Pastry Chef Zoe Paris about New Zealand ‘locavorian’ approach
Cook Concern was recently in New Zealand, where we were lucky enough to stay at Wharekauhau Country Estate, a Relais & Chateaux lodge and farm about a two-hour drive from Wellington in the Wairarapa region. This luxury property serves outstanding food, both savoury and sweet. It is Pastry Chef Zoe Paris we had to thank for the delicious baked items and desserts. Her pillowy marshmallow petit fours – like biting into a sweet, fluffy cloud – were one of our many favourites during our stay.
We sat down with Zoe to chat about the pressures of being a pastry chef and being inspired by the seasons.
So, Zoe, you grew up in this region, is that correct?
Yes, I grew up in Wairarapa, and trained at Palmerston North, a polytech. I then sent two years in Wellington working at The Larder restaurant. That was where I got my foundations as a pastry chef, and where I learned the most. Then I travelled to the UK and spent two years working at Whatley Manor & Spa, a Relais & Chateaux hotel in the Cotswolds, with two Michelin stars. I spent a year there. I then backpacked around Europe for about six months, which was great. I ate a lot and got loads of inspiration.
Then I came back to New Zealand at the start of 2019 and funnily enough found a job back home in the Wairarapa, so now I’m pastry chef here, back in my homeland. I’m in charge of all the breads, the sweet things and all the baking we do.
Pastry work is famous for the gruelling hours and early starts – how do you cope?
You do get used to it, and you learn to manage your time. It’s not always as bad as people think, but I guess it’s different in a lodge setting like this where our main focus is on dinner, so I mainly work afternoon and evening shifts.
You have to be prepared. I make the bread rolls the day before, for example. You have to manage your time so that everything is ready for the next day and you don’t have to be here all day, every day.
Is it just you handling the pastry side of the kitchen?
It’s just me usually, but over the summertime we have another person who spends half their time on pastries, too.
How much of the day do you spend on rolls and breads versus the creative stuff?
Baking, which includes all the breads, and we have a daily bake item every day …
… that was the wonderful banana bread with chocolate chips at breakfast this morning …
Yes, that’s right, thank you. So on the baking I spend about 30% of my time, and about 30% on desserts. The petit fours we’ve only just been offering in the past few weeks so it’s taken a lot of my time to develop them.
Can you express yourself creatively as much as you had hoped in your work?
Yes, definitely, as here we can change the menu whenever we want, we can change it every night, which we do most of the time, actually, and I enjoy that. This also means we can cater to people’s requests. If guests are staying a few nights and they really like a particular thing, then I can do that for them, which is exciting.
Most of the produce used at the lodge is sourced very locally, so how do the seasons affect your work?
I’m now thinking ahead to summer and getting new ideas for that, and then in autumn time there’s a lot of bottling work. We bottle the pears and figs and other fruits we know we will need out of season. That starts pretty much from spring up until winter and takes a lot of my time.
How do the local ingredients inspire your desserts and baking?
I’m very inspired by local ingredients right here on the farm. This winter I’ve hardly ordered any fresh ingredients as I’ve been using all the things we bottled and pickled in the summertime. We also use a few producers in the Wairarapa for things such as our olive oil and goat’s curd, which is a point of difference and can help inspire what you create.
I’m now looking forward to the lemon season, which will be coming round again soon. It’s always an exciting time to work with more vibrant flavours after the winter period. Lemons and berries – that’s what I’m looking forward to most.
Thank you, Zoe, and all the best with the busy season ahead and your summer-inspired desserts.
Zoe’s desserts may take inspiration from the seasons, but the lodge has a famous all-year classic: the Wharekauhau short bread cookies, loved by none less than British royals Will and Kate. See the very simple recipe here.
This Edwardian lodge is set high on the hill with a gorgeous view of the sea. Enjoy the grandeur and lifestyle of a bygone era, complete with carefully chosen antique furniture and oversized classic fireplaces. From airy lounges to smaller intimate settings, you can socialise freely or find a cosy space to relax with your favourite novel. An elegant formal dining room flows through to the impressive country kitchen and conservatory. Warm light streams in from the gardens to illuminate an open kitchen with a home-style dining table. The lodge also has a croquet lawn and petanque field bordering the inviting, sun-soaked courtyard, an ideal spot to enjoy a local Chardonnay and chat with new-found friends.
Like the sound of Wharekauhau? Do you think you could excel by working with Zoe and the team? Check out the lodge’s job openings at https://www.wharekauhau.co.nz/contact/careers