Maker Profile: Barbara Shaw of Au Bon Macaron
Meet Barbara Shaw, founder and owner of Au Bon Macaron. If you haven’t tried one of her macarons, you’re in for a treat. The French cookies she creates are both lovely and delicious, incorporating pops of color with fresh and creative flavors. Barbara shares with us how she discovered macarons, her many other culinary passions, details about her new space in the Crossroads, and more.
Where did you first encounter French macarons?
I first heard of them in an article in the Wall Street Journal. McDonald’s was going to be selling them and the French were outraged! I had never seen them in France although I traveled there frequently. So I thought I would try making them. Only took 4 months to get them right! I first tasted one when a teaching colleague offered a small bag of macarons that she had made with one of the other French instructors. I ate the whole bag before leaving the parking lot and my determination was set!
They are addictively delicious! That must have taken some patience to perfect them. Do you have any advice for beginners who want to try their making them?
Never give up! Even if they turn out perfect the first time, they may be a disaster the second time and you will have no idea what you did, either time! But they will still taste delicious.
What did you do before starting Au Bon Macaron?
Taught French at high school, community and KU during graduate school.
Where did you grow up?
North Kansas City and rarely went south of the river growing up- only to the Plaza for my dentist.
What are some of your earliest baking memories? Is there a distinctive moment that stands out or was has it always been a part of your life?
My earliest cooking memories are in my mother’s kitchen. I learned to make pies from her which we always did on Sunday and then you could have a piece of pie in the afternoon long before dinner. I still look at the dessert menu first! She was also pretty adept at cooking things that my friends didn’t eat--rabbit, kidney, chicken livers.
I think a turning point for me was my first trip to France after my freshman year in college. The flavor of absolutely everything was so different and so fascinating. It probably wasn’t until graduate school several years later and spending more time in France that I realized that I could replicate those dishes at home!
What were some of the dishes you replicated?
Everything made with wine! Bœuf bourguignon, coq au vin, coquilles St. Jacques, mussels steamed in white wine, etc. I discovered yogurt! And pastries, oh my! To escape studying I cooked a lot in grad school and often entertained members of the French Department. Daydreamed about opening a restaurant. Boy, am I glad I didn’t pursue that dream!
How often have you visited France? Any travel tips for fellow Francofiles?
A dozen times plus summers in Paris in undergrad and grad school. My biggest tip is to avoid prime vacation season, summer. France is one of the top tourist destinations in the world so try to avoid long lines and crabby vendors that will ruin your experience. And pick locations that are of particular interest to you. If you love the countryside, go to the Loire Valley. If you’re a big city person, Paris is perfect. Beach person, head south.
What are your favorite flavors right now?
Most people love the colors. My favorites are the neutral ones, almond, tiramisu, latte, chai spice and eggnog in winter.
What is the craziest flavor combination you’ve tried that worked? Any that didn’t work?
Boiled cider caramel DID NOT work- much too sweet. Never even made it to the bakery. Hummingbird is a tribute to the southern hummingbird cake and it is awesome, loaded with all kinds of spices, pineapple, pecans, coconut and I love it. Need to do a batch this week.
I see you recently moved in to a commercial kitchen – so exciting! Tell me a little bit about that process and the new space.
The kitchen is in the West Crossroads, one block south of the Kauffman. It is at the end of my husband’s architecture office which runs from the front to the back of the building. The City Inspector’s requirements are daunting, but we have passed and are moving to the Health Dept. in the next few days. It is so exciting. The kitchen looks out over the Community Gardens and will soon be green with all kinds of veggies and vines.
What a beautiful location! Where were you baking before? What are you looking forward to about the new space?
I started in a commercial kitchen at the Ennovation Center, a culinary incubator in Independence. It was so valuable. They require that you get all of the certificates, permits, and insurance necessary before thinking about starting a business. Then I baked at Sasha’s, now Banksia, and I learned even more about the requirements of a commercial enterprise and techniques from others who worked there, especially Carter Holton.
As for the new location, I look forward to going to work with my husband, whose office is located in the same location, and to not cleaning up after someone else before I can get started! It’s also a gluten-free space. The macarons ingredients are gluten free, but if prepared in a bread bakery you can’t really claim they are gluten free, a big warning sign for celiacs!
What do you listen to in the kitchen? Music, podcasts, quiet?
Quiet. Not a multi-tasker! I worked for awhile at Sasha’s with Carter Holton who is a genius pastry chef. I learned so much from him, but he listens to very loud music, occasionally breaks into an operatic aria and told fascinating stories. I would always mess something up and only get half of my work done. Fun but not productive in that atmosphere.
Are there any other treats you’d like to create?
I love baking, so I’m always trying something new at home. Love lemon anything and try to use recipes from authors I trust like Ina Garten and Deb Perlman.
Where are some of your favorite places to spend time and things to do?
Love our zoo with our grandsons and just walking the dog in our neighborhood. We have beautiful houses and wonderful neighbors. Also am amazed at our own Nelson Gallery every time I go. We live close, but don’t go often enough.
What’s the last book you read or movie you watched?
Last book was Origins by Dan Brown. Last movie was Peter Rabbit- would prefer something more adult, but grandsons take precedence!
Where’s your favorite dinner spot in KC?
The Prospect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist anymore. My husband and I spent most of our anniversary dinner discussing what makes a restaurant “special” and why that place is so much a part of us. Today, I love lunch at Café Sébastienne.
What was The Prospect like? What made it so special for you and your husband?
We never really figured that out in our conversation. Some it was the time. Westport was a different place in the late 70’s– not so many bars, and smaller crowds. We are both plant lovers and cultivators and the Prospect was laden with exotic ferns and interesting hanging plants. Part of the acoustics, I think. They played classical music. The mix of the old (tile floors, central prep area and jumbled configuration of seating) and the contemporary (creative menu, variety of seating) was appealing. It just felt like home and we haven’t found a substitute yet, but still looking! And, oh yeah, we were young!
Thank you Barbara!