PHOTO: AUBRIE PICK
As a child in Algeria, Warda Bouguettaya was often in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother, pestering them to let her pitch in. When she was a teenager, her mother finally gave in and began teaching Bouguettaya how to cook. The first dish she mastered was chocolate mousse. These days, Bouguettaya is still whipping up batches of it in her sun-dappled Detroit bakery, Warda Pâtisserie, where a silky chocolate-pear mousse is just one component of her multilayer pear and chocolate entremet, a stunning dessert that takes three days to make.
Bouguettaya was obsessed with food from an early age, but it took her several decades to finally open her dream bakery at age 38. As a young adult, she studied French literature at university and planned to become a journalist. It was only when Bouguettaya moved from Algeria to Detroit with her husband, Mohamed, for his job that cooking became front and center in her life. Bouguettaya could not work due to visa issues and longed for the meals that comforted her. "I would call my mom and just ask her, 'OK, Mom, what are you cooking today? And how'd you do that?'" Bouguettaya would then replicate the dishes for Mohamed's friends. Then she started to dream of a spot where she could cook professionally.
At first she and Mohamed contemplated opening a small Algerian restaurant, as so few of them existed in the greater Detroit area. In 2005, the couple spotted a flyer for a daylong course on how to start your own food business. "My husband took the day off of work, and we went," Bouguettaya says with a grin. She put her plans on the back burner for a few years while raising two daughters but eventually started selling Algerian desserts at a farmers market, baking hundreds of pastries out of her tiny home kitchen.
Mohamed then got an opportunity to work in Shanghai, and Bouguettaya again put her dream on pause. But this time, she took the opportunity to attend culinary school at Restaurant-École Institut Paul Bocuse in Shanghai. "They had chefs coming from all around the world to teach," says Bouguettaya. "And they were using not only French ingredients but also Asian ingredients." When she returned to Detroit, Bouguettaya realized she didn't want to pick up the Algerian dessert business where she had left off. "I just wanted to do something that incorporated everything that's beautiful about Algeria, about French techniques, and also about Asia in general and Southeast Asia in particular."
The pastry case at Warda Pâtisserie, which Bouguettaya opened at last in 2018, reflects that approach: French techniques, global flavors, and a soft spot for her Algerian roots. It's a repertoire unconstrained by borders: Puffy mascarpone clouds float atop delicate, glossy lemon tarts; spheres of choux pastry are stuffed with a makrut and strawberry cream; a slice of Russian honey cake proudly displays its layers the way a zebra shows its stripes. There are painstakingly laminated morning buns dusted in sugar and cinnamon; halvah- and chocolate-laced cookies; and stacks of torta, an Algerian specialty that features a tender, puff pastry–like crust wrapped around a savory filling that rotates seasonally (though you can usually find one brimming with garlicky sautéed greens and hunks of feta).
Bouguettaya and her team make upwards of two dozen types of pastry a day — filling tart shells, whipping together cheesecakes, creating fruity gelées — making every detail from scratch. The bakery is a warm and inviting space, bustling with eager customers of all ages. It may have taken Bouguettaya decades to get to this place, but it is the business of her dreams. She and her husband are the sole owners. "We had the vision of bringing people together from different cultures, celebrating the diversity in this country," says Bouguettaya. "We have no big investors, no mass production. It's a neighborhood pastry shop."
Warda Pâtisserie, 70 W Alexandrine St, Detroit, MI, warda-patisserie-midtown.square.site
Meet all of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs 2022: Warda Bouguettaya | Damarr Brown | Ana Castro | Calvin Eng | Tim Flores and Genie Kwon | Melissa Miranda | Justin Pichetrungsi | Emily Riddell | Rob Rubba | Caroline Schiff