When two young Frenchmen, Ben and Matthieu, found themselves working together on the other side of the world in Auckland’s Clooney restaurant, they realised they shared a love of patisserie and from this something very special began to unfold! As the duo behind Little French Pastry, their story is one of absolute deliciousness, layered with fine puff pastry, ganache, salted caramel and caramelised pecan nuts.
Ben trained as a chef in France and over the years he taught himself pastry work. At Clooney, Des Harris was a great influence as he has such a creative mind and was always up for a challenge to try something new. “I fell in love with pastry and how [working with] it would be so calm and precise and less stressful than working in cuisine and the hectic pace of the kitchen,” Ben says. He met Matthieu, who was working as a sommelier, and they sparked up a friendship and a mutual love of pastry and the tastes they missed from home.
They would frequent the famous La Cigale markets to get their French fix, and Ben got talking to market founder Elizabeth Lind, about mille-feuille – a very traditional French pastry layered with pastry cream and different toppings. Ben had been experimenting with mille-feuille and French pastry at Clooney after hours and was keen to see if Aucklanders had a taste for his creations.
“Elizabeth said: ‘can you start selling at the market in two weeks?’,” Ben says. “So we did!”
We found a commercial kitchen space and started with traditional French mille-feuille with a modern twist – classic chocolate with cardamon, spice and salt and even some Matcha toppings. “We had a lot more creative licence than you do in France, where everything is classic.”
Many of the people they met at the market had never seen them before, but they were captivated by the beautiful handmade creations. And once told the story, and they had their first taste, people wanted more.
Ben found the demand grew so quickly they started selling at the Mt Albert market not long after, and then started to supply local French cafes including La Fromagerie and then Farro. He was working from 8am to 3am, making (mille-feuille by day and working in Clooney by night).
It got to the point where he had to give up his job at Clooney and take on Little French Pastry full-time to keep up with demand – all within just a year of that first dip in the water at La Cigale.
When Ben explains the technique and the stories of the pastries he makes, it’s quite mesmerising. And they taste divine.
He uses only NZ ingredients, where possible, and likes to give a creative twist to all of his creations, which he sees as works of art. “It’s not just pastry. We want to create something that looks and tastes amazing, using the very best ingredients to start with. Good quality flour, butter – if you use amazing tasting ingredients, your pastry can only taste amazing. The fresher the better,” he says.
He says the secret to good pastry is to keep it classic, but not to make it sweet. The puff pastry they make has no sugar at all.
They now produce not only mille-feuille, but a delicious range of tarts with their own unique mark – a range we just can’t get enough of on the shelves at Farro.
For the lemon tart, they add lemon gel and candied lemon in addition to curd to give it a real zing.
The oblong tart shape is completely unique – traditional French tarts are round – making it perfect for easy sharing, or not!
Ben’s Mont Blanc tarts (named after a mountain in France) are completely unique too, combining chestnut cream and pear as a way to introduce people to the chestnut flavour. Then it’s topped with chestnut cream and meringue, oh mon Dieu!
The classic tarte tartin is given a facelift too. Ben cooks the apple slowly over two hours so the caramel on the bottom forms an almost apple jam texture, he then cuts it into rectangles and layers it on top of puff pastry.
Little French Pastry is now looking for its own retail space to make and sell and celebrate French pastries, where people can come and hang out with friends and enjoy good food. But they will still keep up the markets and tastings at Farro to share the story of their delicious creations with one and all!
What is mille-feuille?
Traditionally, a mille-feuille is made up of three layers of puff pastry alternating with two layers of pastry cream, but sometimes whipped cream or jam. The top pastry layer is dusted with icing (confectioner’s) sugar and sometimes cocoa, pastry crumbs or roasted nuts.