Welcome to the first Spinoff Auckland serial: The Bakers’ Tale, Brian Ng’s story of a couple of guys and a pastry stall at La Cigale market. Episode 1: Starting with a thousand leaves.
Ever the Frenchman, Ben Chevre’s first question when talking to a girl was if she had a boyfriend. Of course, if she said she was, indeed, in a relationship, it wasn’t ideal. But he had a follow-up question: did she then want to start a business with him?
It comes as no surprise that he has wanted to start his own business for a while.
Last May it came to a head, when he was vacationing with best friend Matthieu Betron in Russell (as Frenchmen do, they were drinking). Things became, how you say, sérieux.
At this point, Ben and Matthieu were working at Clooney: Ben was the pastry chef and Matthieu a waiter. Luckily, Clooney is a dinner-only restaurant, allowing them both to finish work at midnight before waking up again at (or earlier than) 6am to start rolling pastry.
Because, you see, they didn’t choose to make things easy for themselves. Instead of starting with the relatively simple crème brûlée or tart (which are part of their current product range), they chose to launch Little French Pastry with mille feuille — the pastry considered so difficult the food writer Tamar Adler decided to try to make it for her Vogue column because it was the most “Everest-like”.
Mille feuille means “thousand leaves”, which is a nod to the three puff pastry layers (though to be exact, Little French Pastry’s pastry has 729 layers) that provide the all-important support for the crème pâtissière. With Ben’s pastry training, you knew he was going to expand on the classic mille feuille (they add salted caramel and pecan nuts to the expected vanilla cream) to include one with dark chocolate mousse, mango jelly and cardamom meringue, and another with passionfruit cream, coconut meringue and milk chocolate ganache.
Why mille feuille, though? Why put yourself through the arduous task of rolling and folding pastry six times? It sounds easy, but I did four roll-and-folds for my homemade croissants and it took me a whole day.
It was business savvy that got them into that specific pastry: no one else was doing it in Auckland, plus it was something they knew. Usually this would be the moment for someone to gush about how this very pastry was the one thing they adored being given as a treat when they were a child, but when I asked Matthieu if he held any particular affiliation for the mille feuille, he brushed me off with “I love food too much”.
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Due to visa issues, Matthieu isn’t able to work in a business he saw being born, but he still volunteers his time here and there to help his buddy Ben out: sometimes running their stall at La Cigale on the weekend, or at the Mt Albert night market. (For those of you who are already salivating, Little French Pastry is also stocked at Maison Vauron and Farro Fresh; the company does the occasional event and will soon take private orders.)
As this petit commerce grows, will Matthieu have his visa granted so he can be a part of it? How do you even make a mille feuille? And do they have an Instagram? That one I can give you answer to: @littlefrenchpastrynz.
The Bakers’ Tale will continue in serial form over the coming weeks.
The Spinoff Auckland is sponsored by Heart of the City, the business association dedicated to the growth of downtown Auckland as a vibrant centre for entertainment, retail, hospitality and business.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.