PORTRAIT: Chef Alex wows Monaco with his amazing cakes
Russian baker, Alexander Seleznev, has been creating cakes and pastries for Monegasques for over five years. Riviera Insider speaks with him about his life in Russia and his journey to becoming an Instagram sensation and Monaco´s cake expert.
When Alexander Seleznev, widely known as ‘Chef Alex’, first came to Monaco to open his pastry shop, some people thought it would be a front for money laundering. Despite all the clichés about Russians and the prejudice he sometimes faced, he persisted, working hard and establishing himself as one of Monaco‘s go-to pastry chefs--with a little help from social media.
Alexander discovered his passion for pastries when he was a little boy, as his mother and grandmother always baked delicious desserts; but they never allowed him to eat too many! His irrepressible sweet tooth made him promise himself that when he grew up, he would learn how to bake so he could eat as many treats as he wanted. To his dismay, his first application to train as a pastry chef was rejected due to a hearing problem. Even though it seemed like an
impossible dream, he tried again when he was 17 and was accepted into Tsaritsyno College - a culinary institute in Moscow. After participating in national and international baking contests for several years, Chef Alex opened his first pastry works-hop in Moscow. “When I turned 30, I wanted to have something of my own”, he says. Starting off with a team of four, he supplied desserts to cafés and restaurants all over the capital city.
Becoming a celebrity baker in Russia
He further caught the public´s attention by doing TV baking programmes. Some of
them were only five minutes long, but people loved it. “Back then, people couldn´t just look up recipes on the internet. This is how my career in Russia skyrocketed.”
As the years passed, he started thinking about his retirement and how he would prefer to live close to the sea. Even though his friends advised against it, he decided to look for places in the south of France. “I never would have imagined living and working in Monaco”, he confides, “as Monaco is known for its luxury and prestige.” But fate had other plans. The previous owners of Pâtisserie Rivera on Boulevard des Moulins were planning to retire and sell their business. “When I first stepped into the pâtisserie, I just knew: this is it!”
He describes his experience of settling down in Monaco as a whirlwind affair - so fast he barely realised what was happening. “Sometimes it is best not to overthink”, he states but also confides that in the beginning, people were pretty suspicious of his intentions.
“Some thought that my business was just a front for money laundering”, he reveals in an amused tone. It took a lot of work to fight the stigma associated with Russians and to convince locals that he was just a passionate baker. As to not alienate his customers, he didn’t make any changes to Pâtisserie Rivera; he kept the name, the decor and, initially, only baked French pastries. With time, he slowly introduced Russian cakes such as Medovic (honey cake).
An Instagram Sensation
“What really helped improve my image, however, was social media - especially Instagram”, explains Chef Alex. He started sharing videos of making his decadent pastries in his stories. That way, people could follow the process and see that everything is made right in his kitchen. This is also how Princess Stephanie´s son, Louis Ducruet, and Marie Chevallier noticed Chef Alex and asked him to create their seven-story wedding cake.
Recently, he also started live-videos with a food-blogger friend. They meet every Thursday to
create different delicacies and share it with their Instagram-community. “I let my followers know in advance what I am going to bake, so they can buy all the ingredients. That way, we
can bake together.” This concept is very popular, as people from all over the world watch his live-videos and join in the baking process while learning useful baking hacks.
What’s his favourite thing to make? “Anything with fruit, such as fruit tarte.” Simple, unpretentious, and full of flavour.
- Elvira Otto