North by Northwest: Meridienne Dessert Salon & Café
Macarons and Cappuccino
photography by Beth Hall
Le Chef Pâtissier
the pastry chef
Tammy Varney was a Psychology major at Diablo Valley College in California, but one out-of-the-ordinary elective would shape the rest of her life and her career.
“I thought I would take a baking class as a break, and it ended up being one of the hardest classes I took in college,” she said. “But I just loved it; there was a rightness about it that I hadn’t felt with anything else.”
Varney grew up baking with her family, but never thought of it as a profession. During her baking class in college, she had a professor who gave her the confidence to continue baking, but it wasn’t until she moved to northwest Arkansas with her family seven years ago that she had the idea to turn it into a business.
“The cake world was exploding,” Varney said. “There was a new awareness about what was possible in the pastry world, so I started catering to that crowd, and it was a nice niche for me.”
Varney became the “go-to girl” to bake a cake or cater a party in northwest Arkansas. When friend Wednesday Arend asked her to go into business together, Varney knew exactly the type of bakery she wanted to design — a patisserie.
“I have always loved French styling,” Varney said. “I had a teacher in high school who was a huge influence on my life and she represented a woman of the world and culture and exposed me to a lot of ideas about travel, so I was captivated with the French lifestyle.”
The patisserie came to life in an old ballet studio in downtown Rogers, April 2011. The oblong space already had the “Parisian feel,” with exposed brick, assorted hanging vintage chandeliers and large windows bringing in natural light. Oh … and the under-the-stairs closet, lovingly and aptly called Narnia.
The inspiration to update the space was classic French — a black and white stripe. With the walls already stark white, Varney found the perfect, antique-looking display cases and painted them all black. She and her husband then created black headboards with white upholstery to hang above the bench seating, a seamless complement to the theme.
“I wanted to bring something unique that was a cool experience and something people who hadn’t traveled hadn’t seen,” she said. “Meridienne was born out of that need for a little bit more cosmopolitan environment.”
In the heart of northwest Arkansas, Meridienne has accomplished that unique feeling of stepping into another world with cute quirks, like eccentric salt and pepper shakers, a lounge area for knitters, chalkboard menus and distressed tables and benches with mixed patterned pillows for comfort.
“I want people to come in and feel transported when they walk through these doors,” Varney said. “It’s like walking into my head, but at the end of the day, it’s our food we want to shine and [we want customers to] come back for [it], and feel like, ‘Wow there’s no other place like this.’”
Meridienne serves a pastry breakfast Tuesday through Thursday — think almond croissants, lemon tarts and petite pound cake with cream and raspberries — a full breakfast Friday and Saturday — with items like Tarte Benedictine: a butter croissant filled with ham and cheese topped with a poached egg and hollandaise, yum! — and a “bistro-style” lunch every day — with offerings, such as Quiche from Lorraine, Rosemary Aioli Chicken Salad or Harvest Salad with a sinfully delicious house vinaigrette.
“The pastry inspiration comes from classic dishes we like to give new looks and new twists to. That is what we excel at,” Varney said. “We want to take things people have seen for a long time and make them a little new and unexpected.”
Starting from tradition, Varney doesn’t let any opportunity pass for inventiveness on her couture cakes or gourmet pastries. “I take inspiration for cakes from fashion, textiles, paper…” she said. “ I love the idea that anything you can do with paper you can do with sugar paste. I look at a couch and think I could totally replicate that pattern on a cake.”
One highly-unique piece of food art Varney is proud of is the proprietary Double-Wide Cookie sold at Crystal Bridges. Meridienne partners with the northwest Arkansas museum and offers pastries in their coffee bar six days a week as well as several plated desserts, including Varney’s signature Citron Tarte, at Eleven, the museum’s restaurant.
“We are so blessed to have a partnership with Crystal Bridges,” Varney said. “It’s a great business thing, but we really believe in their mission and share in the vision of bringing something to Arkansas that people can experience here, an experience not just reserved for a trip [abroad].”
Salon & Café
112 S. First St. • Rogers, AR
479.631.2253 • meridiennedessertsalon.com
Tue. through Fri., 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sat., 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.