Interview with Vancouver Chocolatier and Pastry Chef Thomas Haas

by Francoise Villeneuve
Antoinette Bruno Antoinette Bruno
June 2011

Thomas Haas is not a numbers guy. He’s never written a business plan, and he doesn’t have stats on his best selling pastries. But that hasn’t stopped him from building his grassroots business into a thriving brand (he’s the Jacques Torres of Vancouver). His career has spanned the globe and had him working everywhere from his family’s bakery in Germany as a child and Daniel in New York as a member of the opening team to Vancouver’s Four Seasons and his own chocolate and pastry store. Like Torres, he started off on a relatively small scale. In the beginning, he consulted by day and put on his chocolatier cape by night to craft chocolates. Hotel orders started piling up, and fairly quickly retail became the focus of Haas’ operation.

It’s not difficult to see how he went from a part-time, chocolate-filled existence to a fully fledged chocolate and pastry retail operation that now boasts two locations and a commissary. Haas has an easy smile, a softly lilting German accent, and a jovial manner with his customers as he shows them the goods, including the “the chocolates which make me smile because they have lots of booze in them,” such as champagne truffles, cognac dark chocolates, and rum dark chocolates.

It clearly wasn’t just charm though that got him this far—the chef has serious range. A colorful array of individually sized cakes is arranged temptingly (and safely out of the reach of compulsive sugar fiends) behind the glass counter at his flagship store, and glossy and seductive chocolates are assembled in precise rows. Haas’ pale golden breakfast pastries utilize French technique without being bound by it. His out-of-this-world, twice-baked almond croissant takes everything good about this Gallic gift to gourmets in a lighter direction with a richer, smoother almond cream). While many of his influences seem French, his global perspective allows him to see and correct flaws, and play with recipes, honoring pastry traditions without being confined by them. But what really sets him apart from his peers is his out-of-the-box thinking. Haas is ambitious when it comes to building a better business, but isn’t driven by glory or cash to expand his thriving business into an empire (a drive that seems to almost personally offend him). The focus remains where it should be—on constantly striving to get better.

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