HARLEM — Moha Orchid speaks six languages, sleeps five hours a day, works all night, and isn’t afraid of putting sour cream and Sriracha on a doughnut.
The 52-year-old chef came to New York from Normandy in his early 20s with only 100 francs in his pocket, he said. He found work in various kitchens Downtown until he opened his own restaurant, Cookies and CousCous, in the West Village in 1990.
“I found a space, went to the bank and said, ‘Please, I am so talented. I cook it all from Sloppy Joes to caviar,’” he said. “She asked me how much I wanted, I was like, ‘I love this country.’”
Last week he opened Jolie Patisserie at 2453 Seventh Ave., where he serves Moroccan cookies, French pastries, Austrian Danishes, and a doughnut topped with Sriracha, sour cream and almonds.
When he was in the West Village, Orchid could rely on foot traffic for business. In Harlem, he said he has to be more proactive.
He has found a small but growing clientele of Harlem’s French-speaking African immigrants who are used to having coffee and baguettes for breakfast. Every night, after the restaurant closes, he finds local kids, businesses or community centers and gives them the day’s leftovers. To make up for the lack of foot-traffic, he attracts clients through word-of-mouth, quality and affordable prices, he said.
“We have the quality of downtown but affordable prices,” he said. “I went to Williamsburg and all over the place there are doughnuts for $2.50. Here it is $1 because people here are not going to pay $2.50.”
Croissants and pastries start at $2 and small cakes start at $3, he added.
Everything in the store is made fresh daily. To get everything ready, Orchid works overnight preparing dough and puff pastries. The ingredients require hours to proof until they are ready to bake, he said.
The shop is a reflection of its owner. The honey cookies are a staple of Morocco, where Orchid was born and learned to cook from his mother. The croissants are French, where he lived after graduating from high school.
The Danishes are from Austria. Although he never lived there, Orchid learned to bake from an Austrian-born chef in Westchester, he said.
“The best bakers in the world are from the former Hungarian empire,” he said. “I had to endure listening to Mozart every morning.”
Orchid closed Cookies and Couscous around 2005 and moved to Cleveland to open a restaurant. At the time he felt that he had made it in New York and wanted to try something else.
It was a move he later regretted.
“When you live in the city for 20 years, walking fast and talking fast is in your blood,” he said. “The Midwest was so slow.”
He moved back in 2008 and worked as a personal chef. Jolie Patisserie is the first restaurant Orchid has opened since his return.
“Harlem is a challenge because you have no name in the area,” he said. "Somebody has to be the first."