Melbourne might have the best croissants in the world - could Newcastle have the finest éclairs? Nicolas Poelaert, the French chef who won praise at Brooks and Embrasse restaurants in Melbourne, moved to New South Wales' second-largest city two years ago and is now making waves with his choux-pastry smarts.
Soon after arriving in Newcastle, Poelaert, who has worked with Michelin-awarded French chefs including Michel and Sébastien Bras of the revered Laguiole restaurant Bras, and Alain Gelle of La Meunerie, turned his attention (and all those years of training and technique) to sweets. "I knew I could bring something new," he says. "Something new but Old World, and give it a bit of a twist."
Choux Pâtisserie's éclairs.
In January, Poelaert and his wife, Tara, launched Choux Pâtisserie, a mobile éclair trailer that now tours Newcastle's markets. "No one has been focused on reinventing the classic éclair so far," he says. "We are."
Choux Pâtisserie's éclairs are lighter than usual, yet still have that essential velvety filling. "You don't always have to use cream," says Poelaert. "We use crème pâtissière, light cheesecake, custards and different fruit curds, too. Berries are watery, so are better suited to mousse or cheesecake, and our cherry and white-chocolate éclair calls for mascarpone."
The range consists of seven éclairs in two sizes, and the menu changes every six to eight weeks. Flavours run to the likes of lemon and apricot curd, raspberry cheesecake with basil and passionfruit, and a white-chocolate and pistachio éclair with a sour-cherry mousse made with cherries Poelaert preserved last Christmas. "We select the fruits at their best moment, and then I'll purée, freeze or preserve them," he says. Upcoming autumn and winter flavours include lemon, yuzu and mandarin, apple and rice pudding, and rhubarb with macadamia and white chocolate.
Poelaert works from a friend's bakery kitchen where he can pipe his éclairs after hours, ready for the morning markets.
"The éclairs we make are fresher and generally just better in every way," he says, adding that some of them are so full of fruit he's almost tempted to say they're healthy. Almost. "An éclair a day will keep the doctor away."
Choux Pâtisserie can be found weekly at the Newcastle City Farmers Market, and monthly at The Olive Tree and other special events in Newcastle, NSW; chouxpatisserie.com