Tanya Ngangan, the radiant founder of Bisous Ciao, an artisanal pastry shop located at 101 Stanton Street., strives to master the macaron—to perfect it. It’s a devotion made evident by the fact that Tanya, who earned “Grand Diplome” qualification for patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, remains solely focused on crafting macarons. “It’s more than just a dessert,” she says. “It’s an experience.”
Tanya, 29, hails from the suburbs of Boston, Mass. Her mother worked as a nurse in Thailand and emigrated to the U.S. to attend nursing school. After over a decade in the field she opened a Thai restaurant when Tanya was in middle school, which is now nearing its 17th year in operation. “Being a Thai woman, I wanted to look up to someone when I was younger,” Tanya says. “The food industry is very male-driven. A lot of men aren’t as compassionate, understanding.”
Backpacking, not food, was on her mind when Tanya graduated from Syracuse University in 2004 with a degree in computer science. She traveled with a friend around Europe and met Alex Warzee, a Parisian student. Sparks flew. Bisous ciao, common French parting words, translates to “kisses, goodbye,” and Tanya remarks that they were some of the first words Alex ever spoke to her. When Tanya returned to Massachusetts she decided that Paris was where she needed to be, to chase matters of her heart, and creativity. “We had met for a total of 5 days and I called [Alex] and said ‘I’m going to live with you!’” says Tanya. They were married in February 2011.
During that first year in Paris, Tanya enrolled in Mod’Art to study fashion design. In time, Paris’ alluring culinary traditions, particularly of pastries and sweets, evoked within her an intrigue. “[In Paris] the food is so beautiful, like an art. There’s so much detail [and the] ingredients and techniques are so great,” says Tanya. The calling of confections was, perhaps, innate for a detailed-oriented computer science student with an eye for fashion, for a woman whose childhood was filled with sweet Thai-inspired recipes. “I fell in love with food that I never knew I loved so much.”
Tanya attended Le Cordon Bleu (Julia Childs’ alma mater) during her second year in Paris, earning its highest honor in patisserie. After graduation she moved to New York City to work pastry for Gordon Ramsey restaurants where she remained for over a year. In 2008, the couple moved to Sydney because Alex’s company offered the opportunity; Tanya viewed the move as a chance to flesh out an entrepreneurial idea: her very own macarons label. She put a business plan down on paper and for an entire year made macarons, by herself, from her Manhattan apartment—honing recipes, building the Bisous Ciao brand, and delivering them, personally, around New York.
On August 31, 2010 Bisous Ciao opened its doors on the Lower East Side. Tanya says she chose the area because she saw a lack of dedicated dessert places, and because of its charm and creative vitality. “I wanted to be [in] a place where the owners are around, to be a part of a community.” For the next seven months her dream took center stage, leaving little time for friends and family, let alone sleep. “When we first opened I would work 15-16 hours a day, 7 days a week. The first year we made over 100,000 (macarons) by hand.” As business grew, Alex would help out in the shop after work and on weekends. Soon they decided to merge their specialties—Alex left his job to join Bisous Ciao full-time and oversee business management, and Tanya focused on all things food and creative.
Bisous Ciao macarons are made fresh on the premises daily, and at any given time, 15-20 types of bite-sized confections—grouped in “collections,” Tanya says in a streak of savvy fashion-speak—are available. In addition to the steady roster of “classic” flavors, which include ‘vanilla’ (her favorite) and the mindbendinly scrumptious ‘salted caramel,’ Tanya creates seasonal flavors—edible muses for her international travels, adventurous options, such as Vegemite (Australia) and red bean (Japan).
At the end of this month, Bisous Ciao will celebrate its two-year retail milestone, which they’ll celebrate, in a sense, with the imminent opening of a second location in the West Village. And though she has received plenty of large orders (e.g. hundreds of favors for a public library or a designer at NYC’s Fashion’s Night Out), and press (e.g. O, Brides, NY Post), Tanya seems unfazed by the show of it: she beams instead towards the everyday customer and her product’s quality and consistency, e.g. communicating to me the imperative of factoring in humidity levels outside the kitchen and the time it takes an egg white to properly evaporate.
The day before Thanksgiving in 2010, just months after Bisous Ciao’s LES location opened, they sold out before 2pm. It happened again at Christmas, despite further planning. “You can’t just make up new ones,” says Tanya. “Never compromise quality just to sell.” The biggest disappointment, she says, was not a financial one. Rather, it was not being able to provide her sweet creations to the individuals who were so excited to bring them home and show their families the macarons. “That,” Tanya says, “makes me happ[y].”