Over 30 years ago, an adventurous French student-photographer traveled to California and decided he liked it so much he wanted to live there.
“I was very entranced by American culture and the Beat Generation,” said Michel Bloch, owner of La Crepe at the UC Davis Silo. “I went back to France, and four years [after my first visit] I came here with the intention to make crepes, because I thought it would be a good thing to introduce to the market.”
Bloch, a keen businessman, started selling crepes from his Ze Crepe trailer in downtown Sacramento along P Street. He’d haul the trailer to fairs and festivals, including the Whole Earth Festival at UC Davis, which he has participated in annually for almost three decades.
The trailer was a local favorite, with customers lining up daily to order crepes.
By 1980, he had entered Davis with the Crepe Bistro (since closed) and in 2007, he opened the Crepe Café in Sacramento (since sold).
And this year, La Crepe, his crepe outlet at the UC Davis Silo, is celebrating its tenth anniversary at the university.
“A crepe is basically a very thin pancake, approximately 16 inches in diameter, made with eggs, milk, and flour … everything else you hear – ‘secret ingredients,’ ‘special recipe’ are gimmicks,” explained Bloch.
“If you go on my website, crepeinstitute.com, you will have the exact recipe for making [crepes] at home, because I give my secret away – and that secret is there is no secret in the ingredients of crepes … I feel like today, very few [crepe businesses] respect the real concept of crepes,” he said.
Bloch knows his stuff. He has been knighted the “Crepe Crusader” by Mike Dunne, a food critic at the Sacramento Bee, and the “Ambassador of Crepes” by Sacramento News and Review.
Bloch also runs the aforementioned Crepe Institute, where he trains prospective crepe entrepreneurs in the secrets of making and selling crepes.
He credits his many successes to a simple recipe. First, he remains authentic – no potatoes, ketchup, mayonnaise or other formulations unfaithful to the crepes found in the streets of France. Second, everything is fresh – from the batter and sauces (made daily) to the fruits and vegetables (handpicked in local markets each morning by Bloch). And finally, customers have the satisfaction of watching their crepes made from real French chefs.
“We are French, and as a French person, you cannot make an imitation of your own food … of course they are authentic,” said Arnaud N’tcha M’po, a longtime associate of Bloch’s at La Crepe and a native of Brittany, the region of France where the crepe originated.
Customer favorites include the fresh strawberry and Nutella dessert crepe, Belgian waffles and the ratatouille crepe, which, according to Bloch, has experienced a surge in popularity since the movie. Also, the menu includes an array of vegetarian and meat options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.
“From day one, [La Crepe] has been very popular … you have followers that crave for La Crepe – die-hards who you see here for lunch and again later for a crepe dessert. You get addicted on his food,” said Richard Kossak, director of retail operations for Sodexo (which manages all Silo operations) and an associate of Bloch’s for the past 10 years.
A Davis local for the past 30 years, Bloch has cherished his work in the area, and in particular, the university.
“When you get definitely middle-aged, the abundance of youth keeps you young … [at Davis,] I feel more like an inhabitant of the world; my customers are from America, South America, China, India – you really feel like being in Davis, you live in the world and not a specific country,” Bloch said.
And during his time in Northern California, Bloch says that he has seen Davis change tremendously, from a rural town to a mid-size city. He says the students have changed too.
“Students today are more focused, their stress level is higher, probably because the demand and expectations are greater,” Bloch said.
Working at the university also means no evening or weekend hours, which gives him time to devote to his other passion – horses. He lives in nearby Cool in El Dorado County, where he has five horses trained in endurance riding. Monsieur Bloch rides with the American Endurance Ride Conference, and has finished as high as second place in the Tevis Cup, a hundred-mile ride in the Sierra.
ANDRE LEE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.