George Brown College grads Stephanie Duong and Bruce Lee bring French-style desserts with a laid back twist to Toronto. Find out how they got here, and how they're letting their customers discover classic French desserts in a new way.
Leaving Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors, our minds still trying to process ideas of the infinite, eternity, and the spatial relationship they share, we were interrupted by another thought: hunger. Pause the metaphysical discussion. We need to refuel. But after such an awe inspiring morning, not just any food will do. Our minds are slowing floating back to earth (Toronto, to be specific) but we still want to seek out something out of the ordinary.
We didn’t have to look far to find what we wanted: Roselle, a dessert shop in Toronto’s Corktown neighbourhood, where Stephanie Duong and Bruce Lee take customers on a trip around the world through their inspired creations: French in technique, with flavours influenced by their travels, executed for Toronto’s tastes - fun, laid back, and approachable. We love Roselle. And think you should, too!
Let's start from the beginning...
Tell us the story of how Roselle came to be?
It was a dream that my partner Bruce and I talked about during our years spent working in kitchens in Europe and Asia. We wanted to come home and share what we learned with our hometown of Toronto.
Did you always dream of owning your own pastry shop?
Always! We have always had the entrepreneurial spirit inside us (we’ve had multiple smaller businesses individually prior to Roselle). We love dessert, and while we were working in France and Hong Kong, began to think about how we could bring the desserts we were making there back to Toronto.
Where did you work/what kind of experience did you have before going out on your own?
My partner Bruce and I studied culinary arts and pastry respectively at George Brown College. We worked in some of the finer establishments in the city, as well as in Michelin-starred restaurants in France and Hong Kong.
And when did you know you were ready to start your own shop?
When we came back to Toronto after two years abroad and realized that we had a lot of things we wanted to share with people.
As we are experiencing right now with Ensembl, starting a new business has a lot of challenges, emotional ups and downs, and so many bridges we‘ve never thought we’d have to cross.
What has been the biggest hurdle you’ve had starting Roselle?
Opening our first venture on a shoestring budget. Money and experience certainly increase your chances of success, but in the end, what worked for us was a lot of hard work.
The most rewarding experience?
Creating a community of people (staff and customers) who appreciate what we create and support us.
The most unexpected challenge or outcome?
That this all worked out!
At Roselle, you have so many unique and imaginative dessert items.
Where do you get your menu inspiration?
We inspire ourselves through travel. When we set out to go anywhere, the first thing we’ll research is the food scene (if there isn’t one, then we most likely won’t go). We’ll usually cram as many eateries as we can and we find that’s always the best way to explore. Mostly though, our menu ideas come from flavours that we love, above all else. We try not to pay attention to constantly emerging fads on Instagram. It would be exhausting (and completely unfulfilling) if we were to create just based on what everyone else is “into” at the moment.
Has your inspiration (or the source of your inspiration) evolved since you opened? If yes, how? And how might it continue to evolve?
As we continue to grow our business, it’s become very evident that we absolutely NEED to set aside time to travel.
Evolution is great, but there is nothing wrong with sticking to the classics. What is the one thing that can never come off the menu, lest your customers stand in revolt?
Our banana cream pie eclair, hands down.
Your products look amazing. All. The. Time…. Mine don’t when I bake at home.
Do you have any tips for people who want to bake at home?
Buy a scale! They are so inexpensive and will improve your baking by 50%. Have all your ingredients ready before you tackle a recipe- makes life much easier. Read a recipe thoroughly before beginning. Keep baking! Don’t let a failed recipe discourage you- it’s all about practice.
If you’re having friends over, do you just bring in leftover desserts from Roselle, or are there different things you like to make when you’re baking for “home consumption”?
If we’re going somewhere then most likely it will be Roselle leftovers. When we’re having people over though, I like to make something else (just so I can have some! I do get tired of being around Roselle desserts all day…). My go to is always pavlova. We make it in individual portions at Roselle, yes, but there is something so comforting and convivial about digging into a giant one with your friends. It’s unfussy and always a hit. You only need a few ingredients and some time in the oven. You can dress it up with whatever seasonal fruit is available and it always gets “oooos & ahhs” when it’s brought out.
You spend lots of time at Roselle.
Is it hard to find time to prepare non-dessert food? Do you use UberEats? Or cook at home? Or at the shop?
One of the hardest questions we ask ourselves everyday is “What’s for dinner?” While we cook delicious meals for our staff for lunch, we often find ourselves very uninspired to cook for ourselves in the evening. We’ll try to prepare big batches of meals earlier in the week and freeze as much as we can.
Any tips for people juggling a busy schedule that still want to cook more of their own meals?
Organization is key! Make sure you take time to plan. Quite often we find ourselves settling
Rapid Fire questions:
Favourite pastry dessert to make? Choux pastry (cream puffs, eclairs..)
Cookie or cake? Cake!
Salty or sweet? Salty ;)
Favourite 5 ingredient / 1 pot meal? Braised pork belly & eggs over rice.
Beer or wine? Wine.
Signature cocktail? Negroni.
Guilty pleasure? Potato chips.
Best meal you’ve ever had? Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
What are 5 things you always have in your fridge? Sriracha, ketchup, kewpie mayo, pickled vegetables of some sort, mustard.
What is your go to hostess/host move? Making sure our guests never leave hungry.
One ingredient worth splurging on? Vanilla beans.
Favourite cookbook? On Food & Cooking by Harold McGee.
Favourite seasonal produce and favourite produce from that season? Late spring, early summer - peas & strawberries!
Favourite food memory/ family food tradition? Going to dim sum with our parents early on weekend mornings.
Favourite kitchen purchase? We’re currently in love with our Instant Pot, which we recently purchased. We also bought a spiralizer - that was quite fun!
Biggest kitchen pet peeve? Dull knives.
Kitchen hype (stuff that's not worth it)? Ceramic knives.
Coffee - how do you make it and how do you take it? Espresso-style, cappuccino.
Go to midnight snack? Instant noodles.
And….one final question: What’s the biggest problem you see with the cookware you own right now? Definitely storage. We only keep a few in our apartment (1 small pot, 1 cast iron & a non stick fry pan), mainly because that’s all we can house.
A special thanks to Steph and Bruce - not only for being part of our inaugural #EnsemblExchange interview, but for making us our favourite desserts. We are not ashamed to say we have a steady supply of their caramels in our fridge (the raspberry ones are our favorite!), that we are always looking for an excuse stop by for an Earl Grey shortie, and that every time they announce their special “Birthday Cake” is available, we can’t help but come in for a piece. Fatter and happier. (But most importantly happier!) Thanks, guys!
You can visit Roselle at 362 King Street East in Toronto.