When it comes to amenities, Belgravia has an abundance of nature — its boundaries include the North Saskatchewan River, kilometres of wooded trails and a large off-leash dog park.
When it comes to food, the pickings have been less abundant. That changed in October when world-class pastry chef Ahmed Daoud opened Mood Café next to Belgravia Hub, the neighbourhood’s only restaurant.
Not to disparage the eateries that occupied the spot before Daoud moved in last year, but the previous owners lacked his pedigree: Trained as a baker in his native Lebanon and then in Paris, he has operated cafes on two continents, baked for the Queen and a prime minister, and led multiple teams to wins in international culinary competitions in Europe and Asia.
The display cases at Mood are filled with mouth-watering single-serving cakes and tarts as well as eclairs, multiple flavours of crème caramel and, on Sundays, doughnuts. Next to the cash register are baskets with baked goods including brioche and a variety of croissants — chocolate, almond, chocolate-almond, plain.
Sometimes there are bags of homemade gourmet chocolates and meringues. There’s also a freezer case with homemade gelato. Soon there will be bread on Saturday mornings, and, one day, Daoud hopes, a deli case with prepared food.
Just don’t expect to find the same baked goods day after day. “It’s always something different,” Daoud says. “That’s why I called it Mood. Whatever I feel, my mood, that’s what I do.”
One day that might be a chocolate cake shaped like a swan, filled with cherries and chocolate mousse. Another day it could be a symphony cake, coated with chocolate and filled with coffee cream and chocolate mousse. Or a lemon tart with dots of meringue that look like the onion domes on a Russian Orthodox church.
Not long after Mood opened, Daoud reached back into his memory and made a cookie he hadn’t thought about in nearly half a century, the biscuit merveille, also known as an elephant ear, something he calls “an old classic.” It’s a plain cookie meant to be eaten with coffee.
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For most of his life, he’s worked in the food-service industry but, for two years, he ran the pastry program at SAIT, wowing students and faculty alike and creating a number of programs including The Art of Sugar, The Art of Chocolate and Modern Pastry.
Michael Wrinch was a member of the SAIT culinary team in 1998 when Daoud, who was by then living in Edmonton, was coaxed into coming back to be the pastry coach for an international competition. After a year of training, the team traveled to Singapore, where it finished in first place.
“He was the nicest guy,” recalls Wrinch, who spent 15 years as a chef before becoming manager of five Knifewear stores, including one on Whyte Avenue. “He was a very talented guy who always had an answer for you, but the thing I really liked about him was that he was able to do it all with a laugh and a smile. As you were doing the same thing over and over again and screwing it up again and again, he was not the guy to yell at you and hit you with a stick, he was the guy to laugh and chuckle and say, ‘Let’s do it again.’ He was very nurturing and encouraging.”
Daoud’s nurturing personality is a big part of why he opened a cafe at an age, 67, when most people are slowing down. His four children, who range in age from 18 to 37, work at Mood, either behind the counter or behind the scenes. His wife also comes by from time to time.
“I’m hoping the children will carry on,” he says. “That is the whole plan.”
Opening a new business is a challenge, particularly during a deadly pandemic. But Daoud is an optimist. The week that Mood opened, neighbours didn’t come merely to shop, they came with gifts. The folks at Belgravia Hub sent a flower arrangement. Local residents brought cards, flowers, apples from their gardens, and homemade jam.
“It is the best neighbourhood I have ever seen,” Daoud says. “They are down to earth.” Wrinch understands how the Belgravians feel — he feels the same way.
“The world needs more Ahmeds,” he says. “You are very lucky.”
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This article appears in the April 2021 issue of Edify