Donald Trump is a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy who enjoys a nice seven-layer chocolate cake with a scoop of ice cream. Chef Cedric Barberet knows this because he used to be a pastry chef at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach estate.
The six-year stint working for the Trumps was one of many interesting turns in Barberet’s career, which has taken him from France to Florida to Pennsylvania, where he now owns a French bistro and bakery in downtown Lancaster.
The French government recently honored his accomplishments by naming him a knight and member of The Order of Agricultural Merit. France’s secretary of agriculture awards the honor to people who have elevated French agriculture through endeavors like promoting the country’s cuisine.
Barberet’s path to the honor started in his parents’ bakery in France. He came to the U.S. in 1995 to practice his craft, starting in Cape Cod and eventually working his way through a series of restaurants and bakeries in Florida.
He wound up at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in 2002, long before the lavish Palm Beach club gained a reputation as Trump’s “Winter White House.” There, Barberet regularly interacted with the Trump family.
That work included designing the cake for the now-president and first lady’s 2005 wedding. The culinary creation – described by various media outlets as a 200-pound, gold-and-white Grand Marnier cake covered with 3,000 icing roses – went a long way toward furthering Barberet’s status as a nationally renowned pastry chef.
Barberet described Melania Trump as tough, someone who “knows what she wants, but is a very nice lady.” Her husband, meanwhile, was much the person people have grown accustomed to seeing on TV: a straight talker who could ruffle some feathers.
While not all of his colleagues felt the same way, Barberet never had an issue working for Donald Trump, who he said went out of his way to recognize quality work.
“If you do your work, you’re fine,” he said of crafting desserts for the man who is now president of the United States.
From Mar-a-Lago, Barberet went to work in Las Vegas, then Philadelphia. His goal was to open his own business, but the right opportunity never emerged in the big cities.
Then an investor in Lancaster offered to help. The area offered a break from the hustle and bustle of Barberet’s previous locales, as well as easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Bistro Barberet and Bakery was born at 26 E. King St. in 2015. The bakery-in-the-front, bistro-in-the-back eatery offers a range of French and French-inspired dishes, most of them made with local ingredients.
The bakery showcases row upon row of colorful desserts in rectangular glass cases meant to resemble the kind found in jewelry stores. Customers seem to especially enjoy Barberet’s macarons, buying more than 8,000 every month.
The bistro has also garnered local acclaim, offering what Barberet described as fine dining with a modern twist. Fare includes French classics like escargot and foie gras, as well as budget-friendly offerings like $35 three-course dinners and happy hour specials.
Barberet never expected his labors to result in receiving one of the highest civilian honors in France. He actually received the designation in January, he said, but did not find out until a few weeks ago, when he received a letter in the mail.
Barberet cautions anyone aspiring to follow in his footsteps that the sometimes-grueling reality of the culinary world has little in common with the sparkle and glamour depicted on Food Network shows. The 12- and 14-hour days are long, and finding the kinds of employers who will help elevate a career can prove a daunting task.
“A kitchen role is very rough, so you’re going to take some beats,” he said.
For him, the work is a passion, one that he hopes will help him continue to grow his business in Lancaster.