If there are two things Nigella Lawson loves, they’re butter and a bit of clever word play, so when on her highly publicised visit to Brisbane earlier this year Lawson learnt that the pastry chef at the Calile hotel was a woman called Juliana Butteri, she took to Instagram to share her delight.

The Brazilian-born Butteri, who made what Lawson called the “best ever croissants”, came to the world of pastry late in life after an earlier career as a designer. Once she’d made the call to follow her passion into the world of pastry, she worked in restaurants and hotels in Rio de Janeiro and New York City (notably at celebrity hotspot Le Cirque) before making the move to Australia. Her time in Australia has included stints at the Kingscliff Beach Bowls Club in the Northern Rivers and Manly Boathouse.

The pastry chef – with the pun-poised name – sat down with Broadsheet to chat about the singularity of Australian tastes, the challenges of staffing a hotel kitchen, how she felt about Lawson’s call-out and other notable figures she’s cooked for.

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Tell us about yourself
I started my career back in Brazil. Before I became a pastry chef, I was a designer… I was happy, but I was looking for more. I decided to enrol myself in culinary school and it was the best decision that I ever made: first, because it taught me more about hospitality; and secondly, because I met my husband on my first job.

My first job was at Sofitel and I learnt about everything pastry there. After I finished my apprenticeship I got a contract [at the hotel] but [we] decided to move to New York. We spent two-and-a-half years there. It was a great change for me. I worked in a huge restaurant called Le Cirque and I had the opportunity to learn more about management, staff and about celebrity and how to deal with people.

I did a few big dinners like for Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey. And I really improved myself as a pastry chef. I learnt that it doesn’t matter who my client is, the standard for me must be the same.

You’ve worked in both hotels and restaurants. How is being a hotel pastry chef different to being a pastry chef in a restaurant?
We always say it’s a completely different thing because in restaurants – particularly fine dining – you’re only going to work night shift… and normally, you have a very small prep, you’re dealing with a small menu and a very small amount of requests. But working in a hotel you have to be prepared for everything. One day you can do an event or a banquet for 25 people and another day you have a set menu for 250 people and you have to have the same quality. So you have to be prepared to have a big breath and understand that you’re going to be understaffed and just try to always be happy and be the best that you can for the customers.

During your time in America, you’ve cooked for Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart and the Obamas. And this year you cooked for Nigella Lawson at the Calile. What was that like?
It was amazing, especially because when I was deciding to move into pastry, I went to a Nigella Lawson book launch in Brazil. I lined up for four hours just to get my book signed. I could not imagine that 10 years later I would be working at The Calile and I would send a croissant (just as a nice gesture) and she would write such an amazing review for me. That was very, very touching.

Are there any other people you’ve met through your work that have left you feeling starstruck?
Yes. Once during service at Le Cirque my manager told me Oprah Winfrey was coming to dinner. She was a regular at Le Cirque, but we always had to be careful because she was always on diets. Always. But, just in case, I had all the desserts ready. Chocolate soufflé ready to go, crème brûlée, vanilla soufflé. And when I was almost finishing the shift, my manager said, “Go to the table and check what she would like to have,” and she said, “Just a plate of blueberries.” So I just washed the best blueberries that I had and plated it for her and she was very grateful. She told me they were the best blueberries she had ever had. She was always very kind.

You’ve cooked in Rio, in New York and now Australia. How do people’s tastes in dessert change between the three countries?
It changes a lot. In Brazil people are more about fresh and homemade desserts, it’s not very common to have frozen desserts. Normally everything you get in hotels and restaurants there is handmade from scratch because that’s how our mamas and grandmas used to cook. In New York, people are all about the new trends, they like to try new things. And in Australia, the guests are more traditional. They like the classic desserts. They are more concerned about what they are eating – not only about the traditional food but also if it is local products or dietary friendly.

Finally, what is the secret to the perfect, Nigella-approved croissant?
It’s very simple. It’s butter and love – that’s it. If you have both you cannot go wrong.