BORDEAUX, France – French-Argentinean pastry chef Diego Cervantes has a kitchen filled with international ingredients to create classic French desserts with a Latino twist.
His dulce de leche contains cardamom and Tonka beans, and the French “fraisier” passion fruit and tiramisu cakes have hints of popular Mexican flavors.
These unique blends have helped his pastry shop Mi Cielo to become one of the most exclusive in the southwest of France.
In just three years, Cervantes and his wife, Blanca Bertely from Mexico, have become well known among Bordeaux’s most sweet-toothed customers with a little ingenuity and an original list of Latin American ingredients.
Customers have been known to travel 40 kilometers just to taste their lemon and mint cake, for which German designer Karl Lagerfeld sent for when he was staying in the region.
“It was a plan I had in mind to make in Mexico: the traditional French dessert but with a little more Latin ingredients,” Cervantes explained while preparing a dessert with a creamy chocolate base, tangerine and praline.
The lemon and mint cake and the banoffee are the most popular treats at Mi Cielo, where the cakes are made daily and in limited quantities.
Despite their many traditional features, each dessert holds a secret.
“We always like to make a normal cake – chocolate, strawberry or vanilla – but we add spices or herbs that give a scent that lingers,” says Bertely. “That’s what characterizes what we do.”
Cervantes and Bertely met in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where she worked as a wedding planner and hotelier.
They were married eight months later and in 2017 launched Mi Cielo, where Bertely provided the management and social media expertise, attracting 24,000 followers with videos of colorful cakes, expertly decorated.
On a menu with a dozen cakes that change to suit seasonal fruits, there is not a single dessert without a Latin American touch.
The Tiramicielo is a specialty using pot coffee, typical in Mexico, flavored with cinnamon and piloncillo, a type of unrefined cane sugar that is widely used in Central and South America.
There are many original creations, such as the banoffee with dulce de leche featuring cardamom, cinnamon and tonka beans, and the mango cake has coconut, passion fruit and mint.
“Technique and presentation, all very controlled. In 10 years, Diego will have a great laboratory and no doubt several stores in his name” was the prediction of 11-Michelin star chef Pierre Gagnaire when Mi Cielo was a finalist in the Talents Gourmands competition in 2018.
However, Cervantes and Bertely say instead of using their names they prefer Mi Cielo, which they translate for their French-speaking customers as “mon cheri.”
After graduating from culinary school and training as a chef in several well-known restaurants in Paris, Cervantes, who has an Argentinian father and a French mother, set off for Mexico, where his father lived, to get away from the high-pressure kitchens of Paris.
There in Mexico, he began selling cakes made in his apartment.
The improvised business motivated him to return and discover the secrets of famous French pastry.
He had previous experience from working with Sebastien Bauer from the Parisian bakery Angelina, and in South Africa from his time at Le Quartier Français, one of the best restaurants in the world, as well as from working alongside the Dutch chef Margot Janse.
“With Janse I learned how to get out of the gridded French cuisine, how not to waste food and how to be self-taught. I started to work on my natural dyes, made from infusions or beets, and how to break down cooking techniques,” Cervantes says.
Now, he and Bertely want to share their knowledge and help people discover French pastry making through online courses they conduct in both Spanish and English.
“We want to emphasize what it means to make a cake, which is a luxury. In France, despite being the Mecca of confectionery, there is only a small percentage of businesses that do everything homemade, and we are among them. We are very proud,” says Bertely.