If you happen to be passing Florian Poirot’s bijou patisserie in the morning before he opens up, you just might catch a glimpse of him standing in the doorway looking in.
He does it not out of self-satisfaction, but to get a customer’s perspective when they walk in. You don’t get to be good at anything in life without hard work and a keen eye for detail and boy is Florian Poirot good at what he does.
The French-born master patissier has spent more than 20 years learning and honing his craft and the result is a veritable feast for the senses as you open the door and step inside his stylish patisserie.
His carefully constructed tower of colourful macarons and trays of immaculate-looking chocolates wouldn’t look out of place on the Rue des Abbesses in Montmartre. But this heady collection of sweet treats aren’t in Paris but here in Yorkshire, or Malton to be more precise.
Florian opened his patisserie, called simply Florian Poirot – Master Patissier, in a corner of the famous Talbot Yard Food Court back in October. “When I opened I told myself people wouldn’t be coming to my shop every day, but it’s been amazing,” he says.
Even on a cold day in the depths of winter, customers have been beating a path to his door to sample some of his delectable creations, from the more-ish chouquettes to his mouthwatering desserts.
A former Pastry Chef of the Year, Florian moved to York a decade ago with his wife, Celine, a nurse, to take a research and development job at Nestlé tasked with creating new recipes.
They ditched their comfortable life in Paris and settled in North Yorkshire. Neither of them spoke English when they arrived but they do now, albeit with a heavy French accent in Florian’s case. “Some people think I’m doing it on purpose but I’m not at all,” he says, laughing. “They say, ‘keep the accent it’s your best marketing tool’.”
To be honest, when your cakes and chocolates are this good you really don’t really need any marketing gimmicks, though having said that having the name ‘Poirot’ probably doesn’t do any harm.
They quickly felt at home but Florian missed the artisanal part of his job and started making his own macarons at home and selling them at local markets. “My very first market, six years ago, was in Malton. I was coming here every month for about four and a half years and people were very receptive to what I was doing,” he says.
So when Florian opened his first patisserie, Malton was the obvious choice. Being in Talbot Yard next door to several other local producers also means he feels part of an artisan community. “You have access to a nice butcher and baker. We have a guy roasting his coffee next door which I use in one of my macarons, we’ve got a gin maker and an ice cream maker, so it’s really nice here.”
He says he’s still finding his feet but clearly loves what he’s doing. He’s recently started making madeleines which he bakes every morning and again at lunchtime if he’s running low so they’re always “super fresh”, as he puts it. “That’s the secret of a madeleine.”
It just so happens that Florian comes from Nancy, which is half an hour away from a little town called Commercy – the spiritual home of the madeleine. “A madeleine can keep for four or five days but if you eat them within seven or eight hours that is when they’re at their very best,” he tells me. “You want them as fresh as possible.”
Watching any craftsman at work is a privilege and so it is with Florian as he fills a tray of perfectly symmetrical macaron lids with his homemade (like everything else) vanilla cream.
He’s now 35, but his passion for baking was forged in his youth. “I wanted to be a pastry chef from when I was very young.
“My grandfather was the baker of the village where I grew up and I would help him out a little bit with the croissants.”
He spent two years at college and another 12 months specialising in chocolate work before getting a job working for the chocolatier Franck Daubos, who taught him about the technical side of pastry making.
It takes time, hard work and dedication to become a master patissier, and Florian talks passionately about the importance of only using “quality” ingredients. “I can tell my customers exactly where everything comes from,” he says. “Every Friday I go to the fruit market and decide what I’m going to do at the weekend for my desserts and freshly squeezed juices. I get people asking me for a strawberry dessert in January and I have to say ‘sorry,’ because you can’t get good strawberries here in the winter.
“If you came here in December you would find desserts with pineapple or coconut, but as the months go on you see raspberry and blackberry and that’s good for me, because it means I get the fruit at a good price, and it’s good for customers because the fruit is at its best.”
What makes his sweet treats even more enticing is they don’t have to cost you a fortune. For example, you can have seven of his freshly baked chouquettes for £2.50, or a plain madeleine for just £1. There isn’t much you can buy for a pound these days and even less that can impart this kind of satisfaction.
He’s open from Wednesday to Sunday (Monday is his rest day) and starts work around 7am. During the week he’s a one-man band but on Fridays and Saturdays he has a local girl, who wants to be a pastry chef, working alongside him.
Some days are quiet others aren’t. Today he’s concentrating on madeleines – a freshly baked batch is filling the room with kind of intoxicating aromas that Proust was so enamoured with (and I can see why) – and chocolates, which he makes every two weeks. “I use very good chocolate and I want people to be able to taste it, so I create a balance between the chocolate and the filling,” he explains. Having sampled one I can vouch for both their balance and their deliciousness.
Next weekend, though, not only his pastry skills but his stamina will be put to the test when the annual Malton Food Lovers Festival returns.
In its first year the festival had 25 stalls and attracted around 1,500 visitors. Now it has more than 160 stalls, as well as talks, tastings and celebrity chefs and last year more than 30,000 people descended on the pretty market town, some travelling from as far away as Brighton, London and Newcastle.
“I’m a bit scared,” says Florian, half jokingly. It’s the first festival he will have experienced since opening his patisserie and this year he’s also taken one of the stalls.
“Last year it was a sunny day and it was packed.” So how much did he sell? “Hundreds and hundreds.” And that was just the macarons.
He’s clearly fallen in love with Yorkshire and the people, which is why he and his wife have no intention of heading back to France. And why would he, when he’s got so many appreciative customers?
Not that he takes his job for granted. “It is difficult to make sure everything is always the same quality. It’s no good having the chocolate shiny one day and not very shiny the next. But I enjoy it when everything comes out right, it gives me great satisfaction.
“And when I see customers coming back for more because they liked it so much... to me that’s beyond satisfaction.”