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  • Food & Fun

    Sugar high

    By ANNABEL ROSS 20 October 2017

    Five years ago, Zahara Valibhoy couldn’t have been further from Ladurée, Paris’ foremost purveyor of macarons and other sweet treats. She was working in marketing for Holden Australia purveyor of iconic blokey vehicles such as the V8 Commodore.

    “I didn’t enjoy it at all,” she confesses of her 18 months at Holden after finishing an Arts/Commerce degree.  “The more I disliked it, the more I was baking at home, really amateur taste.com.au stuff,” she laughs.

    “It’s a really cliched thing, but I loved to see the looks on people’s faces when they ate my food, and my boyfriend encouraged me to do a market stall.”

    The stall became a business, Beurre cakes and pastries, and Zahara ditched the marketing, enrolled in a baking and decorating course at William Angliss Tafe and undertook an apprenticeship at Le Croissant Patisserie Française in Camberwell, where she worked for nearly four years.

    In December last year, in search of a new challenge, she and her husband moved to Paris. For six weeks, she cold-called patisseries, but it was harder than when she’d done the same thing four years ago and with zero experience in Melbourne.

    “It was brutal,” she says. She spoke French, having majored in it at uni, but most patisseries were far from welcoming.  “It was a lot of, ‘you’re not French, what would you know,’ that sort of thing,” she says.

    Then Ladurée called asking her to come in.  “I had received an offer elsewhere, but I was like, ‘that’s it for me!’”

    The first few months at the Ladurée kitchen, a 50-odd person operation based near Paris Orly airport, were “hell on earth”, says Zahara, who considered quitting daily. “There’s a lot of screaming, a lot of tempers – I’m not used to that environment where you yell to express yourself,” she says. She would have a technique explained to her once and then be expected to have committed it to memory and there was no time to take notes.  And though her French was decent, colloquialisms and technical names went right over her head.

    “I din’t know what things were called, ‘la plonge‘, it’s not even a room for dishwashing, it’s a section for dishwashing!”

    She cried twice once when she made a mistake and returned to work the next day to find her work de-moulded and displayed with a nasty note, and another time when she was chastised for misreading the roster and missing a day of work.

    On the latter occasion, she “lost it” she says, the upside being that she was upset enough to make her colleagues back off, and things got easier from that point.

    Now, she says, she feels like part of the team.

    “I’m the ‘petite australienne’, foreign but not a foreigner, when they tell me I’ve done something wrong I don’t take it personally,” she says.

    And her French has improved, too.

    “I joke with them in French now,” she says.  “I always laugh the loudest because I’m so happy I understand the jokes.”

    Zahara blogs about her pastry and travel adventures here.