Naples and its people have a strong link to traditional pastries: For centuries the sweet trio of babà, sfogliatella and pastiera has dominated undisputed. But in the city’s historic center, a woman dares to challenge the sacred pillars of pastry, offering instead a tarte au citron or éclair au chocolat that wouldn’t look out of place in Paris.
The pastry shop’s name – Mon Sciù – clearly spells out its love of French and Neapolitan culinary cultures. Mon is French for “mine,” while sciù is the Neapolitan word for “choux pastry” (it’s also used to describe a person who is particularly kind).
“Mon sciù is also the fusion of my two personalities, one with Neapolitan roots and the other linked to the Franco-Belgian experience,” says 45-year-old Chiara Cianciaruso, the pastry shop’s owner.
The path Chiara took to owning a pastry shop in Naples was by no means straightforward. After growing up in the city, she move to Rome at the age of 18 to study psychology at La Sapienza University; shortly before graduation, after having taken many exams, she had the thought that perhaps all this was not worth it. Her real dream, she decided, was to become a chocolate maker and pastry chef.
While working at a Roman chocolate shop, Chiara met Edouard Bechoux, a Belgian chocolatier from the Ardennes region. In 2007, after this chance meeting, she filled her little car with everything she owned and sped off to Belgium, where she lived for a few years in a small village, working alongside the great masters of Belgian chocolate. It was here that she learned all the secrets of the best European chocolate makers.
But then a job opportunity fell in her lap, one that she couldn’t refuse: pastry chef on a mega-yacht. “Obviously my professional profile as a pastry chef changed completely,” says Chiara, “as I learned how to prepare the most famous international desserts.” She worked on the yacht for 10 years, during which time she accumulated a small nest egg that she hoped would one day allow her to open her own shop.
“Mon sciù is also the fusion of my two personalities, one with Neapolitan roots and the other linked to the Franco-Belgian experience,”
Chiara finally returned to Naples in 2018, taking a job at the Michelin-starred Il Comandante Restaurant, located in the Romeo Hotel. She worked here alongside chef Salvatore Bianco until the end of 2019, when she decided to put her expertise and nest egg to good use. She found a delightful place right on the corner of Via Duomo. “I decided straight away to take it and set everything up myself. I even drew the details of the entrance door, in the style of a French patisserie, as I wanted it,” she says.
Despite the speed with which it happened, the decision wasn’t one she took lightly – Chiara had some trepidation about striking out on her own. “I was terrified of becoming an entrepreneur, of all the bureaucracy and problems, and then I was terrified of how the Neapolitans would welcome my project,” she tells us. “The idea of a modern pastry, which breaks the mold of tradition, with sweet single portions and mini-desserts made of choux pastry.”
Her creations are in fact truly unique delights, innovative for the Italian style of pastry and resembling something you’d find in a French patisserie: small delicacies that have been carefully crafted to adhere to a certain aesthetic and are displayed in an extremely orderly way, like toy soldiers all in a long, straight row.
The star of the dessert counter is choux pastry, or sciù in Neapolitan, Chiara’s true passion. There are mini sciù of all kinds: hazelnut, chocolate, praline, lemon, peanut, marron glacé, rum and custard, all decorated in exquisite detail. “I learned how to be very precise by working alongside my Belgian masters, but also in Italy, working with Salvatore Bianco [at Il Comandante],” Chiara tells us.
And then there are the larger desserts, the single portions. There is a tarte au citron, a lemon tart with a typical French meringue. “But the lemons I use taste like the southern sun, those of the Campi Flegrei,” says Chiara. “I source them from an agricultural estate on the shore of Lake Avernus [a volcanic crater lake close to Naples].”
Chiara also makes fabulous biscuits, all meticulously produced by hand, one by one, and chocolate (no surprise there, given her background). “Here I poured all the experience I gained in Belgium, which is where I continue to import my chocolate from,” she says, showing us a pierced heart, a typical Neapolitan ex-voto, all in chocolate, a real delight.
Mon Sciù opened on February 14, 2020 – no better holiday than Valentine’s Day to open a pastry and chocolate shop. But then almost immediately after, Covid-19 hit Italy. “Only 20 days after I opened the shop, the government shut down Italy,” Chiara says. “The first two weeks I was on my sofa at home, disheartened. Then, after studying the government decrees carefully, I found that my business was not one of the businesses that had to close. I could stay open, and I have been since!”
Everything changed overnight. “The lockdown prevented me from having a regular life as an entrepreneur,” she explains. “The pandemic forced me to review my business plan and especially my approach to marketing and communication.”
Unable to access financial support from the government (to receive aid, businesses were required to show a drop in annual income compared to the previous year – an impossible task for a new venture), Chiara threw herself into digital marketing. “I worked a lot on Instagram, which is where I showcased all my products and received my first orders,” she tells us, “But to be sure of the shipments, I took care of them personally. Every evening, after closing, I carefully put the bags in my car and personally delivered them to my clients’ homes.” Although it took longer than expected, she finally has a solid customer base.
She has continued to keep her doors open and provide customer service with a personal touch even during the second wave of Covid. “We are working a lot with the home delivery service, which I often take care of directly,” Chiara says.
On days when we’re craving something small and sweet, we pick up the phone and order these delights that draw inspiration from France and Belgium but embody the nature and passion of Naples.
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