Culinary Inspirations: Behind the Scenes with Sweet Soul Pâtisserie's Rea Scur
As a passionate Francophile and self-confessed sweet tooth, Nicola Amy Hinman was rather excited to chat with Rea Scur, one half of the incredibly talented sister duo behind Christchurch Ōtautahi’s favourite pâtisserie, about her culinary inspirations and the creative process behind their exquisite desserts.
Interview by: Nicola Amy Hinman
Photo by: Nancy Zhou
If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of experiencing Sweet Soul Pâtisserie for yourself, then imagine for a moment that you’re stepping off the bustling city streets of Paris into the quiet, refined elegance of a luxury boutique. Allow your imagination to roam further to an enticing display of the most immaculately presented desserts you’ve ever laid eyes on.
A trip to Sweet Soul is indeed a veritable feast for all the senses. The quintessentially European experience that the Scur sisters have succeeded in recreating here in Christchurch is definitely one not to miss. Rea was kind enough to share with us some behind the scenes stories from their Parisian-inspired patisserie and some heartfelt moments from their life before Sweet Soul.
How did you both end up in New Zealand?
Taina came first during a uni break when she was studying law. She just came for a six month English exchange, but decided to stay for longer because she loved it so much! Later on, I came here for a visit and also loved it so I decided to stay too. We love the lifestyle here with the beautiful landscapes and lots of outdoor activities. We were also very young when we first came here and loved that in New Zealand we could make friends from all over the world and learn about different languages and cultures.
What was the community and culture like where you grew up in Brazil?
The south of Brazil has a very large population of Italian and German immigrants. It is a very unique part of Brazil that feels quite European. Brazil is very multicultural in general, with many different cultures migrating to certain parts of the country. There is also a huge range of climates within the country, so the variety of food we can produce is very diverse. Where we are from, the food had a lot of German and Italian influences. Our Dad was actually a second generation Italian, and he was a great cook!
Can you share a few of your favourite childhood memories around food?
Mum used to bake bread from scratch, and we loved the smell of the fresh bread so much that we couldn't wait to eat it. She would also make some little buns for us because we were too impatient to wait for the loaf of bread to cool down.
Hanging out in the kitchen with our family was so much fun and always a good time for connection. Everyone would gather round the big wooden table and make ravioli or tortellini together. There would be a table full of dough and fillings and flour everywhere. It was very messy and playful.
We did a lot of cooking, mostly with our Dad and our Grandma. Everyone loved it, but especially our Dad; he was very passionate about cooking. Every year he would make us special cakes to take to school on our birthday. Where we lived every kid would bring a cake to school on their birthday to share with everyone. Sometimes Dad would make a tiramisu for me to take in a big square dish. Tiramisu was my favourite because I really loved coffee flavour when I was a kid.
I understand that you are a trained pastry chef. Can you tell me a bit about your training?
Yes, when I was living down in Queenstown, I went to chef school in Central Otago. I mainly focused on bakery, and I became very passionate about French pâtisserie. I started to research where I could train in pâtisserie, but there were no schools in New Zealand or Australia back then, so I ended up studying at a very small traditional pastry school in Paris called Bellouet Conseil. Many of the tutors were renowned Parisian pastry chefs, so I was learning from the very best. I also did a few professional courses at Le Cordon Bleu Institute while I was there and travelled around the country learning as much as I could. It’s been eight years since I was in Paris studying, and I’m very excited to go back for a visit this year.
Who are your culinary inspirations?
The things I saw in Paris really inspired me. I especially loved Pierre Hermé who is known for creating the famous rose petal macaron. The level of quality in his shops is insane. Many shops lose quality when they franchise, but Pierre’s has not in any way.
I’m also very impressed by Cedric Grolet. He does a modern take on many classic dishes, and his technique is very special. I really love his work and the textures he creates.
Can you tell us about how Sweet Soul came about?
It was very spontaneous, actually. I had trouble finding pâtisserie work when I came back to New Zealand after my training. We realised we had accidentally found a niche market, and Taina suggested we open a shop. Originally we started small and takeaway style like a classic French Pâtisserie. We only had three small tables at first, but we discovered that people in Christchurch preferred to dine in, so we had to expand and create an outdoor seating area also.
We wanted to stay open late into the evening and serve champagne with our desserts. Our first location wasn’t quite the right place for that, but when we moved premises, we were finally able to make that happen.
What are your favourite desserts to make for Sweet Soul?
Our signature red apple dessert is very special to me. It was the first one I created for our shop, and it took me a very long time to get it right. The contrast I wanted to create between the bright, mesmerising glaze and cutting through to the light panna cotta style inside was quite hard to achieve, and it took me a month to be happy with the results.
Another dessert I’ve really enjoyed creating is a new one called Winter Exotic, made with the South American tonka bean. It has a very unique flavour that’s a little bit like vanilla, and our customers have really loved it! I also really love making the classics. Choux pastry is my favourite.
Could you elaborate on why you’ve chosen to create many of your desserts with food allergies and dietary preferences in mind?
We want to cater to everyone so that everyone is able to enjoy our desserts, and we discovered that a lot of people have dietary limitations in New Zealand. It is a challenge to look at a traditional French pastry, and then try to work out how to recreate it without gluten or nuts or dairy. It takes quite a lot of trial and study, but I really enjoy the challenge. I did some further studies last year in food chemistry, and that has been very helpful for working out how to create these recipes. About 90% of our range now is gluten free and we are hoping to achieve a similar percentage for vegan desserts.
Can you tell me about your principles for sourcing ingredients?
For ingredients, we always ask, ‘Where can we get the very best?’ so we don’t focus on just one maker or brand. We are able to source many ingredients locally, like fresh produce for our fruit purees and locally roasted Embassy coffee. We love using Trade Aid’s milk chocolate which is made here in Christchurch. However, French champagne is the best, so we source that from France, and I also like to use some very high quality dark chocolate from France and Belgium.
Could you tell me a bit about the process for creating your desserts?
We change our dessert offerings quite regularly, which is usually influenced by important dates or holidays and the seasons. People love to give our desserts as gifts, so this approach works well.
We usually start with a broad idea or concept and then work inwards. Whenever we are working on a new campaign, the whole team gets together to brainstorm ideas. After the initial brainstorm, we refine those ideas, and I start experimenting. Then we get our staff to vote for their favourite flavour pairings.
We love including our staff in this process because they often have very specific feedback to share from customers. It also helps them to feel very connected to what they are serving, and they get so excited when we are creating something new. It is a lot more work to do things this way, but we think it is worth it.
What has it been like running a business with your sister?
Our two different training and career backgrounds are very complimentary, which has been so helpful. Taina is amazing at focusing on the customer side and especially the marketing so I get to just enjoy being creative in the kitchen without worrying about the business. There is a great level of trust because we are family, so we can give each other space to take charge in our own specific areas. We don’t agree sometimes, but our close relationship means we can be honest without any hard feelings.
What do you hope people's experience will be when they visit Sweet Soul?
We want to give them that ‘Wow!’ effect. We want people to feel very impressed when they look at our cabinet. I like to combine different techniques to create something that looks very surprising. I still remember my first time cutting through a French dessert and being so amazed by the different textures and layers. I want to recreate that first experience for our customers.
Our focus is always on high quality and a lovely experience. Because of this, we have close relationships with many of our customers, and they often come to dine with us when they are celebrating a special achievement or event.
Lastly, do you have any special plans for Sweet Soul in the near future?
Yes, we are working on some new ideas that we are excited to share later this year. We are pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones and will be extending our range in a way that’s different to what we are doing now. People really love sharing our desserts with their family and friends, but unfortunately, our desserts can’t travel very long distances, so this is something we are thinking about. We’re hoping to find a way that our customers will get to share a little bit of Sweet Soul with more of the people that they love.
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