Despite its petite size, Lara Sample’s Chouquette boulangerie patisserie in New Farm packs a charming punch. Its authenticity can be felt from the moment you step inside and hear the convivial singsong greeting of ‘bonjour’ from the French-speaking staff. Since its opening in 2006, Chouquette has become part of the fabric of New Farm, with a string of eager customers often winding out its front door. Lara proudly shares that Chouquette is expanding with its new wholesale site recently opening in Wilston. Like the Chouquette cafe, the wholesale business will continue to keep the authentic art of French baking alive.
The Chouquette patisserie and cafe is tucked on a quaint New Farm side street, where a constant stream of gastronomes is tempted by the patisserie’s artisan French treats.
Inside the bustling cafe, crusty golden baguettes, batards and brioche line rustic wooden shelves like paintings, while the long glass counter glistens tantalisingly with a colourful array of artfully created pastries, from tarts and croissants, to eclairs, macarons and the locale’s signature chouquettes – moreish light
and airy balls of choux pastry dusted with granulated sugar.
Delightfully, the cafe’s heady aroma of freshly ground coffee mingles with buttery scents wafting from the kitchen next door. There, French-trained bakers produce the finest breads and pastries every morning, starting their daily ritual before dawn. Chouquette’s bakers are sticklers for quality, having been trained in traditional French baking techniques. To maintain authenticity, the bakers only use select ingredients sourced from France, Belgium and around Australia.
Chouquette’s owner, Australian-born and French-raised Lara Sample, explains her love for her little slice of France, which opened in December 2006. “Our customer has an appreciation for authentic quality French products. I love
to see people come in and enjoy the quality of our products and also really appreciate the experience and the atmosphere we provide,” she enthuses. “It’s a very pleasant business because people come here purely for enjoyment. They don’t come here for any other reason. It’s a pleasure for them to come in, even if it’s just to pick up a quick croissant or a baguette to take away.”
Lara explains that 2013 is an important year for Chouquette. “There’s a fair bit of change happening here at Chouquette. Last week, I started a second business with a business partner to make and wholesale artisan breads and a viennoiserie range, which includes croissants and brioche. In the not-too-distant future, we aim to also open a retail shop on-site. There’s been a lot of demand and we haven’t been able to meet it with the size of the kitchen at New Farm. So it’s chaotic here, but it’s organised chaos,” she laughs.
Lara’s new venture will be run out of the historic Red Brick Bakery at Wilston. Lara’s new business partner, Frenchman Sebastien Pisasale, will oversee bread production. Sebastien has worked as Chouquette’s head baker for the past four years and, like Lara, trained at the Institut Nationale de la Boulangerie Pâtisserie in Paris. He is passionate about continuing the traditional baking techniques employed in France’s best patisseries.
Lara explains that she originally dreamt of growing her business in this way. “My original vision for Chouquette was to have a retail store and to supply wholesale, but I guess I underestimated the demand we’d have for the cafe side of things.”
Since her childhood, Lara has always had one foot planted in Australia and the other in France. Born to a French mother, Lara is fluent in French and intensely proud of her dual heritage. As a child, she dreamt about the usual girlish fantasies of becoming a princess or a famous singer, but as she grew older, she knew that her life would be steeped in travel.
Lara’s childhood involved her spending four-month stints in France every three years, which planted the travel bug deep within her from a young age. On each visit, she soaked up summer holidays with her cousins in the centre of France, while also attending local schools to learn the language and culture. Lara recalls those holidays as being idyllic – there were whimsical picnics and walks in the countryside, market outings and lunchtime feasts.
From the age of 15, Lara began to visit family in Paris and Provence annually, but each time she returned to Brisbane she would yearn for the golden French pastries and crusty breads she had savoured during her French sojourns.
“I couldn’t get a good pastry anywhere, so I went down the path of researching it and decided it would be a good challenge for me,” Lara says, referring to her idea to open an authentic French patisserie and cafe.
Chouquette was two years in the planning. Lara was determined to educate herself about the art of French baking. At the time she was working in the finance industry, but dreamed of pursuing a career that gave her more creative freedom.
“I took the time and did a structured and thorough business plan. I talked to people about ideas and then did a short course in baking,” she explains of her cautious approach to launching Chouquette.
Lara studied baking for three months at France’s Institut Nationale de la Boulangerie Pâtisserie and then took up the enviable task of travelling to renowned patisseries across France to gain work experience and refine her tastebuds.
“Learning at the Institut was fantastic and very important for what I’ve been doing,” Lara says. “Still to this day, when I walk into the kitchen and the bread has just gone into the oven, it brings back all those happy memories.”
Since Chouquette opened, customers have religiously flocked to its doors. However, like every business, Lara explains there are constant challenges to overcome. “My biggest challenge is staffing. I sponsor key members in the kitchen from France, so when I have the pressure of having to replace people, it’s a long and costly process. But I’ve met some great people.”
Lara is grateful to have built a team she trusts wholeheartedly. When she takes a break to visit her family in France each year, she knows that Chouquette will continue to run professionally and precisely.
In the rare times that she stops to step back from the shop and admire it from afar, Lara feels a sense of achievement. “There are days when I’ll be driving away from the shop or driving past and think it’s amazing that I’ve created this business that people want to come to. People come here and get enjoyment. It’s an authentic experience and the products are of a very high quality. I feel that is an achievement.”
Her advice to other budding entrepreneurs is the same as the words of wisdom she whispers to herself. “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Trust yourself. Follow your gut instinct. And stay true to your vision – even though it might vary a bit. Over the six years of Chouquette, these are the things I’ve come to learn and trust.”