Many chefs dream of staging for the legendary Thomas Keller, but few have put in more effort to make that dream come true than 23-year-old Oliver Bernardino. Bernardino, who works as a pastry cook at Vancouver bakery Beaucoup, has long been enamored with Keller, and after visiting Bouchon Bakery in Napa this summer, he knew he wanted to impress the superstar chef, whose creations he dubs "amazing." His solution: building a massive, intricately detailed gingerbread replica of the bakery, which ended up taking him 70 hours to make.
"I wanted to make something that I was truly inspired by, and would motivate me to bring out my best work," says Bernardino. So he meticulously studied the Bouchon Bakery cookbook, his own photos from the visit, and info on the Web to replicate the look, down to tiny details like a table stacked with Keller's signature TKOs, blue apron, and a roll of green painter's tape and a Sharpie, used in Keller's kitchens to mark containers. "It's a take on what I thought their version of a 'plate of cookies for Santa' would look like," he says. Other replica elements include a macaron tree, a stack of baguettes, and the bakery's signature yellow awnings. "I was also really happy with how the benches and garbage bins came out," he says.
Bernardino says the project wasn't just about getting an opportunity to stage with Keller ("though that is a dream"), but paying tribute to a chef he holds in great esteem. "I really respect the values that Thomas Keller instills in his staff; not just at Bouchon Bakery, but in all of his kitchens," says Bernardino. "Treating something like it's your own, and someday it will be, moving with a sense of urgency, being patient yet persistent with your career: these are all things that really resonate with me, as well as a lot of other people in this industry."
If you want to check Bernardino's Bouchon Bakery replica for yourself, it's on display at the Vancouver Hyatt as part of their annual "Gingerbread Lane," an exhibit of 30 gingerbread houses to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation that runs through January 1.
Here's a closer look at the Bouchon Bakery replica: