We had the pleasure of chatting with Clarisse Flon, the founder of vegan patisserie The Sunny Spoon to talk about French cooking, her love of patisserie, and the challenges of changing up a centuries-old cuisine!
Ten years ago, you may have been considered a bit of a persona non grata if you were vegan.
These days you can walk into some of the most mainstream chain restaurants and supermarkets in the country and have choices.
The vegan food industry has had something of a boom, and small business owners now have the customer base to allow them to provide interesting and unusual vegan options.
The Sunny Spoon is one such business.
A vegan patisserie based in London and run by trained French chef Clarisse Flon, The Sunny Spoon allows vegans to experience an ethical alternative to a style of cooking that has historically been reliant on copious amounts of butter and eggs.
From galettes to cookies to tarts, The Sunny Spoon provides a wide array of delicious and luxurious patisserie treats. It combines a love of classic cooking, imagination, and vegan morals.
Its founder Clarisse found her love of food at a young age whilst growing up in France.
I read that you grew up in France, so I’m guessing you grew up around amazing food and different dishes. Is that how you got into cooking and discovered you wanted to be a chef?
Definitely. Where I grew up, there was no such thing as a ready meal. My Mum made everything from scratch and we always cooked very traditional French food. I got into baking as children do with my sisters and really quickly picked up an interest. I was hosting five-course dinner parties when I was six or seven!
Patisserie especially captured Clarisse’s attention. She was inspired by the level of luxury and high standard that came from the patisseries in the small French villages.
So you went and trained in French cooking. How did you move from that classic French patisserie style into something a bit more modern and niche at the time? At what point did you decide to combine those two styles?
I worked in French patisserie since the beginning of my career and about eight years ago I went vegan. I have a chronic digestive illness so that led me to take an interest in food and how it’s made and nutrition. So that’s when I became vegan. At the time I was still working in French patisserie and I found it was a bit sad that I couldn’t get any options anywhere. No-one was really doing anything interesting with it at the time. That’s when I felt I’m sure not the only person who would like to eat vegan strawberry tarts.
So Clarisse started experimenting. French patisserie has remained mostly unchanged for hundreds of years and is a decidedly tricky style of food to perfect even with tried and tested techniques. Making these recipes vegan was a challenge, but a fun one for Clarisse.
How long would you say it took you to start exploring it and then to decide ‘This is what I want to do, I want to mainly focus on vegan patisserie’?
Very quickly, because obviously my morals didn’t align with doing non-vegan stuff. I wanted to work without animal products. It made sense immediately once I started making my products. I realised ‘Well, no-one else is doing this so maybe there’s a good niche in there’.
How did you start coming up with ideas of which recipes you were going to develop into vegan versions? Was it just a case of looking at what you wanted to eat and focusing on those things first or were you looking at the basic patisserie items?
I looked at French classics, so to me when you think French patisserie, what are the items that come to mind? I wanted to make it quite obvious to people that it was still French patisserie and you can still have those things. They are the same. The textures are the same, the tastes are the same, they’re just without animal products which I think is quite exciting.
To someone like me who is not a chef, patisserie is something that comes across as quite intimidating and quite complex. Was it difficult starting to think how you were practically going to take these recipes and do them in a vegan way?
It was very very difficult, especially because I had just come to master most of French patisserie and that takes so long and is so much technique and is very very intensive. So I was kind of starting the process all over again and this time without any guidance because at the time there wasn’t anyone doing it. I had no blogs or recipe books, so I had to start from scratch and just build recipes from what I knew thinking ‘How could I replace this? How can I find a way to replace the role of the egg in choux pastry?’ So it was a very long and very hard process!
It sounds like it was a bit of trial and error to start with.
A lot of trial and error. There’s been so many awful cakes!
Were there any particular items that you had to work on more than others? That were more difficult to develop?
Choux pastry, definitely. I spent months pulling my hair out. It’s a very tricky pastry without taking out the egg, so once you take out the egg it’s very very difficult.
Clarisse spent a lot of her time baking and cooking in her flat. When her flatmates decided there were too many cakes for them all to eat, Clarisse started to think about what to do next.
She’d always wanted to have her own business, so she started selling her patisseries at the Brick Lane market and quickly grew a loyal following.
And so in 2013, The Sunny Spoon began to take off. She was developing recipes, baking, and selling the products entirely on her own.
Clarisse had already experienced the pressures and demanding nature of working in restaurants, so she felt somewhat prepared for the change of running her own business.
Being able to take creative control was an exciting prospect.
“I hope that more and more big renowned chefs take on the challenge and start doing more vegan cuisine”Clarisse Flon
Fast forward to 2020, when the pandemic threw The Sunny Spoon for a loop. Clarisse needed to move back into her small kitchen and cook from there during lockdown, but now there is exciting progress.
She is currently working on a new unit with a kitted-out kitchen and an office which will soon become The Sunny Spoon’s lovely new home.
For the future of veganism in the culinary world, Clarisse’s hopes lay in the cuisine where she started out.
With vegan food becoming more popular and more accessible, for you personally is there a particular type of cuisine or type of food that you want to see in the future become more adapted for vegans?
French cuisine, definitely. I think the French are ten years back in terms of progress on veganism. I think it’s a bit of shame because we have this prime place in gastronomy all over the world and we’re the number one cuisine out there, and yet we’re not evolving with the times. So I hope that more and more big renowned chefs take on the challenge and start doing more vegan cuisine.
Finally, what’s your favourite item that someone can order from The Sunny Spoon?
We do vegan Snickers bars and we do some large cookies that are very fun because I always change the flavours. I’m coming out with a tiramisu cookie when I reopen the store which I’m excited about. There’s going to be some exciting croissants with raspberry jam inside or pistachio cream or chocolate croissants, those types of things.
Clarisse hopes to turn The Sunny Spoon into a brick and mortar shop one day. There, she can continue to develop and provide innovative vegan takes on classic recipes across London.