St. Paul Hmong pastry chef Marc Heu is semifinalist for James Beard Award

A chef poses next to a dish.
Marc Heu with Vanilla Saint Honore.
Photo by Grant Vang

Marc Heu, of Marc Heu Patisserie Paris in St. Paul, is in contention for a James Beard Award. The French Guianan-raised Hmong culinary star is nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef in one of the restaurant industry’s highest honors.

“I’m just shaking, and I have tears in my eyes. I just can’t still believe it,” Heu told MPR News. “You know, the little boy coming from the jungle. I mean, I’m just lucky enough to do what I love every day and to receive such an honor.”

Heu’s journey to pastry is far from straightforward. His farmer parents wanted him to be a doctor. While in medical school, Heu baked French pastries for friends on the side. But it was his partner, Gaosong Heu, who urged him to rethink his priorities.

A chef prepares food in a kitchen.
Marc Heu prepares a recipe.
Photography By Grant Vang

“The pivot point was when my wife pushed me to follow my dream,” he said. “I needed someone to truly help me believe in myself. And she was just like, ‘you’re not going to be happy in the medical field. I see you when you’re making pastries. I mean, you’re making people happy. You’re so happy. That’s just what you should be doing.’”

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Two people embrace in a kitchen setting.
Marc and Gaosong Heu.
Photo by Mee Yang

He did training in Paris and ultimately made his way to New York City before ending up in St. Paul. Heu hopes to make French pastry more accessible.

“It’s not something that should be reserved for what people call the elite,” he said. “Obviously, I have a business that has to run and some products … the butter coming from France is pretty expensive. So I have to be able to pay my bills. But at some point, I want to make sure that we are reachable to the larger public.”

Heu says there’s often a line outside the pastry shop on Dale Street because he and his staff take the time to describe each delicacy to customers — ensuring they have a positive experience while knowing what they’re eating.

“I truly believe that nothing is easy in life. As long as you love it, you’re passionate about it,” Heu said. “I’m just so happy to start with flour, eggs and, at the end, we end up with a beautiful croissant … being eaten by people that love it.”

The James Beard Award nominees will be announced on April 3. Winners will be celebrated at the award ceremony on June 10 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

“I like to joke that I didn’t want to be a doctor because I mean, you mainly see sick people … they come to see you when they are sick, not necessarily when they’re happy,” Heu said. “People come to see me to eat or make their day, make someone’s day, to celebrate an event or something … I don’t have any problem waking up early every day.”

Two people sit together on a couch
Gaosong Heu (left) and Marc Heu (right) own and operate Marc Heu Patisserie Paris, which reopened in St. Paul's Summit-University neighborhood on May 20, 2023.
Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal 2023