see where things can take you. Because having that openness and not sticking exactly to the plan can lead to some really amazing opportunities.
What is the inspiration behind your new cookbook “French Pastry Made Simple”?
My inspiration really came from my teaching and going to school at the Cordon Bleu, because so many pastries really revert back to these base recipes: pâte à chou, puff pastry, tart crust, pastry cream, lemon curd, things like that. Those are all basic foundational recipes, and by learning those, you can make so many different things. So, I wanted to make things accessible with ingredients that anyone can find.
In the book you learn 10 base recipes and then you’re able to essentially make 60 creations by tweaking those recipes.
What are your go-to places for pastries and desserts in Paris and Versailles?
In Versailles, there’s Au Chant du Coq and Pâtisserie Fine, and sometimes I go to Angelina in the château just for fun.
In Paris, my go-to is always Stohrer. I lived right around the corner, so it has this wonderful familiar feeling to it. And then down the street is Fou de Pâtisserie, which allows you to try a lot of different desserts from different pastry chefs in Paris, which is also super cool.
What is your favorite French pastry?
My absolute favorite to make is a pièce montée, or Croquembouche, because it’s very ethereal; it only lasts for one day. And your heart is beating fast when you make it because you have to work with hot caramel as the glue to bring everything together. It’s spectacular. When we made it at the Cordon Bleu, I remember I looked at the girl next to me after five hours of passionately creating this and we were like, “We need to open a Croquembouche store.”
I’ve taught it a couple of times and it does look very complicated. But as soon as you know how to hold the cream puffs to dip them into the hot caramel it really is something that anyone can create.
What are you enjoying most these days?
It was so exciting when terraces opened again. It’s such a part of the culture here to go to a terrace to just sit outside, get some sunshine, meet friends and people watch. So being able to go and get a coffee with a friend and catch up has been the best.
- Living French: Author Pamela Druckerman on Moving to Paris & Becoming French
- Explore Paris’s arty and foodie side at La Villette.
- Here Where to Find Paris’ Best Tarts and Sweets
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