Hotel Bennett, the latest luxe establishment to be erected on King Street, officially opens this Sun. Jan. 27. Bennett boasts just under 200 rooms, three different bars, a signature restaurant spilling into a Marion Square adjacent patio, a spa, and all the fine details to assert itself as the new snazziest spot in which to host a five-figure wedding reception.
On the corner of King and Hutson, a few steps from the main entrance of the hotel with a separate door opening onto King, sits Bennett’s equally eye-catching in-house French pastry shop, La Patisserie. With long marble tables and tile floors; floor to ceiling windows; a narrow bar facing an elaborate coffee station; and two display cases facing King filled with eclairs, caramels, pains au chocolat, and fat slices of cake, the shop is designed to emulate the small sweets shops one may see in Marseille or Cannes or Paris.
Lyon-born executive pastry chef Remy Funfrock, who comes to Bennett from the Sanctuary at Kiawah, says when he first walked into La Patisserie, as it was under construction: “I could picture myself here, moving in and out … What’s magical in this place, it’s a hotel, yes, it’s a pastry shop in the hotel but it feels just like in France, to me, because the feel of this area downtown is like a small village — we have the church across the street just like in France, when I walk in the morning, I feel, it speaks to my experience.”
Funfrock has been cooking, both sweet and savory, since he was a teenager. He knew he wanted to be a chef when he was only seven years old, the moment his grandfather took him to visit a hotel’s professional kitchen. “When I entered I saw the big hat and the copper pots and things boiling and the chef cooking — I was amazed by what I saw that day.”
After earning a degree in cooking, Funfrock says he realized that if he ever wanted to own his own restaurant, he’d need to “know how to make a good dessert.”
Under the tutelage of French master confectioners and patissiers, Funfrock would fall in love with the art of baking, and the care that was taken by these small shops to create only the most delicious delicacies. “It is the exactitude of things that I like,” says Funfrock. “I like things clean and organized, to scale things, the chemistry behind it.”
At one of his first pastry gigs, Funfrock saw firsthand the importance of “doing everything from scratch.” “In France we use a lot of praline paste — made with nuts and caramel. You can buy that, but we would make our own, made our own glaze for fruit tarts, made our own marzipan, fondant.”
Funfrock learned not only how to glaze a tart, but also how to make chocolate, caramels, ice cream. “We have [in France] all the differences of craft,” says Funfrock.
Funfrock worked as a pastry chef in Michelin star restaurants and resorts from the South of France to New York to Florida to Colorado. He was named one of Pastry Art & Design’s top 10 pastry chefs in America, and is a two time silver medal winner at the U.S. Pastry Championship. But Funfrock longed to return to his roots, to operate out of a pastry shop, a space smelling always of freshly baked bread, of steamed milk and perfectly brewed espresso. So when he learned Bennett was seeking out a French pastry chef to run La Patisserie, well, Funfrock was thrilled. This, he says, will be yet another period of his pastry life, one in which French techniques are melded with American appetites.
“What I want to bring here,” says Funfrock, “Are my recipes, all French-based, I’ve refined them, all those years you evolve, to make them less sweet and lighter, it’s almost like a painter. You start a certain period, and progress. What has stayed with me is my heritage and my French training — I don’t know how else to do it.”
Funfrock will offer traditional French items like brioche and macarons, eclairs and meringues, Saint Honore cake, savory puff pastries, fruit tarts, and ham and brie sandwiches. But he’ll also have standards like blueberry muffins, an American morning pastry that Funfrock did not know existed until he saw it in a Starbucks case one day — “it’s much better than that,” he promises. He will also have gluten free items, another American phenomenon that Funfrock discovered when he moved to NYC more than two decades ago. “I was not aware, we didn’t have too many allergies [in France] but when I moved to New York the first thing was nuts, and then I realized it was way more than nuts.”
Funfrock says while you’ll have to enjoy items like croissants and brioche full of gluten (and if you can, by god please do) he has mastered damn good gluten free cakes, subbing in rice flour and potato starch — “I can get a really nice sponge.” No matter which item you select from the display case (and in France, Funfrock says people will often order multiple items to save for dessert later in the day, so go wild) Funfrock hopes that even busy King Street passersby will sit down, at least for a few moments, to enjoy their meal.
“Maybe they’ll pause here for a little bit and then I can see them enjoying at the table, it’s gratifying for me to see that,” says Funfrock. “An eclair is simple, but making the recipe right, when I see people enjoying that, it’s a continuation of what we’ve been doing, to make the item as perfect as possible for the person to enjoy … Personally I didn’t learn that when I first started, it was years of working with different chefs and I realized how important it is to see people be happy.”
La Patisserie will be open daily at 404 King St. Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
selling sweets, sandwiches, coffee, and to-go items from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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