Ivoire Brings Edible Art to Saigon
Among the notoriously chaotic streets of District 1, a tiny shopfront on Nguyen Du Street offers an idyllic, picturesque reprieve. Directly opposite the iconic French colonial central post office lies a quiet, unassuming yet remarkably sophisticated patisserie, which looks and feels like a portal to a casual cafe tucked away in a Parisian side street.
Yet the pastries at Ivoire are anything but casual.
A glowing display case immediately greets visitors to Ivoire, with neatly-arranged rows of dazzling, glossy confections that look more like delicate sculptures than edible sweet pastries.
For the macaron enthusiasts, there are several tantalizing varieties, including mango and jasmine, yuzu, pistachio, chocolate, yoghurt and mandarin, passionfruit, and Sherry PX with raisins. Moving down the line are some creatively-named pastries each more curious than the last, with wholly unique combinations of colours, shapes, and flavours. At the other end, their grand pièce de résistance, the Creme Brulee mille crepe cake, makes choosing just one sweet treat to indulge in a nearly impossible task.
For all its grandeur and finery, this patisserie is owned and operated by a humble and warm, friendly Saigonese chef named Kasey. And her reputation is growing into one of Ho Chi Minh City’s youngest culinary visionaries.
Her passion for pastries began in Melbourne, Australia, where she originally went to university for Public Relations and Human Behaviour. “I didn’t expect to get into [the food] industry at all...I was really overwhelmed by the food culture and scene there,” she remembers. “Whenever I went out to eat with my boyfriend, who is now my fiance, I would always sneak into the kitchen. In Australia they always do open kitchens…
“...I’d see them yelling at each other, loud voices, and see how much they care about correct details. I was in love, I was like, This is my career.”
After enrolling at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, Kasey worked her way up the culinary ladder, taking any opportunity she could. “I started to apply for more famous establishments, to work for free or even washing the dishes,” she says. From these experiences, she soon discovered her passion for pastries.
But what brought her back to Saigon? “During my summer break, every time I’d come back here, I’d see the food culture in general keep developing, but not the pastries. There are good pastries out there but not too many, so my fiance and I decided that we should do something.”
In November 2018, Ivoire opened its doors for the very first time.
“I was quite scared before we opened because we thought ‘Will people accept this?’ because it’s something really new,” she recalls. “So far everyone has accepted it with a very open mind, willing to try new stuff even if they’ve never heard the name of the dessert or ingredient before.”
Ivoire’s success story is less than a year old, but the quality and variety of the pastries have already earned her a reputation amongst culinary moguls and aspiring young chefs in Ho Chi Minh City. “Actually every single week people keep sending resumes to us,” she says...
“...They say they’re willing to work for free, willing to learn from us. I wish we had a bigger kitchen to accept all of them, right now in the kitchen we have 3 girls doing everything and we’re always bumping into each other!”
As part of its core philosophy, Ivoire celebrates the simple fundamentals of what goes into each and every pastry. “In French, [Ivoire] means Ivory,” Kasey explains. “The colour of the eggshell, flour, white chocolate. The basic ingredients for baking that all pastries share.”
Yet finding the basic ingredients we usually take for granted is one of Kasey’s greatest challenges as a pastry chef in Vietnam. “Even though we are lucky to get a lot of local fruit that is fresh and really delicious, things like dairy or cream, cheese, butter, all those kinds of things we have to import,” she says...
“...They’re the same quality you would get in the States, or in France, but we have to pay sometimes triple the price!”
Still, her passion shines through her work not only in the quality and visual appeal, but the remarkable flavours she brings together.
I had the privilege of trying the Dark Mandarin, a deep brown and glossy rounded square topped with a delicate pastry orange and a real green leaf as garnish to make it seem even more lifelike. The rich, fluffy dark chocolate mousse gives way to the bright tartness and acidity of orange cream and thin slices of real, fresh orange contained in the center of the pastry. Kasey somehow manages to maintain the natural fruity, juicy consistency of the fresh orange without compromising the structure or integrity of the pastry as a whole. It is not only delightfully balanced, but a marvel of culinary engineering—and tastes absolutely divine.
When asked about her favourite item at the patisserie, Kasey’s “most valuable pastry” is the Coconut Sour. “To me it represents Vietnam with every single component inside it: coconut, pineapple, lemongrass, kalamansi, and the ốp la (sunny side up) egg on top,” she says. “Also, it is the very first cake I created inside the Ivoire kitchen.”
This young patisserie is growing and expanding, with Kasey incorporating more baked goods like a range of croissants and pain au chocolat to her lineup. For culinary novices and self-proclaimed food critics alike, Ivoire is one of Saigon’s most exciting and decidedly unique up-and-coming culinary establishments.
When she’s not busy crafting her delicacies, Kasey loves any opportunity to travel. “I love to try different cuisines from different cultures, and get inspired by their take on ingredients and flavours. My whole life revolves around food.”
For now, Kasey, her fiance, and her team of chefs remain hard at work, dreaming up new creations, and occasionally bumping a few elbows along the way.
Ivoire Pastry Boutique
Address: 57 Nguyễn Du, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
Image source: Ivoire Pastry Boutique