As one of nine children growing up in the high plains of Central Morocco, Youssef Boudarine spent a lot of time helping his mother make the traditional North African flatbread, khobz, in a rustic outdoor woodburning oven. But after discovering a love of pastry at a hospitality school in the nearby city of Meknes, he quickly made his way through some of the most high-tech bakeries in Casablanca, France, and Spain, working for several years for the famed Ladurée in Paris and having the opportunity to help with the pastries for Madonna’s 55th birthday in 2013, as well as the wedding of the daughter of the prince of Qatar. After a trip to New York, he came to Indianapolis to work for his best friend at a car dealership and met several chefs who helped him find positions at the Cake Bake Shop, Gallery Pastry Shop, the upscale steak spot Anthony’s Chophouse in Carmel, and, most recently, foodie favorite Bluebeard on Virginia Avenue. Along the way, he’s gained a robust Instagram following for the Technicolor, often architectural desserts he constructs for bakeries, restaurants, and at private dinners.
There weren’t really bakeries in your hometown in Morocco, but you learned a lot about baking there?
It was all home baking when I was growing up, nothing store-bought, and everything made from scratch. My mother needed to bake a lot of bread for nine children, so I was called on to help, often using an outdoor woodburning oven. I also helped with some of the gathering of ingredients. Apples are abundant in my area, as well as almonds, which we would sometimes eat green. So we made a lot of apple and almond desserts. Mint is also quite popular for afternoon tea, when people eat a lot of sweets. So I was always cooking or doing something with food.
But you had to move to pursue a career? It wasn’t pastry at first?
In my town, after ninth grade, if you want to keep going to school, you have to move to a bigger city. So I moved to Meknes, where I wanted to study art. But I didn’t get the grades that I need to go to the school I wanted, so enrolled in the institute of hotels and tourism there. It was all French teachers, and I studied serving and culinary, as well as pastry and chocolate, but there wasn’t much artistry to it. So I transferred to Casablanca. I got a job at L’assiette du marché in Agadir, another city in northern Morocco. I worked with a French chef who had worked for the legendary chef Paul Bocuse. I was mostly doing prep and only really did crème brûlée for pastry. But I learned a lot and made dishes like foie gras and boeuf Bourguignon, which got me interested in cooking again. Eventually I made classic pastries, such as macarons and baba au rhum. One of the customers there said that I should go to France.
Going to France set you on a path with some really landmark bakeries. What were some of your experiences in your early career?
I got to work for the French pastry chef and chocolatier Pierre Hermé around Christmas. But I only saw him two times in three months. Still, we made the toppings for buche de noel desserts, and it was great experience. But I had to go back to Morocco, so I worked at the branch of the Parisian bakery Ladurée in Casablanca. They wanted me to go to their bakery in Qatar, but I was still training, and they kept sending me to Paris for trainings and updates. They changed the menu every six months. It was a great way to be on the cutting edge of the trends at one of the most famous and innovative bakeries in the world.
That was how you got to bake for Madonna?
Oh, yes, and for the prince of Qatar, whose daughter got married in Morocco. Madonna’s party was Marie Antoinette and French bourgeoisie-themed in Monaco, so of course there had to be a fantastic cake. I love the photo I posted to Instagram of finishing the bunting on one of the many tiers of the cake. Some of the flavors were lychee, raspberry, and rosewater. For the prince’s daughter, we made a 13-tier cake with milk chocolate and hazelnut, and all-white flowers with rose and gold highlights. This was a real challenge that took weeks of planning and over a week of backing to pull off, with lots of small bites all around. The table moved, and one of the other pastry chefs put his hand on the cake. But we just covered it up with a flower.
After some stints in Spain, you came to the U.S. How did you start baking in Indianapolis?
I was headed to work at Ladurée in Panama City, but in the meanwhile, I wanted to take a little trip to New York for the opening of the Ladurée there. I didn’t have a Social Security number at that point, but my best friend since high school, Yahya Chafik, worked in Indy selling cars with his buddy. He was living with another friend who worked at Fleming’s Steakhouse in Indianapolis at the time. We shared the same background and had gone to the same school. So he helped me to get some jobs in Indy.
What was it like for a pastry chef of your experience to live and eat the food in Indianapolis?
My first month was tough, especially converting centimeters to inches. And I thought everything was like the most basic things I had first eaten in Indiana. I tried chocolate chip cookies and doughnuts, and even biscuits and gravy. Nothing was all that interesting to me. But then I met some chefs such as Rachel Hoover, who was at Tinker Street then, and I eventually went to work at Cake Bake Shop when it was opening in Carmel, and I saw that there was potential here. There was so much ambition at the Carmel location. But I said that I didn’t know how to make chocolate chip cookies, and I was sure people wouldn’t eat snails in Indianapolis! Soon enough I had met Carlos Salazar, Esteban Rosas, and eventually Ben Hardy, and I knew there was a really talented community here.
You’re at two of Indy’s best restaurants now, but they’re quite different. How is your approach different at Anthony’s Chophouse and Bluebeard?
I love working at both Anthony’s and Bluebeard because they are such different approaches to cuisine. At Anthony’s, we put together a menu for the season, so there’s a lot of planning and preparation for a long-term menu. At Bluebeard, on the other hand, the menu changes daily based on availability and seasonality of the ingredients. Working with Abbi [Merriss] is constant collaboration, bouncing ideas off of each other and responding to the products we have at hand. The clientele is completely different at the two restaurants, too. At Anthony’s, our guests come for the consistency. They know what we do, and they know we do it so well. The guests at Bluebeard want to try something new every time and see what Abbi and the team have been doing. I actually see a lot of people at both restaurants, which is very fun.