Nic Poelaert speaks about returning to France and what this means for Choux Patisserie
I was first introduced to Nic Poelaert at his pop up dining event in July 2015. Held at 48 Watt St, it was a spectacular evening, and one of the first dining events held within the iconic building since launching as an events space.
Nic’s talents were on full display that night, the highlight being his much-adored Forest Floor Chocolate Parfait dessert, complete with miniature chocolate mushrooms over a forest floor made of sorrel mint granita and meringue. The fairyland style presentation, intricate detail, and delicate flavour delighted guests, and to this day remains one of my dining highlights.
Like most great chefs, Nic has a long list of prestigious restaurants next to his name, both in Australia and internationally, including the 3 Michelin Star Restaurant Michel Bras in the south of France, the original Vue de Monde in Melbourne and his own restaurant, Embrasse, in Carlton, Melbourne which he opened in February 2009 with his wife Tara.
Fortunately for Newcastle, we were a part of this list with Nic and Tara, a Newcastle local, calling the city home since 2015. During this time Nic and Tara joined forces again, resulting in Nic’s perfectly-crafted Choux Patisserie eclairs.
Nic and Tara were regulars at markets throughout the region, and in 2019 Choux Patisserie also found a permanent home at Charlestown Square, giving shoppers the opportunity to experience Nic’s delicate sweet treats on a daily basis.
As they say, however, all good things must come to an end, and for Nic and Tara they have decided it's time to call it a day on Choux Patisserie. Saddened to hear the news, we spoke to Nic to ask what has brought about the decision, if this means the end for Choux Patisserie, and what the future holds.
We’re really sad to hear that you're leaving Newcastle, Nic, what has brought about the decision?
I need to spend some time in France with my family. My father has been unwell for some time with leukemia. Our last visit to France was in 2010.
Will you and the family be permanently relocating?
We will be coming back to Newcastle. Initially we will be spending time in the north of France near Calais where my mum and dad live, and the south near La Canourgue where the rest of my family lives. I look forward to spending quality time with my family and to show my sons where I came from.
Do you plan on taking Choux Patisserie to France?
I am not sure I have the same energy I had 8 years ago to start all over again. The first 4 were the hardest years of our life. It’s time to shift to a more family focused phase.
Once you've settled in France, do you think you will re-enter the restaurant world?
It’s not our intention to work while while we’re away. I think we’ve earnt a rest.
What plans do you have for Choux Patisserie?
I have heard people saying “Choux Patisserie is closing…”, that's not the case, we are selling a business that will include our recipes and training, the buyer can still expand the range as they wish. Otherwise all assets and new leases are for sale but together.
You leave some big shoes to fill, do you need to have experience in the food industry to buy the business?
Not really, no one should be scared of taking over. Tara and I have grown Choux Patisserie over the last 8 years, our systems and procedures are strong and the business has been profitable for many years now.
In the kitchen I've set up machines specialised for large production, easy to use for anyone with or without experience. All the recipes are programmed into the machine and oven’s parameters. It's an easy and consistent process of putting ingredients in the machine, pressing a button and watching the eclairs being piped out.
It would be idea for someone who is looking to start their own bakery, or cakes business, the facilities and equipment can suit many industries within the food industry.
Have you had any interest so far?
We were speaking to a cheese monger and his wife, but unfortunately their plan to move to Newcastle had to change.
Tara and yourself have put your life into the business, it must be difficult to move on?
Yes we did, in the early days our family had to make a lot of sacrifices. I used to work up to 90 hours a week when we first launched, I've been able to bring that closer to 45 hours in the last few years.
There is satisfaction in knowing we have been able to build the business to be in a position where it can now be taken over without the hard yards and sacrifices that we had to make. It's a business that has everything in place to grow depending on the buyer's vision.
Tara and I have always in all our businesses said you get out what you put in. That’s true but it can be streamlined. We’ve had all those tricks in practice for years. Work smarter not harder as we say now.
Choux Patisserie launched in 2016, can you share what one of your most treasured memories from throughout this time?
Without doubt the customers that have become friends. The community within the markets between stall holders. Seeing our sons working alongside us at some markets and feeling so proud of them. Even if the youngest isn’t a fan of giving change sometimes, but his big brothers was there to jump in and sort it out!
What are you going to miss the most?
Working with Annette in the kitchen, she has worked with me for 5 years. Seeing our regular customers, whether it’s at markets or the kiosk.
We would like to wish Nic and his family the best, and thank him and Tara for what they brought to Newcastle – we look forward to seeing them return someday soon.