How many West Australians have Emmanuel Mollois to thank – or blame – for introducing them to the pleasures of French pastry beyond the ubiquitous croissant? (note: Mollois also made very, very good croissants).
Since arriving in Perth in the ‘90s from the Loire Valley via Melbourne, the French-born pâtissière was the driving force behind many of Perth’s more notable French establishments including Paris Brest in Kalamunda and Choux Café in Swanbourne. More recently, he joined forces with former boss Alain Fabregues – Mollois was head pastry chef at Fabregues’ famous Mundaring restaurant The Loose Box for two years – to open Bistro des Artistes in Subiaco.
In addition to writing cookbooks and appearing on television, Mollois also established Cherry Bombe Catering and was a (smiling, well-dressed) presence at the Subiaco Farmers Markets. It was here that he helped a pre-MasterChef Jessica Arnott prepare for her time for the show. The Broadsheet contributor recalls her time learning from one of Perth’s most accomplished pâtissières.
There’s this weird time on MasterChef they don’t show you on TV. Between when you’re kinda-sorta thinking that you might be going on the show and when you actually get the green light, pack-your-things-you’re-going-to-Melbourne announcement. During that time, you’re encouraged to go and learn all the things that you’re terrible at.
I’m a very improvisational cook. My fiance’s favourite meal of mine is “Cupboard Pasta”, otherwise known as scraps of salami and almost-dead herbs with whatever-the-hell I can find in the pantry. But it’s always delicious.
Baking is the nerdy cousin of the cooking world that doesn’t do improvisation. It’s very specific and very scientific, neither of which I am. I knew I needed help because, if I was planning on doing okay, then at some stage I needed to get through some Adriano Zumbo or Peter Gilmore or – in my case, Darren Purchase – monstrosity.
I turned to Google. I had only lived in Perth for about six months. “Who was the best pastry chef in Perth?” That’s how I discovered there was a French gentleman by the name of Emmanuel Mollois who had a reputation for making the best choux pastry around. He’d also been on TV with Poh Ling Yeow, which made me think he might be willing to give me a few tips. I emailed him. He was flattered that I knew who he was and that I wanted to learn from him. Our first meeting was at Boucla in Subiaco. Although I was working down the road at Simon Johnson, it was the first time I had been there. Emmanuel ordered some delicious flaky, custardy pastry for me and told me the place was good. Ever since I have been working my way through their cake window.
When I first met Emmanuel he was very distinctive. His signature round red glasses might have suggested an eccentric streak, but he was still very rigidly French. What did I want to learn? He made a note of what I told him. He knew more than I did about what I would need to know. A very intimidating list was written that made me far more nervous about MasterChef than I had been. A couple of weeks later, when he opened Cherry Bombe, he welcomed me into his brand new, teeny-tiny shop to learn. There was barely enough room for him and his business partner Tracy to fill their orders in there, but they let me in and taught me what they knew.
He told me that the way they taught choux pastry on MasterChef was “complete crap” and proceeded to teach me the “right way”. I never had to do it on the show, but I can still make a mean profiterole thanks to him.
I made giant batches of crème pâtissière to fill pastries. I stuffed and crimped the edges of pies. I learned the French (aka “better”) way of making marshmallows. I learned what a “Paris-Brest” was and made them without laughing at the name.
He taught me that instead of cracking the egg on the edge of a bowl – which will easily break yolks and leave shell behind – you break them by gently smacking the flat side of two eggs together. When you have to separate six dozen eggs to bake commercial quantities of choux pastry and custard, this sort of advice is invaluable.
Emmanuel taught me techniques that I still think about when I knock up desserts at home today. Never leave sugar on top of egg yolks without whisking them together because you start to cook the yolk and get a weird texture.
He really wanted to share his love of pastry. He was constantly studying it, and although he knew it inside out, he was always learning. He leant me his old copies of Hervé This books to study, on the condition I returned them because they were meant for his 10-year-old son who was a budding cook.
I always felt a bit awkward around him, because I was so nervous and intimidated. I actually thought he was really ambitious. He wanted to be known for his craft and he was making head-way. But I still cannot fathom how generous he was with his time and knowledge, when he didn’t know me from a bar of soap, or if I really had any potential.
In hindsight, I suppose he saw the latter in me.
Emmanuel Mollois passed away on January 6 after a battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife Gordana and their three children.