Saturday, May 13, 2017

Artists on the Couch: Gabriella Pirisi - Pâtissière and Founder of MadCharlotte

Much like Marie-Antoinette, the gorgeous Gabriella Pirisi has made her home in Versailles. To the French, both women are foreigners; Marie-Antoinette was Austrian while Miss Pirisi was raised in Sydney.  Both ooze style - the first danced and gamed at masked balls in dainty silk slippers, the second is a gourmande, a feline creature that comes into her own in a pair of black Louboutins and Giorgio Armani red-lipstick. But where the French queen would have indulged in pretty pastel-colored cakes,  Miss Pirisi's vibrant passion for pâtisseries soared in 2015 with the launch of her very own online pâtisserie brand, MadCharlotte.

Today I am over the moon to welcome Miss Pirisi on the couch, all the way from France. She was busy last week preparing chocolate goodies and other VIP treats for the French electoral candidates, and was kind enough to answer my questions. 

Composing this portrait was not easy because while I was permitted to post any MadCharlotte photos, the choice was dizzying. Where to start, what to pick, when faced with these astounding mouth-watering creations? These works of art speak volume for Miss Pirisi's harmonious flair and skill for this fine and most esteemed gastronomic art. I settled with a pink theme, in honor of Mother's Day. But don't stop there. Do take a peek at the MadCharlotte website and instagram profile and inhale this whiff of  rose cream, chocolate ganache, citrus tart, Madagascar vanilla, coconut marshmallows. Abandon yourself to this generous paradise of gourmandises.

With memorable creations like Persian éclairs with pistachio cream, MadMinis, MadCakes, gateaux with names like "Égoïste" (Selfish) and "Avenue Montaigne" - the MadCharlotte brand is stamping a name for itself and it is only getting started. Miss Pirisi's innovations are a delight, like these almond and pear friands topped with Poire William whipped cream.

Trained through the prestigious Ferrandi French School of Culinary Arts in Paris, Miss Pirisi completed  an Intensive Professional Pastry Program in French Pastry aimed at future chefs and entrepreneurs. She followed this with the Diplôme CAP Pâtissier Adulte - a diploma in French pastry for adults, taught entirely in French which culminated in a grueling 3-day examination. Not content with having to learn French, Miss Pirisi was accredited after receiving top marks in her 7-hour practical exam. 

It is a cake lover's dream to speak with this charming pâtissière. Her words, punctuated by Ooh la la's and other French expressions, are a colorful stream of emotions and "saveurs"; they speak of her vision. Her enthusiasm for her brand is contagious but there is a discipline there - a determined, methodical approach perfected by hours of training and practice. It is like speaking with a feverish genius about to take flight, transported by an urge to create and then create some more. I love it. It is not only this which invites my awe. I am blown away by Miss Pirisi's courage to invent and to be different in the face of challenging odds - in a world, especially in France, where men still dominate the pâtisserie scene, Miss Pirisi brings fishnets to pâtisserie and it's like a dream come true.

Her brand is all about celebrating the French lifestyle of today - the French savoir-faire with a universal touch. According to Miss Pirisi, MadCharlotte is a name, a brand, business and concept that celebrates The WOMAN. It is a brand that believes in supporting women we know, "because we're just amazing." A refreshing and enlivening creed, one that I wholeheartedly embrace.

So here she is, straight from Versailles. The wonderful Miss Pirisi.

MadCharlotte's Gabriella Pirisi on the Couch

Ok, first question is an ice breaker. Tell us about a movie or story that you love and that features a memorable food or eating scene. Then explain what strikes you about it. 

Eat, Prey, Love, the scene with Julia Roberts when she slurps up her spaghetti, her eyes dotting around to see if anyone is watching her…slightly embarrassed. Yet in this moment she’s letting go, freeing herself from her own personal constraints. How a simple pleasure like that can be just life changing. Who hasn’t had one of these experiences when visiting a place, be it in Italy, or France, "Oh I could do this every day!", "I could live like this."

It’s strikes me because I see myself in her. That is and was me, in France with pastry.
Like Julia Roberts I ate through the old city, I bought pastries and sat on park benches all alone. My first gustative pleasure of French pastries had me smiling and giggling in public places and I knew this simple pleasure was opening up the door to a new and exciting future (because I wanted to share with the world my new found very pleasurable experience!)

What cake would you use to describe yourself, and what kind of pâtisserie do you usually fall for when someone else is doing the baking ?

Saint-Honoré! It has all my favourite dessert elements in one cake. This is very much who I am in life. I want a bit of everything, I can never choose just one thing.

MadCharlotte Baroque Saint-Honoré
Better than Marie-Antoinette could ever dream...

Saint-Honoré, begins with a crispy flaky buttery mille-feuille base, then mounted are choux (profiteroles) which are filled with a pastry cream (any flavour) then to decorate and to fill the dessert is a chantilly (a very aerated whipped cream). Ouh la la... C’est à tomber par terre.

However, if someone is doing the baking for me….. Oh, a Moelleux or Mi-cuit… A chocolate cake only half-cooked so that its gooey chocolate centre flows like lava. And then add to that a simple vanilla ice-cream and chantilly whipped cream. Ouh la la…. I’m happy, I can die tomorrow. I need nothing more.

Your brand, MadCharlotte, is a vibrant, lush celebration of femininity and all its appetites. In an industry dominated by men, you elevate cake consumption to the status of luxurious girliness. Please share a little about the brand’s history, your vision and what inspired the name. 

MadCharlotte is a brand I created in 2015 and is a personality. She arrived like that to me. Flicking through the pages of a pastry book, the pages of recipes for Madeleine and Charlotte flew by my eyes. It came together as, MadCharlotte. It was like she was always there and waiting very patiently to be discovered, "Finally, you’re here".

She is an extension of my personality, but somehow now feels detached from me, she explores without fear of judgment nor failure, wanting only to create, to do the best work, to do good and put more love into the world, and it’s my responsibility to provide her with the tools to do so. Her force is enormous.  I can only compare this metamorphosis to Stefani Germanotta becoming Lady Gaga and Ralph Lifschitz  becoming Ralph Lauren. The vision for MadCharlotte is really- the world is hers. Now, it’s about keeping up with her!

What are some of the challenges you have faced as an entrepreneur, especially coming from Australia and establishing your brand in Paris?

 I don’t know how things work in France, so it’s constant research about everything. Things I’ve learnt in a space of year: Where to register a brand?  Where to register a business?
What regulations do I need to follow to operate in the food industry? Where do I take my hygiene and safety course? From who do I buy this particular machine? or ingredients?

It’s also not a French mentality to be entrepreneurial. My brand is unique and for the moment most French people don’t really get it. For example, in France it’s expected that I have a boutique to sell pastry. I know for a fact that many Australian women are doing very well running a home kitchen business, they present on their website as a sort of boutique. Here, in France, it’s a foreign concept.

High quality baking and decorating, let alone running a business, is tremendous hard work. What keeps you going?

What keeps me going? It’s the not not doing it. The need to keep creating, evolving, doing it again, doing it better, doing it differently.

I have a lot energy and I mean that spiritually, I think. Because even when I don’t have physical energy there is another force that says, "keep going". I’ve always had this urge to do something creative. If I don’t have a creative project, or I’m unsure where to put this creative energy, it builds up. It becomes a block in my life, and frustration builds. So it’s important that I keep doing, doesn’t matter what. The doing becomes the practice, which turns into creations. The creations become a sort of finding myself which is really a journey of exploration. The exploration is like curiosity, you say, "what else can I do", "can I do it another way".

Financial constraints make it very difficult, because the energy source is overflowing and the lack of finances is like the breaks on the soul. I think anyone who’s started or is yearning for a creative outlet can understand this.

"I started from zero."
"I hadn't even made a pavlova before this course." 
- MadCharlotte

You trained at the elite FERRANDI school of culinary arts in Paris. What was that like and were there some key moments that you remember ?

What was it like? It was very difficult for me. I had a huge shock during the first week. I saw my comrades had a much superior level. I started from zero. Imagine, the course was supposed to be for beginners. But I discovered much later that many students had already undertaken pastry training courses or worked in boutiques, but it’s funny, people are silent about things like that. I found it very difficult to keep up with my class and the Chef. I hadn’t even made a pavlova before this course.

There weren’t really specific key moments. I remember however my Chef. I think of him often. He’s tall, slim, wearing his very high pastry hat that we call, La Toque, his French accent strong, very cute for all the foreign girls, making us always giggle. But that’s not why I think of him as charming as he is!

When I work, I imagine what he would say when something is not done well or is not perfect. I pull myself up, and correct. The key to a highly reputed chef, is in his gestes, his gestures. This is what sets him apart from other chefs and cooks, it is what makes his pastry art haute couture. His elegance and his exigence to his work. The way he stands, they way he moves his hands and arms with his body either following or supporting him. These movements as tiny in detail as they are, are critical in creating that final perfect dessert creation.

Chef Didier was exigent. He was a perfectionist. Watching him work was wonderful. We all felt it. We all knew if we can work like him, we will be much more than good.

"The latest trends are éclairs."  
- MadCharlotte

Do palates differ in Australia and France? What are some of the current market trends you have observed in pâtisserie consumption in France?

Oh god yes! I’m seeing the popularity of certain Australian cake/desserts creators enjoying a flourishing success because of their food styling, and while their work is beautiful, when I look into the recipe I’m in shock! The French know their ingredients very well, it’s a "gustative" country. With the French, you can’t get away with serving a layered sponge cake with layer upon layer of butter cream frosting. Ce n’est pas possible!

The latest trends are éclairs, they’ve always been popular in France but now they’ve become more like a fashion item because of specialty boutiques selling only eclairs.

Pâtisserie in general is about "revisiting" old classics where young trendy chef pâtissiers are about expressing their signature style. It’s common to put one pastry chef up against another to vote who makes the best tarte au citron (lemon tart) for example. Cuisine and pastry is very much an Olympic sport here, and so to always challenge new ways of doing classics as well as creating new desserts.

Especially now with social media, 
they have more exposure so it puts the pressure on, 
and you must adapt very quickly, 
innovate very quickly." - MadCharlotte on pastry chefs

As a creator, what are your current pâtisserie obsessions or envies – any ideas you are currently experimenting with and that you want to share ? What new pastry trend do you see surfacing?

There isn’t enough time and money to do all that I want to do! Chocolate, that’s my new obsession. The applications of chocolate pieces to cakes. Right now I’m experimenting with a signature look. It will take time, because I’m playing with colouring chocolate and shapes adapted to the shapes of my cakes.

Dark chocolate and ginger-infused dark 
mousse-ganache sits over a crunchy biscuit. 
These love hearts are covered with 
gold-dusted dark chocolate.

New pastry trend, resurfacing ? All… all pastry trends, like I mentioned earlier, pâtissiers compete like it’s an Olympic sport. A new way of doing a citron tart, a new way of doing an éclair, a new way of doing a Paris-Brest, new colours in glaçage, new chocolate pieces… it’s about these pâtissiers trying to make a name for themselves by their own signature creations. Especially now with social media, they have more exposure so it puts the pressure on, and you must adapt very quickly, innovate very quickly.

Top left: Égoïste layer cake. 
Top right: Napoleon (chocolate mousse with a subtle 
swirl of banana and an insert of pure ripe banana. 
This on a layer of goey zesty caramel over a chocolate sablé.), 
Bottom: Charlotte MadCakes

MadCharlotte not only offers gorgeous pastries and chocolates, it also oozes style. Are you interested in fashion at all and how would you describe your personal style?

MadCharlotte is all about fashion! At least the brand is inspired by fashion and perfume. While the boyz in pastry compete against who has the biggest or better éclair, I like to think MadCharlotte prefers to hang cool with her fashion pals (likes of Chantal Thomass, Christian Louboutin, Chanel, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, Jimmy Choo).

My style is elegant. Classic elegance. I’m the little black dress gal, black patent heels with a signature red somewhere.. in my hair, pinned to my dress or under the sole of my shoes. Yet, my style can be very quickly jeans and flannel shirt, country gal. Very adaptable to my terrain and surroundings. But, if I were to walk into a room and say "here I am", then yep, something black with a signature red something. Oh, and something lacey… anywhere on my body.

And last, hopeful question… Will MadCharlotte expand to Australia one day? 
Anything is possible. But let’s first get the boutique happening in Paris (or Versailles), because after all, where else better to eat French pastries, but in Paris.

There you have it, even Marie-Antoinette could not have had better. 
Thank you so much Gabriella Pirisi from MadCharlotte, it has been an immense pleasure to have you visit the Teranga couch. We wish you all the best and hope to visit Versailles very soon!