When French-born and trained pâtissier Johann Vanier lost his job as head pastry chef at a pastry wholesaler, he decided it was the perfect opportunity to take a crack at his own pastry business. Since moving to Sydney with his Australian wife Benita, Vanier had tasted too many floppy, overly sugary pavlovas. So he decided to improve on the classic meringue-and-fruit formula – and thus his company La Pav was born.
The flower-shaped pavlovas Vanier is turning out in his northern beaches kitchen are a far cry from the bulbous white bases topped with fruit you might be familiar with from childhood barbeques and Christmases. Vanier’s creations are elegant, drawing on his experience working in Michelin-starred French restaurants and Sydney fine diners such as Balmoral’s Public Dining Room and Potts Point’s Gastro Park. He hand-selects his produce from Sydney Markets each morning, and uses Valrhona chocolate, free-range eggs and micro herbs grown by Urban Green Sydney, which has a farm in an undercover car park in the CBD.
“I really love using seasonal ingredients, so I normally choose a fruit to hero and then play around in the kitchen with herbs and spices until I’m happy with the pairing and balance of flavour,” Vanier tells Broadsheet. “[Pastry chefs] Frank Haasnoot and Dominique Ansel are a huge inspiration for me – they come up with some really interesting flavour combinations, which can spark my excitement for a particular ingredient.”
The resulting elegant pavlovas wouldn’t be out of place in a French pastry cabinet: raspberry, rose, macadamia and white chocolate; vanilla, almond and raspberry; pina colada; and lemon meringue and basil. Vanier is currently working on an Old Fashioned-inspired pavlova for Father’s Day, which he says will include a good slosh of whisky.
Vanier has also refined a vegan recipe that doesn’t use aquafaba (the cooking water from chickpeas that’s often used as a plant-based replacement for egg whites).
“It literally took me months and months of research and development,” he says. “I spoke to a lot of other pastry chefs who are nailing vegan desserts around the world and started to piece the puzzle together. I’m not keen on the taste and texture of aquafaba and knew there had to be a better way to recreate a delicious plant-based meringue.
“I even blindfolded my mates during the development process and tested out if they could tell the difference between the normal pavs and the vegan pavs. When they couldn’t, I knew I had made something pretty special.”
Vanier won’t divulge exactly how he perfected the vegan recipes – it’s a trade secret – but the flavours are just as exciting as the regular ones: right now there’s a chocolate, hazelnut and raspberry version and an orange, yuzu, coconut and almond one.
All the pavs come in an array of sizes – from canapés to individual servings to large cakes that serve up to eight people. And if you order before 7pm you can have your pav delivered (or pick it up from Brookvale) the following day.
“Ultimately I’m trying to bring fine-dining restaurant flavours into my customers’ homes,” Vanier says. “The same old kiwi fruit, passionfruit and strawberry combo can get pretty boring.”