When considering Chef Maarten Steenman of Mount Kisco, New York’s La Tulipe Desserts, three words come to mind: professionalism, perfectionism and passion. Whether its finding the right glaze, weeding out the broken biscotti, or slicing the cake just right, Steenman consistently finds ways to perfect his craft and keep the sweet treats coming.

Spring in New York has begun to unfurl its leaves, and as it does our culinary desires slowly shift. What were once strong cravings for butternut squash and turkey are now cries for green peas, corned beef, and, of course, the ever-pleasing, pastel pastry. At La Tulipe Desserts, no one knows this shift, and the ceaseless value of a good treat, better than Steenman. After training at various patisseries in Europe from the age of 14, the Holland-born pastry maker brought his dessert expertise to Mount Kisco where he and his wife founded La Tulipe Desserts in 1999. Since its establishment, the beloved, European-style patisserie has gained extensive critical acclaim, earning itself several awards and attracting a loyal band of sweet-toothed fans. 14 years later, Steenman is as committed as ever to providing the best possible desserts he can, and continues to maintain an unwavering commitment to freshness — in ingredients, flavor and design.

As you walk into La Tulipe Desserts’ charmingly accommodating storefront, the heavy smell of cake sponges, cooling macaroons, and other sweets washes over you. Sidling your way past the glittering showcases brings you to a snug, smartly designed kitchen, complete with a collection of ladles and piping equipment, movable baking scales, and a wall of bright copper work bowls. In the back corner of the kitchen two ovens — the size of a single closet combined — produce thousands upon thousands of treats every day, including dozens of colorful macaroons, in flavors like spiced mango, fig and balsamic strawberry, as well as cakes towering with frilly ganache, delightfully small mini-tarts, and delectable cookies, truffles, and more.

Despite its small size, La Tulipe Desserts runs a rigorous operation, where a tightly organized staff, overseen by the scrupulously and passionately detail-oriented Steenman, uses only premium ingredients to create the patisseries one-of-a-kind desserts. Even in the realm of precision baking, Steenman has got his macaroon recipe down to a science, stepping it into high-gear for spring and enabling La Tulipe to produce thousands of macaroons a week, without sacrificing the quality and originality of each delicate sweet. Well into its second decade, the shop continues to produce and reinvent its artful confections — a stunning testament to Steenman’s traditional culinary background, passion and impressive work ethic.

Amidst the sweet smell of truffles setting, Steenman took some time out of his busy schedule to share with GALO his thoughts on culinary art and trends, the marriage of artful cooking with robust business demands, and the art of achieving the perfect French macaroon.

GALO: I understand that you’re a second-generation pastry chef who trained at many of the finest patisseries in Europe, including Huize van Wely in Holland, where you were born, starting when you were only 14, as well as others in France, Belgium and Norway. La Tulipe Desserts, in turn, is known for its commitment to “European quality and tradition.” What does traditional European-style culinary training entail? And how does it differ from training that has a less traditional emphasis — what impact do you see the different types of training as having on culinary art and trends?

Maarten Steenman: Well the trends, first of all — everything is changing all the time. I think that’s the most difficult thing for me right now, that you have to keep updating every time. We’ve [been here] now 14 years, so after a while — and things go well, thank God! — it’s very easy just to kind of let it go. We have to constantly do new things, to reinvent the patisserie, the whole shop, actually: new products, new ideas. So that’s a thing that just keeps going; you always will be working on it — it will never stop. And, I mean, 14 years ago when I opened this… It is a completely different patisserie right now in Europe and over here too [than it was]. Things are changing, especially over here. I was here when I was 19, 20 — that is, you know, 21, 22 years ago — and bakeries were basically competing with the supermarket. I mean, you had a couple of really good restaurants in New York that [had] like lines [of people] out of the door, but they had no clue about good, good taste. And it’s all changing right now, like the French revolution years ago in France.

So training-wise, I think there’s a little bit more of an understanding, an appreciation for food in Europe. People are more serious about it, have more pride. You know, [people there are] very, very proud, [and] very intense. I think they also want to work on it more. And that’s nothing to crack down on about America because it’s just a different system. Here people go to culinary school. The culinary school is excellent; I mean, [from] what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen, it’s very good. But it’s a two year program, actually not even two years, like a year and a half, and they do like internships and those things. But see, I started at 15, 16-years-old, washing dishes and cleaning baking sheets and those things, so it started very, very slowly. And yeah, people work hard over here too, it’s not only in Europe, so that’s also changing, but I think it has to do with pride maybe. There’s a little bit more pride in Europe; they’re more — how do you say it? — into it, really, really into it. But it’s changing, like I said. Here in America too, I mean, you have great pastry chefs, you have great restaurants.

GALO: You first visited Mount Kisco in your 20s, as part of an exchange program while you were still in training, and afterward you returned to Europe. Why did you decide to come back to America a second time after your training ended to start your own business, and what drew you to Mount Kisco and Westchester County specifically?

MS: At that time, I was working at a small bakeshop, down here in Mount Kisco. I met Fran, who was a resident from Bedford Hills…and when I was working here, [the shop] was kind of competing with the supermarket. Basically, it’s fun to be here. It’s close to the city. I was 19, 20, I had a great time. But I wanted to learn more. It was too short. So, I was like, “you know what, I want to go back to Europe, at least for another five, six years, to really learn what I loved,” and so that was that. And then I decided I wanted to open up something for myself, which is pretty hard to do in Europe, [largely because of] money, investing and maybe also competition — there’s more competition [there]? So I thought, [to be in America], it was a new thing. And especially when we started 14 years ago, it was a whole new product, actually. So we had to taste, and we had to let the people taste, and learn actually what it is. There were also a few good bakers at the time [who] were actually my first customers. They had like little weekend houses over here in Westchester, and that’s how they started to get familiar with [our product]. That’s how [La Tulipe] basically started. But it was a little risky because it was a brand new product — a completely different way of making food and dessert.

(Interview continued on next page)