Member Profile – Dominique Cortara of Dominique’s Sweets
Dominique Cortara is the owner of Dominique’s Sweets and a beloved vendor at a number of Sonoma County farmers markets, where her pastries, both sweet and savory, sell out way before closing time.
She has been a member of Slow Food Russian River since 2003, and was on the Leadership Team a number of times. In this interview SFRR Leader Paula Downing asks Dominique to go back to the roots of her craft.
Paula: “How did you know that you wanted to be a pastry chef?”
Dominique: “When I was 45 I went to a fancy school in Paris for cooking and pastry (Cordon Bleu). I wanted to learn it all. I thought I would do something with cuisine because I didn’t see myself as being precise. I thought that pastry required precision and a meticulous personality. Eventually I found out that you don’t have to be that precise to bake. You find out how far you can go either way. I like pastry because you can make beautiful things.
I learned how to cook with my grandmother – my mother’s mother. The only way I could hang out with her was to work – in the garden, ironing, cooking.
Her food was delicious. She made everything – pies, Portuguese sweet bread, you name it. She was a tough love grandmother. She would forbid us from breathing on anything. We had to have our hair back at all times. Eventually she would let you measure – maybe. If she let you put Crisco in the pie dough, she constantly corrected you while you were doing it, ‘Don’t handle it too much!’ Maria Julia Rocha – a Sagittarius dragon who didn’t get to go to high school.”
Paula: “What is it about baking that keeps you going?”
Dominique: “Pastry is creation every time you make something. You can do it in a cool quiet room and listen to classical music rather than in a hot kitchen with sweaty guys stressing out under pressure. There is no blood involved, like in cuisine. I like to relax when I work.
I really feel I am carrying on a tradition – hundreds of years the same way. There are no vegan croissants, no gluten free pies, no machines involved in my pastries. The French macaroons are gluten free because they have been made with nuts instead of flour for 500 years.
It is very satisfying to take 4 or 5 basic ingredients – a bag of flour and butter and you end up making all kinds of different things. So beautiful.”
Paula: “Why the Cordon Bleu?”
Dominique: “Julia Child is a lot of the reason why I went to Cordon Bleu. I watched her and pretended I had a cooking show. And Sabrina – the movie Sabrina. She went to the Cordon Bleu and came back so sophisticated.
Fifty percent of it was that I wanted to be fluent in French. I could cook, improve my French and live in Paris. What more could I want?
There is a lot of beauty in France. Beauty is in every detail. French men are very beautiful – sweet, beautiful manners, well groomed. French pastry chefs are funny; they have these giant chef hats and they act bad-ass but they are making little white chocolate roses, working to get the petals just so – speaking a language that sounds like baby talk making these beautiful curlicues.”
Paula: ”Why work for yourself at farmers markets? Why not get a job in a fancy restaurant?”
Dominique: “I like the people who buy my stuff. I am amazed by the people who buy my stuff. Besides I had a couple of baking jobs. I was miserable working for others. And I won’t get fired if I work for myself.”
Paula: “Any final thoughts?”
Dominique – “Every croissant I make has personality – crispy outside, soft and fluffy inside. All the ingredients are good. Never made the night before and frozen and heated up. No dough conditioners or other weird stuff. It’s all simple and made by hand. You can tell a human being made it. Just a real croissant.”
You can find Dominique at the Sebastopol Farmers Market every Sunday, at the Santa Rosa Original Farmers Market at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts on Saturday morning and at Franchettis’ on 1229 North Dutton Avenue, Santa Rosa, during the week.
She will also bake for your wedding, birthday, anniversaries, or any other special occasion whenever you want real French pastries made with great love.
You can reach her at 707-843-9765 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo of Dominique by Karen Preuss.