The Tempting Aromas and Sights
Fairfield Citizen News
June 13, 2008

The aroma of baking bread and pastries wafts at the entryway into the old-world charm of a French patisserie at 1903 Post Road. As one steps up from the inviting entrance with a three-tiered chocolate machine on display, a visitor is completely transported into another world.

At Isabelle et Vincent, time slows down for a few moments to luxuriate in the exquisite smells and sights.

The bakery fare and delicacies come from the French master, Vincent Koenig who received a master's diploma as a patissier, confiseur and glacier from the Ministry of Education, Academy of Strasbourg, France, where Koenig and his wife, Isabelle, owned and operated their patisserie and chocolate-making and confectionary operation for 18 years.

Thanks to the master talents of Vincent and the interior decorating skills of Isabelle, the patisserie offers the finest in artisan breads, pastries, chocolates and ice cream all made on the premises. This is served up with a touch of French ambience. Customers can enjoy a cup of coffee and piece of pastry in the cozy sitting areas that include an alcove with table and seating for eight to 10 people. This area is available by reservation for patrons who would like to conduct a business meeting or gather in a semi-private atmosphere while enjoying the coffees, croissants, rolls, cakes and pastries.

In opening their French bakery, the Koenigs are offering a little of their French culture and lifestyle

"You have the feeling you are in France," said  Isabelle as she sat at the table describing how she had selected all French furnishings and vases of fresh flowers to create the ambience that would give the feeling she and her husband were welcoming people into their own home in France.

"This bakery is my life and the life of my children," said the mother of Caroline, 11, and Philippe, 9, both of whom work side-by-side with their parents, learning the craft, passed down from father-to-son for the past seven generations.

"What we sell is quality. It's important to us," said, Isabelle, who with her husband, has hired seven full-time employees. She noted her preference for full-time employees rather than part-timers because she feels there is more consistency. She does not like employee turnover because it erodes the quality of service and products.

"We want people to invest in the shop. If you work with the bread, you must understand the bread. You must like the pastry. To work with the pastry, you must like what you do," Isabelle said.

As she talked, Isabelle demonstrated with her hands how important it is to be connected with the food, not only with the hands but also with they eyes. "You must have pleasure when you try something."

She discussed the importance in pacing oneself when eating French breads and pastries and the pleasure that can be achieved when eating a little bread and cheese and sipping a glass of wine. "You must eat with your eyes. It is important to see what you eat," she said.

In listening to her discuss the philosophy behind the art or pleasure of eating, it becomes evident that the visual was very important when she and her husband designed the interior physical layout.

As a visitor steps into the main part of the bakery, the breads, pastries, cakes and other baked goods, including tarts and quiches, are all made with natural ingredients and artfully arranged in the display cases. The ice cream also is made on the premises and is available all year round with seasonal flavorings.

Toward the middle of the space, visitors can see all the French ovens. Vincent and his assistants work in an open space where visitors can see the master chef at work making the baguette, ciabetta, honey wheat, multigrain, cranberry pecan or wheat germ breads.

Opposite the work area and across from the display cases is where Vincent makes his boutique chocolates, which are then boxed into decorative gift boxes and placed on shelves in the "parlor," where patrons can sit and enjoy their coffee and pastries.

Vincent is a seventh-generation master chocolatier. His artistry includes Truffles, Rochers, Nougatine, Azurs, and Pralines, all made with natural ingredients from France.

"You see the chocolates with your eyes and then you begin to taste and you feel the crunch," said Isabelle, as she continued to describe the pleasures in sampling what the bakery offers. "Vincent is an artist," said Isabelle.

She explained how they had come to Fairfield. Last year, the couple decided they needed a new challenge after having run a successful bakery for many years. They began to think about coming to the United States and opening a French bakery. In France, they had met an individual who spoke highly of the Fairfield/Westport area.

"American people are very nice. We came here in January and looked around. We said, 'Very nice.' New York is nearby. It's very safe." They returned to France and decided to sell their bakery, their home, their cars, even their bicycles.

"We arrived with my 12 suitcases and rented a house in Westport. We had a nice welcome from our neighbors. Life is fantastic for us."

Isabelle and Vincent had looked around for the space for their bakery and after looking in Greenwich, Norwalk and Westport, they found their current location on the Post Road. She speaks highly of their landlord, the Kligerman Group.

Isabelle et Vincent will be offering online ordering for pickup, and the shop will ship products anywhere in the continental United States.

Isabelle et Vincent is open Tuesday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. For information, call 292-8022.