If you’re a fan of Val’s Cheesecakes (how could you not be?), you have more things to look forward to. In addition to a new store in Cedars south of downtown, founder Valery Jean-Bart has a new book, 12 Sundays, Cheesecake Recipes for Life, which is part cookbook and part memoir.
The book gives an insight into how Jean-Bart, who grew up in a traditional Haitian household, ended 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 that so many others did: He watched the TV drama Dallas (in French) while growing up. One day in 2008, he packed the car and drove 18 hours west. A few months after he arrived, the mother would come to 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 had difficulty 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,” says Jean-Bart.
They settled in an apartment in Duncanville, where he pored over publications on cancer research and natural remedies to give his mother more time. It lasted four years – well past her six-month prognosis. And every Sunday for these four years, Jean-Bart and his mother baked a cheesecake.
“She finished the cheesecake a few times before she touched the main course, and we spent a whole week discussing what kind of cheesecake we should bake for the following Sunday,” writes Jean-Bart in the book. “This went on for four years, through countless cheesecakes, until she passed away in August 2012.”
As for the baking parts 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 is a goat’s cheesecake in there and savory cheesecakes. But we start with simple things, but then I would also have the things that took us a whole Sunday to put together, from morning to dawn, says Jean-Bart.
A hardcover version of the book costs $50 and is available online through Barnes & Noble. Jean-Bart sold out of the first run of books in his shop, but wants 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 is located in the middle of the 1920s building that still has the remains of “Piggly Wiggly” painted on red brick on the outside of the building.
Hotel Newland, another original tenant in the building, has been converted into 14 private apartments. The retail space, where Val’s is located, serves 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 in the front with selected local snacks like crackers, chips and salsa. It’s filled with some of Jean-Bart’s favorite products like Avery’s Popcorn and Texas Sun Goods chips and salsa.
“We want more,” Jean-Bart says of the items offered in the store. “We want to grow it and for it to have a real bodega feel. Only local businesses.”
The walls are alive and bright with large flowers and Jean-Bart’s mantra of four words: 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 grilled cheese sandwich menu here. At a tasting Saturday, people practically melted into the hot, gooey samples. It’s a regular grilled cheese 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 glasses ($6). On offer on Saturday was the usual, banana and biscuits and cream. A full menu is on the website.
This is the second location for Val’s; the other is on Lower Greenville. A former store on Maple Avenue closed a couple of years ago.
Val’s Kitchen and Pantry is open Thursday through Saturday. Lunch (meaning the amazing sandwiches) starts at 11. It is also open on Sunday, but closed Monday to Wednesday.
Val’s Kitchen and Pantry, 1112 S. Akard St., Thursday – Saturday at 11.00 – 20.00; Sunday, at 9-18