Saigon. Paris. Arizona. New York City. And now, Winnipeg.
That's been the path taken by polymath Linh Tran, whose Rêverie Gluten Free Bakery has been wowing both celiacs and sweet tooths alike since she started running her delivery business just a few weeks ago in early December.
We, for one, cannot stop raving about her Imperial cookies, which have this gorgeous, slightly crumbly texture and lush buttery finish that is finely cut by a lively raspberry jam. Then there's the incredibly indulgent Camaelo cake, which makes the trio of dark chocolate, luxurious caramel and Maldon salt come together in such harmonious fashion that you'll practically make out with your fork to get every last morel.
And those salted chocolate chip cookies? We are currently dipping one in our morning coffee, ensuring the start of this day is more than a-ok.
Then you factor in the fact that all these things are gluten-free and it's like, "Okay Linh, we get it, now you are just showing off."
Plus, the packaging! It's like something you'd expect to see from Versailles should they have a cake biz in the Hall of Mirrors (in fact, it's another nearby Palace that has inspired it), so take note should you be looking for a decadent gift idea, particularly with Valentine's Day coming up soon.
As you'll read in our interview below, Tran (who also has a day job) has a background that is equally as impressive as her baking. . . and she owns a Samoyed! Talk about a doyenne.
In your About Section, you cite how your mom is also a perfectionist in the kitchen, particularly at sourcing ingredients. How big of an influence has she been on your cooking, and did she inspire you to pursue a career in the kitchen?
My mom has always been my biggest source of inspiration in the kitchen. She makes everything from scratch, even if it takes twice as long. She encourages me to be curious and never stop learning. Her food is the best; I can eat it until I explode. Even though she inspires me, she doesn’t want me to be a baker or business owner for a living because she worries it is too stressful, and that standing long hours will take a toll on me. But she still supports me trying things that make me happy. She still lives in Vietnam but we talk all the time.
Do you ever make it back to Vietnam? And what do you make of the Vietnamese restaurants in Winnipeg’s West End?
I go back to Vietnam every year or two, or as much as I can. The last time I was there was in 2019. My family and many childhood friends still live there. I love the food and the hustle and bustle of a big city like Saigon. I miss that energetic, chaotic vibe. I’m happy to see many Vietnamese restaurants here. I love the cold cut banh mi from Khanh Hoa and the duck noodle soup from Pho Hoang. It’s exciting that more and more Asian restaurants have opened in Winnipeg in recent years. There are way more options for bingsu, ramen and bubble tea than there used to be.
You have quite the educational background–from Paris to grad school in Arizona–what were you studying during this time?
I studied business administration, heavily focused on accounting/finance and commercial law at Université Paris Est-Créteil and Université Panthéon-Assas. After that, I went to Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona for my master's degree in global marketing and business management. I moved to NYC after graduating to be closer to my sister, who has lived there for more than 10 years, before making the move to Canada. Studying in France allowed me to travel around Europe and immerse myself in culture; studying at Thunderbird forged deeper connections with people from all over the world because the majority of its student body is international. I still have a group chat from school with 10 or so of my closest friends and we’re from seven different countries. We talk often and visit each other when we can.
What brought you to Winnipeg?
My husband is originally from Winnipeg but moved around when he was young, including living in the States for a few years. We met in the US almost 10 years ago and had a long-distance relationship for a while before I moved here eight years ago.
How has sourcing ingredients since moving to Winnipeg been?
Sourcing ingredients for Rêverie is not a simple process. I work with many different suppliers to make sure all ingredients are certified gluten-free, or I ask for a Certificate of Analysis from the suppliers to make sure there is no gluten contamination. European cultured butter with a high-fat percentage is also hard to find here. Canadian butter is good, but for some pastries, a higher fat butter yields a better result. I’ve experimented with many different chocolates from Callebaut, Cacao Barry, Valrhona and others–most of which are available at local specialty food stores. Outside of the bakery, I miss fresh seafood. Growing up in Vietnam, we had an abundance of fresh seafood year-round.
Linh and Azzurri (photo courtesy of Rêverie Gluten Free Bakery)
What is the most difficult thing about gluten-free baking?
Gluten-free baking is very unforgiving and it is extremely difficult to recreate the texture of regular baked goods. I use at least 11 different kinds of gluten-free flour in our products to substitute for all-purpose flour, and the mixes and ratios differ from recipe to recipe. Anything with yeast is the most demanding; a pillowy-soft-but-still-chewy loaf of bread, the distinctive layers of a flaky croissant, etc. Many gluten-free baked goods just mask poor texture with extra sugar and fat. Striking the perfect balance of flavour and texture involves a lot of trial and error.
Your packaging is very regal. Is this reflective of your time spent in proximity to Fontainebleau, one of Europe’s most opulent estates?
Thank you. Our branding is heavily influenced by France; le Grand canal du Château de Fontainebleau is the inspiration for our logo. I was lucky enough to live in Fontainebleau, a historic town 55km southeast of Paris while attending university. It is such a lovely place where you have access to everything needed for day to day life: small boutiques, farmers markets, insanely good bakeries and patisseries, restaurants and bars, while being far away from big-city noise. When you want more or things at a bigger scale, Paris is less than an hour away. I have always loved art and fashion and appreciated good design. My husband is also a designer and collects furniture. Our branding and packaging is a combination of our personal stories and the desire to bring a full experience to our clients—not only satisfying their taste buds with flavour and texture, but something aesthetically pleasing with beautiful design.
Where do you and your husband like to eat in Winnipeg when you are not cooking?
We love sushi and could eat it every day. Our go-to is Yujiro—they have the best selection of fish. We also enjoy Enoteca, Clementine, and Pizzeria Gusto.
What’s your Samoyed’s name, and is he a good boy?
Zuri (short for Azzurri) is a good boy, he will turn three in May. He is very loving, friendly, playful and talkative. A big goof! He could play fetch for hours; at daycare, he never stops playing with other dogs until we pick him up. He loves food just like his mom. His favorites are banana, apple, fish and butter. I've never seen a dog that likes fruit and vegetables as much as him. He brings so much joy to our lives.