Well, few things could be as sweet or as charming as a petite pastry, gleaming green mirror glazes, or meringue kisses atop pretty pink frosting, but Djamila Bakour of La Recette Patisserie meets the challenge, and then some, every day. Now the self-identified “home baker… at heart” will begin a new chapter as she opens up a wholesale kitchen complete with a retail space that looks to be a not-so-petite portion of a very special story on our shelf.
Though wholesale is the name of the game, home is where the heart is, and for Djamila Bakour her heart and home have always been with her family. This young Muslim woman and entrepreneur, or “Girl Boss” as the kids say, emigrated with her family from Algeria in 2007. They like many Americans share a story that is not often celebrated and comes with many sacrifices and tribulations. When I asked what Djamila wants to come out of this new venture she affirmed it without hesitation, “warmth and hospitality”.for her customers and her community.
Djamila is well on her way to doing just that. The two-room suite hosts her kitchen and the soon-to-be retail space. The space will feature a grab-and-go case filled with the charming opera cakes, pastries, and other gorgeous treats that the Co-op is already happy to display in our own cold case. There will be a reception area for consults and a lovely mural, that was originally planned for the outside of the building, but will now transform the new retail space inside into an Algerian street scene, all in hues of butte brown and pink, a palette perfect for any charming patisserie. I’d argue the newly finished floors in the space, that smack of a melted vanilla ice-cream sundae, already beckon for customer foot traffic to break in their untouched polished butter beige finish which gleams with what could be flecks of the in-house-made pistachio praline.
As Djamila walks us through the retail space and leads us to her kitchen, sunlight pours through a large window where beams glint off stainless steel surfaces and supplies expected to be in any professional kitchen. One can’t help but wonder how a self-identified “home Baker at heart” goes from a small humble kitchen to a two-room operation in Durham off Hwy NC55. It seems the answer is “efficiently”, as Djamilia already looks right at home, with her impressive furnishings, like two formidable mixers she inherited when she signed the lease in November.
The two mixers are quite impressive and stand shoulder to shoulder with the home baker. She laughs as she gestures to them, calling them “the generals” as they look less like tools for baking and more like tools for manufacturing. She lets us know that they aren’t in use by her yet and that she still prefers her old friend, presenting a standard red countertop mixer that any at-home baker would consider a trusted ally.
Djamila’s joy of baking was instilled in her by her mother, who like the rest of the family helps in the day-to-day making, baking, and social media posting needed to support the business. “La Recette is a family business” after all, Djamila says smiling, but with that same seriousness, her gleaming eyes emphasize. Her mother in fact is helping with some R&D for Algerian cookies that will come out just in time for Ramadan. Her sister is a big social media help, but not a baker, and her husband is an excellent kitchen manager, delivery man, finance expert, and support.
Family and the joy and love she receives from them are evident in her life and integral to her baking. As her family helps in the kitchen, running the social media, delivering, or most importantly doing the dishes, which is Djamila’s least favorite task, they allow her more time to focus on her literal joy of baking.
Focus is important to Djamila too, something that didn’t come easy after moving from her modest home kitchen to her now professional space. In fact, while Djamila began the assembling of her famous Pistachio and Rose cake for the interview, a recipe made in honor of the Co-op when both businesses first started working together, she explained her focus wasn’t always in the present. Djamila recounted how she had to reset her intentions to be in the present, all while slathering her cake rounds with frosting as she started the assembly of one of her delicious creations.
Peaceful seems odd for any food-producing business, but peaceful is Djamila. For such a short time in the kitchen, hosting an interview while baking, Djamila truly glowed, not missing a beat while answering questions or constructing the cake simultaneously. All this and Djamila had the forethought to prepare and offer us a traditional Algerian tea service.
Set on one of the many stainless steel tables, it looked perfectly at home amongst the industrial kitchen with its ornate silver and glass cups and teapot that gleamed brighter than the polished table it sat on. Djamila placed her cake in the fridge to chill before finishing touches, and without pause, gracefully proceeded to pour tea into four cups, one for each person present and an extra for “who knows”, Djamila said, “but that’s how my mother always did it.”
As we sipped a lovely warm mint tea, in a lovely warm sun-filled kitchen, eating lovely blondies and meringue cookies, Djamilia fetched the now chilled cake and began to ice it as we continued the interview. It was impossible to not sip tea and feel the intense warmth and hospitality Djamilia spoke of wanting to flow from her business, already permeating the mostly empty space. You may believe it was the sun or the delicious buttery blondies, that Djamila says are her dessert of choice, but it was obvious all of the warmth we were feeling was beaming from Djamila herself.
You’d think this same energy that emanated from her is what naturally led her to become a baker, but like many stories, the beginnings aren’t as always bright at the start. Djamila wants to share warmth and hospitality through La Recette, but fear is what drove her to start the business.
After she graduated with a degree in food science and nutrition from NCCU in 2015, Djamila found herself with no job prospects. In an almost nonexistent job market Djamila was scared but inspired by her own family’s courage to sacrifice home and family for opportunity, so too did Djamila find courage, and with that same spirit, combined with her love and talent for baking, she began working on what would become La Recette Patisserie.
While serving and waiting tables at a local restaurant in the area (that also retails on the Co-op shelf), Baba Ghannouj, Djamila began to start on her business plan. The owner of the restaurant was her now-husband, Fadi Bakour’s, cousin, who also worked there at the time she did. It was early conversations there with her soon to be future in-law that would begin helping her make her idea of La Recette a reality.
In fact, Djamila thanked many names connected to community businesses we all know and love when it came to reaching out for advice on her own business. Business owners like Areli and Leon of Cocoa Cinnamon, Jackie of Wonderpuff, and Morgan formerly of Jeddah’s Tea are all community members that Djamila names as big sources of help and support. The support her community shows her is significant. She remarks on how aunties form her mosque are often checking in or helping out, and Djamila shares that support and thoughtfulness she receives from community through her work. Djamila likes to listen and learn about her customers as they tell their story, though she loves when customers bring in examples of her work they like when ordering a cake, their individual stories are important to her because, like her own, she wants to share them through her art.
Every story is infused into her designs, so that every cake is a unique expression of the client’s personal tale and thus a unique work of art. Copying herself is impossible, “every cake is too unique,” she giggles all while gesturing with a piping bag, and moving on to the next step in her creative process. She appreciates when her customers who order custom designs bring images, but must confess that the ones who ask her to recreate her own work are the most difficult to appease. Because every story is unique and so every cake is too.
Djamila emphasizes this last part as she creates a blast of gold dust, one of Djamila’s favorite elements, finishing up the pistachio rose cake she has been working on all interview. She delicately places meringue kisses that float in a wave of pleasantly piped pink frosting and a finished garnish of a chocolate stamped with the La Recettte emblem. Djamila smiles at another art piece finished.
Though this cake won’t be headed to the promised grab-and-go case many pastries like it will soon decorate the promised setup of La Recette in the near future. Though new and old La Recette fans can purchase pastries from the Co-op and other businesses around the triangle we will all have to wait for direct sells as they won’t be possible until the grand opening happening this spring.
In the mean time, if you’d like to support Djamila, her family business, and the goal of bringing more warmth and hospitality to the world, La Recette will launch their Kickstarter soon keep an eye on their social media for the announcement. In the mean time don’t hesitate to grab a heartwarming treat from our cold case at the Co-op and experience another amazing story on our shelf firsthand.