The book offers a glimpse into how Jean-Bart, who grew up in a traditional Haitian household, wound up running a successful cheesecake business in Dallas.
After a career as an engineer, he wanted to leave his home in Florida to “find himself.” He chose Dallas. Why? Well, for the same reasons so many others did: He watched the TV drama Dallas (in French) while growing up. One day in 2008 he packed his car and drove 18 hours west. A few months after he arrived, his mother wanted to come check on her youngest child.
In the book, Jean-Bart tells the story of how during his mother’s visit he noticed her labored breathing and how she was having a hard time moving around. He took her to a hospital, where she was diagnosed with stage four terminal breast cancer and given six months to live.
“I never told her that diagnosis. I never told her that she only had six months to live,” Jean-Bart says.
They settled into an apartment in Duncanville, where he pored over publications about cancer research and natural remedies to give his mom more time. That lasted for four years — far past her six-month prognosis. And each Sunday for those four years Jean-Bart and his mother would bake one cheesecake.
“She would finish her cheesecake sometimes before touching the main course and we would spend an entire week discussing what kind of cheesecake to bake for the next Sunday,” Jean-Bart writes in the book. “This went on for four years, through countless cheesecakes, until her passing in August of 2012.”
As for the baking sections of the book, Jean-Bart starts with some tips, “Engineering a Cheesecake,” which leads to the first recipe, a classic cheesecake.
“I had to give a recipe with a classic cheesecake — it had to have the basics — and it gradually goes into more complicated and robust cheesecakes. There’s one goat cheese cheesecake in there and savory cheesecakes. But we start with easy stuff, but then I also wanted the things that took us an entire Sunday to put together, from morning to dawn,” Jean-Bart says.
A hardback version of the book is $50 and is available online through Barnes & Noble. Jean-Bart sold out of the first run of books at his store, but will have more in April. Otherwise you can download a digital version for $25.
Val’s Kitchen and Pantry
In addition to a new book, Jean-Bart also has a new store, which is part of a revitalization effort, Cedars Corner, at the corner of Akard and Griffin streets. Val’s sits in the middle of the 1920s-era building that still has the remnants of “Piggly Wiggly” painted on red brick on the exterior of the building.
Hotel Newland, another original tenant in the building, has been converted into 14 private apartments. The retail spaces, where Val’s is located, serve as an incubator for Black- and women-owned businesses with the intent of bringing new life to the historic space.
Val’s Kitchen and Pantry has a large open kitchen in the back (which is available for rent) and a small pantry up front with select local snacks like cookies, and chips and salsa. It’s stocked with some of Jean-Bart’s favorite products like Avery’s Popcorn and Texas Sun Goods’ chips and salsa.
“We want more though,” says Jean-Bart about the items offered at the store. “We want to grow it and for it have a real bodega feel. Only local businesses.”
The walls are alive and bright with large flowers and Jean-Bart’s four-word mantra: love, grace, dignity and respect.
Other incubator businesses in the building include Koffee Day Spa, Vanity Life Studio, Break the Moldz (a collaborative art studio) and the first Black-owned wine bar in Dallas, Distinctive Vines Wine Lounge.
The Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Don’t sleep on the new menu of grilled cheese sandwiches here. At a tasting Saturday, people were practically melting into the warm, gooey samples. There’s a plain grilled cheese that is loaded to within an inch of its life with cheese; a grilled ham and cheese with pesto, provolone and cream cheese; and a grilled pepperoni that comes with cheese with marinara, provolone and cream cheese. All the sandwiches are just $8.
Naturally, there are thick slices of cheesecake ($8) and cheesecake jars ($6). On offer Saturday were plain, banana and cookies and cream. A full menu is on the website.
This is the second location for Val’s; the other is on Lower Greenville. A previous store on Maple Avenue closed a couple of years ago.
Val’s Kitchen and Pantry is open Thursday through Saturday. Lunch (meaning those amazing sandwiches) starts at 11 a.m. It’s also open Sunday, but closed Monday through Wednesday.
Val’s Kitchen and Pantry, 1112 S. Akard St., Thursday – Saturday ,11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.