By Allison Meyer
If you want to meet someone who is passionate about what she does, then seek out Deborah Johnson, owner and operator of Chez Jules, who has spent years in France learning and perfecting her skills in French cuisine. Now back in the United States, Deborah has channeled her talents into her home-based business of baking and selling macarons, a delicate French pastry.
Deborah’s journey as a lover of the French culture began in 1992 after she married a Frenchman and moved from New England to Versailles, France. She embraced the culture with open arms and soon began to fit right in. She spent her time in France working as a private chef and leading gourmet walking tours. Deborah also received training in wine and cuisine from Cordon Bleu Institute, where she later went on to work as a translator for the chefs.
Eighteen years later, the United States was calling Deborah home. In August of 2010, she moved to Tyrone to be closer to her family and quickly began to share her love for France with the Southern Crescent.
She worked for Williams-Sonoma as a culinary expert until May of 2012, when she was hired by Sur La Table to teach classes on baking and French-themed cooking. Sur la Table, Deborah explains, is “like a ‘Toys ‘R Us’ culinary store for adults.” The first class she was asked to teach was on French macarons, which was an opportunity that Deborah was very excited about. “I’ve been passionate about macarons since I moved to France,” she says.
For the record, maracons are nothing like the coconut Macaroons that are familiar to most of us. Rather, it’s two French meringues that sandwich a filling of ganache, butter cream, jam, or lemon curd in a moist, sweet, and flavorful bite with just a bit of a crunch. In France, macarons are the “ultimate dessert,” once served to the royal court in pairs with jams and jellies before the idea came to sandwich them together with a filling in the early 1900’s.
While teaching classes on macarons at Sur La Table, Deborah used their recipes. However, she also began to cook macarons at home, creating her own recipes and new flavors, and sharing them with neighbors and friends. Soon, as news of the scrumptious morsel was spreading by word of mouth, requests began to pour in for more. Deborah recognized an opportunity to build a business, but she could not sell them due to legal restrictions. That, however, was about to change.
On September 1st, 2012, the Georgia Cottage Food Law was passed, allowing people to bake, cook and sell non-hazardous foods in their homes. Foods are considered non-hazardous if they do not require time and/or temperature control for safety, such as breads, cakes, cookies, jams and nuts. Another stipulation of the law is that the products can only be sold straight to the consumers and not for retail use. The law’s passing was a big stepping stone for those wanting a home-based baking business. “It was perfect for me,” Deborah says, smiling.
Three days after the law was passed, Deborah filled out an application and had her home inspected by the Department of Agriculture. She passed the inspection with flying colors, making her the first person in Fayette County to receive a Georgia Cottage Food License. After that, she received her home occupation business license from Fayette Town Hall and went on to begin her macaron venture.
So far, it has been a very successful enterprise. “It’s been pretty incredible,” says Deborah, who has been given the title of “Macaron Queen” by many who have tried her heavenly treats. She loves that she gets to run her own business, which she proclaims is “her baby.” “Macarons are the next big fancy pastry,” she says. “They blow cupcakes away.”
Two to three days a week, Deborah wakes early to get started on the rather lengthy process of baking macarons. The delicious pastries come in many flavors and a variety of colors that she adjusts for each season. However, special requests can be made for most flavors year round.
As delicate and fancy as they are, Deborah insists “you don’t need to wait for a special event” to try out these French gems. But, be warned, once you give them a taste, you may be “over the moon, crazy about macarons” too.