The wisdom of sweet things
The wisdom of sweet things
When I wrote up the profile for Vaniyé, I was quite consumed by the loveliness of it. Now that I've been back for a second visit, that impression is even stronger. Sonia and Laurent Haumonté - the couple who have brought this Parnell-Parisian pastisserie into existence - are beautiful, thoughtful, and subtly exotic people who have quite an inspiring approach to life. Meeting them had a profound effect on me, so I wanted to share some of their philosophies with you in the hope that you might take away the same feeling.
1. Let your passion lead you - Sonia travelled to Paris to take a Cordon Bleu course because she loved to cook. She only planned to stay for one year, but she ended up staying for ten. Firstly because she loved the culinary world so much she decided that what began as a hobby should become a career, so she apprenticed and then worked in French kitchens for a long time. Secondly because she met Laurent, a consultant from the North East of France.
Life in Paris was inspiring, but the pace of life there is fast, and it can be stressful. Sonia and Laurent decided to move to New Zealand for a lifestyle change; they loved the beaches, proximity to nature and the slower and more relaxed attitude to life they found here.
Both Sonia and Laurent loved the decorative art of pastry-making; in France there is a clear delineation between the traditions of being a chef and a pâtissier, and it was clear that the couple were more inspired by the latter - now Sonia spends all day doing what she loves. She usually begins at 5am and ends at midnight, but it doesn't matter, because she loves it.
2. Sharing knowledge and ideas encourages innovation -A french patisserie kitchen is one of the more stressful and competitive environments you'll find anywhere in the world - Sonia learned that first hand. One thing you might find surprising though, is that French masters of pastry love to share their knowledge, they don't jealously hoarde their recipes or their techniques. Why? Because they know that teaching the up-and-coming chefs below them ensures their own continued innovation. Sharing doesn't stifle competition, it fuels it. Top chefs are confident in their own ability to come up with something newer, better and more beautiful than the young whippersnappers following in their tracks.
When Sonia and Laurent first started thinking about starting a patisserie business in Auckland, they were surprised at how few people were willing to offer advice and guidance. How are young pastry chefs meant to learn and evolve if their very teachers won't show them the best way to do things? It means every person has to start from scratch, rather than building on the knowledge of somebody else.
Of course I'm probably extrapolating far too much from this observation of Sonia and Laurent's, but I see this struggle mirrored in quite a few different facets of life here; this belief that the young have to struggle to make things work because the old struggled, and that's only fair. The more we share ideas, the more they are taken from us and adapted into something newer and better, and the more we are forced to innovate to keep up. That can only be a good thing, right?
3. Don't be afraid to take things slowly - Sonia and Laurent wanted to start a patisserie company, but first they wanted to learn what the people of Auckland liked and wanted. So they began by selling their products at markets. They built up a loyal following that way, and it meant that when they opened their beautiful store in Parnell they already had a strong customer base. They have big plans for what they would like to build Vaniyé into, but they are taking things one step at a time - they want to things to feel right.
Every aspect of their business is about taking things slowly. Their cakes and pastries are very rich, which is why the servings are small. They aren't meant to be wolfed down in a heart beat. They are meant to be enjoyed. Laurent says that we eat first with our eyes, and then with our mouths. That's why they strive to make having cake and coffee at Vaniyé a truly sensory experience.
4. Know what you're trying to achieve, and don't waver - This lovely couple take a pretty strong stand on the quality of the produce they use in their pastries. They love fresh and seasonal produce from New Zealand, but they also import the best quality praline and Valrhona chocolate from France. The chocolate actually comes from a factory that Laurent visited as a child, so everytime he takes a bite it takes him back there. They have an emotional connection to everything they do.
From a financial perspective, importing expensive ingredients from Europe was a difficult choice. It means there is practically no margin on the desserts you buy at Vaniyé, but it's a choice that they are completely unwilling to compromise on.
I saw a piece of graffiti on Ponsonby Road the other day that said, "If you stand for nothing you'll be swayed by everything." - it's so true.
5. Tastes and preferences change, this is a good thing - Laurent grew up near the German border, so it wasn't until he moved to Paris that he first came across the deliciousness of goats cheese. Because he'd never tasted it before, he wasn't sure it was a taste he liked... but over time he has come to love it. It was the same for Sonia; when she first moved to France she was a camembert girl through and through, but nowadays, she says, "the smellier the better."
When they moved to New Zealand, Laurent had many new flavours to try. His first taste of feijoa "was not a good experience." The same goes for tamarillos.
For Aucklanders, eating some of the desserts from Vaniyé might yeild a similar experience. They don't use a lot of sweet milky chocolate, so the intensity of the chocolate flavour can be a surprise. They were amazed when they first moved here to see people eating chocolate "like biscuits" - to them, chocolate should be eaten in small amounts and left to melt on the tongue so your entire mouth is filled with flavour. In a way, their patisserie is as much about food education as it is about enjoyment.
Sonia is inspired by her partial Thai heritage to add slightly exotic elements to her creations. The beautiful pink Eros, for example, is a berry mousse pyramid filled with passionfruit on a very delicate wafer of coconut and black sesame seed. It's subtle and different (and absolutely amazing).
6. Don't forget what it is that first made you love it - Sonia delights in being in the kitchen, tasting and experimenting with different flavours, shapes and ideas. She took me through her gleaming kitchen at Vaniyé and I can see why she loves it there; it's filled with natural light and shining stainless steel and the aroma of deliciousness.
Laurent still loves to see people's reactions when they take their first bite of a dessert from Vaniyé. When they worked in the market, he used to be able to tell from ten metres away when people had taken their first mouthful of a chocolate tart or pistachella. Their eyes would widen with delight, because these are flavours and textures that they had never experienced before.
I could continue spouting the wisdom I picked up from Sonia and Laurent at Vaniyé for pages and pages, but I think it's better if you go in there and see them yourselves. Vaniyé is very real manifestation of their philosophy on life, and you'll feel that the minute you walk in the door.
Before I left, I asked them both what their favourite pastries were. Laurent responded that it changed everyday, depending on the weather, on the day of the week, on his own mood. Last Saturday he loved the feijoa tarte tatin the most, because the sweet, comforting caramel flavour felt just right for a sunny autumn day. Sonia loved the Eros, because it's so fresh and bright.
This really encapsulated for me exactly what food means to Sonia and Laurent, it's more than sustenance, it's a way of life.
It doesn't come as any surprise that Marjorie, who runs front-of-house at Vaniyé, never asks you how your chosen dessert tastes, she asks you how it feels.
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