Award-winning French-born chef Nicolas Poelaert and his team at Choux Patisserie have been busy putting the finishing touches to their colourful - and delicious - Christmas range.
It's a bittersweet end to a successful year for the Poelaert family. Nic's father in France is ill and he and wife Tara have made the decision to take their two sons to France to spend some quality time with him. And that means the popular Choux Patisserie will soon be offered for sale. Everything hinges on that.
But first, that stunning Christmas range.
"This year we have a list of goods that includes gift ideas for teachers, neighbours, friends, family and for the people that already have everything," Nic says.
"Everything is packaged and travels very well. One of our customers has moved to Singapore and still gets their meat glaze, quince paste, panettones and jars of Golden Fruits & Nuts sent to them."
Choux Patisserie's panettones have been crowd-pleasers for the past seven Christmases. Customers can choose from the Classic Fruits panettone with white chocolate and the Toffee Peanuts with milk chocolate, and they are available in two sizes: a gift size (one to two people) or Christmas size (six to 10 people).
"The taste is fruity, citrusy, buttery and very moist and moreish," Nic says.
"The main feedback we hear is that our panettones are very light and amazing, and some say they are the highlight of Christmas lunch. We also have clients that decorate their house with them."
You can fill out an order form at Choux Patisserie's Charlestown Square store, at various markets and at their Broadmeadow kitchen. You can also order online at chouxpatisserie.com.
"We will run out of time and stock in the next two to three weeks and recommend people submit orders sooner than later," says Nic.
Choux Patisserie also has a range of condiments that are sold by the jar: rhubarb jam, strawberry watermelon jam, blackberry jam, raspberry jam, mango jam, meat glaze, quince paste and cherry jam.
"The difference with our 'by the jar' selection is that the use can be altered, for example, at home we use the quince paste with cheese, chicken and pork fillets instead of apricot or apple sauce," Nic says.
"I use our meat glaze in stir fried rice. Glazing steamed carrots with crumbled goat cheese over the top and served with rocket leaves is a winner. Cherry jam with cheese is amazing, especially blue cheese or washed rind cheese on sourdough."
Finding new flavour combinations is his passion.
"I have created nearly 200 flavours over the years, and creating eclairs gives me the pleasure that artists or painters feel," he says.
"My eclairs photograph amazingly and that's another pleasure it gives me. I have been approached to write books, but I'm not keen on the publishing obligations.
"I could find some time to sit, write and rewrite recipes when I get home but I prefer spending the time with my family, I feel richer that way. If anyone wants to pick up my story, I have the recipes and the creative mind that we can share."
Nic began his cooking career at Michelin star restaurant La Meunerie in Belgium then went on to work with the likes of Gordon Ramsay at his flagship restaurant in London. He also worked with Michel Bras in the south of France, Shannon Bennett at the original Vue de Monde in Melbourne, and Matthew Wilkinson at Circa the Prince. In 2009 Nic opened Embrasse and numerous accolades followed, including two chef of the year awards.
The couple moved to Newcastle (Tara's home town) in 2016 where Nic impressed diners at Fortunate Son on Beaumont Street before launching Choux Patisserie.
"I have been able to set up our kitchen very well with factory grade equipment. We have grown considerably and after nearly eight years we still have no competition," he says.
"The science behind the consistency of making choux pastry and creating it on a business scale is mind-blowing. There are more natural factors around us to fail than to help in making choux pastry.
"As an autodidact patisserie professional, I was always good at creating systems and procedures to help with consistency. The kitchen is now very well equipped and very easy to run and could be run by anyone.
"And so we have decided to sell our business, go to France for a few months and spend time with my Dad. He was diagnosed with leukemia and I haven't been back for 13 years, so this is a wake-up call and I feel the need to go and spend time with him."
Best of luck to Nic, Tara, Louis and Harry - and I think I speak for Newcastle as a whole when I say we'll miss your eclairs!
SHORT AND SWEET
Celebrate Christmas at Fredeli in Warners Bay on December 22. Four courses and a complimentary glass of bubbles, $100. Seats are limited.
Lovedale Smokehouse Gourmet Pantry & Cafe is opening for breakfast as of December 1. Its cafe and deli will be open Thursday, Friday and Monday, 9.30am to 4pm, and on weekends from 9am to 4pm.
Don't forget Lago di Mac is on this Sunday at Thomas H Halton Park, Croudace Bay.
Mediterranean restaurant and bar Blanca opens at Honeysuckle this weekend.
A new restaurant is opening soon at the former Chinois in Newcastle. Stay tuned.