Choux Patisserie, Newcastle, New South Wales
Australian media stalwart Gourmet Traveller has unveiled what they believe might be Australia’s best éclair – and they may just be right.
By Jessica Wilkinson
Published: May 11, 2017
White chocolate, sour cherry and pistachio, cheesecake, passion fruit, raspberry and basil, and lemon and apricot curd are just a few of the unique flavours that French chef Nicolas Poelaert is bringing to the humble éclair.
After working with Michelin-awarded French chefs (including Michel and Sébastien Bras of the revered Laguiole restaurant Bras, and Alain Gellee of La Meunerie), Poelaert alongside his wife Tara – both of whom have an incredible gastronomic history, culinary expertise and love of fine foods – has brought his traditional culinary skills to Newcastle, where he’s began turning the traditional pastry recipe inside out.
We caught up with Poelaert to talk about his passion for creating extraordinary éclairs, making food into art and his Australian coastal home.
It's been said that your éclairs are the best in Australia. Why do you think that is?
“That's a big statement and it is overwhelming. The éclairs are good, they are detailed, they are fresh, they are talked about and they are keeping my wife and I incredibly busy! But to say they're the best - I think people can make up their own mind.
We use seasonal fruits and berries. We make mousses, curds, light cheesecakes, creme patissieres and custards for texture, and when combined in different ways the taste of the éclair is balanced in flavour, light and moreish.
We sometimes transform traditional desserts into an eclair form, like our apple pie - the éclair is filled with a caramelised apple creme patissiere adding lots of vanilla, a touch of cinnamon, and we topped the eclair with fresh apple and a sablé breton.”
Your food has always had an element of art to it. Is that what attracted you to desserts?
“I have cooked in kitchens since 1994 when I started as an apprentice. I was lucky to do my apprenticeship in a one Michelin star restaurant for the Delbe family under a generous and very passionate head chef, Alain Gelle. The first section I worked in was the pastry section for 18 months, Chef Gelle wanted to teach me that discipline is one of the most important skills to have in a kitchen and I still believe that pastry chefs are the most disciplined people in kitchens.
Over the years I’d put myself back into the pastry section to centre myself and this was always my starting point to find inspiration for new dishes - the vibrant fresh fruits colours and visual textures have always excited me. With these éclairs I try to present the product in a way that is true to my style and balanced approach without completely stepping away from the classic.”
Why éclairs of all dessert foods?
“I saw an avenue and looked into the classic sweet recipe. It's an old favourite. It has to be fresh and made with quality ingredients to get the maximum flavour and it is very technical. Mother nature has a factor in the choux making process which many people don't realise. No egg is the same every day, the moisture in the flour depends on the weather, too much moisture in the butter is incredibly challenging. The choux keeps me on my toes and keeps me challenged. Our customer's responses and comments make those challenging moments and early mornings late finishes worth it.”
What makes your éclairs different?
“I make them in a way that is very personal. Sometimes I change the decoration slightly to keep my mind going as I can get bored quickly. Our éclairs are fresh and can look decadent so people are surprised when they taste them to discover the balance of flavours and textures that are not too rich or too sweet.”
How do you choose what flavours to use?
“Seasonality, especially for the fruits, but sometimes what motivates me first is a particular ingredient or a texture I want to create.”
Which of your éclairs is your favourite?
“Our range has seven éclairs at the moment plus a couple specials some weeks. They're all flavours that I like.”
You've worked all over the world and have now settled in Australia. Where should travellers go for a great meal in Australia?
“I lived in Melbourne for 16 years before my wife and our sons moved to Newcastle. Melbourne will always be very close to my heart, there is an excellent food culture and high-quality service.
In Newcastle I love Baked Uprising by Alice Lees, she makes very good breads. Brae Restaurant in Victoria - Dan [Hunter] has been a friend and very supportive colleague for a very long time, his restaurant and farm are just incredible. Shannon Bennett's Lui Bar at the top of the Rialto tower has the best view in Victoria with great bar snacks and incredible cocktails or wine. Gilson in South Yarra, the chef there is just incredible his name is Jean Paul Twoney. Gerald's Bar in Carlton North is always a favourite for a drink or a special meal.
I would also recommend to pack a picnic and relax along the water shore of the Lake Macquarie in New South Wales in the small town called Wangi Wangi, a great meal is always about a great moment not always the place you eat in."
Why did you choose Newcastle to make home?
“My wife was born in Newcastle and her family live here. After working for over two decades in kitchens that push your physical and mental boundaries it was time to take a step back and have a balanced life. All of my family is in France so we decided to move closer to Tara's family and change our lifestyle. We moved to Lake Macquarie and it's a lovely community which is wonderful for our children.”
When family and friends visit, where is your favourite place to take them?
“In New South Wales; Lake Macquarie, Newcastle Foreshore and Beaches, Anzac Bridge, Blackbutt Reserve, Newcastle Museum, Hunter Valley zoo. In Victoria; Yarra Valley, Great Ocean Road, Melbourne Museum.”
Where can visitors to Newcastle find you?
“We are currently looking for a production site to transform into a retail space next year. Currently, we are selling our eclairs around Newcastle at markets and events. We take orders large or small for pick up and delivery can be arranged with a distance fee. We recommend people to pre-order if they intend to visit us as we can sell out quickly. Orders can be made by email."
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