For Troy Hindmarch, perfection starts with a 12.30am wake-up.
While most of the Illawarra is moving towards their deepest sleeping hours, he’s switching on the lights at his new Manning Street, Kiama cafe, Parfait Patisserie. It’s the dawn of another 15-hour day.
Hindmarch was 15 years old and in the early stages of a plumbing apprenticeship when the business he was working for went bust and set him on another course.
Faced with a choice of returning to classes at Bowral High, or finding other work, he took the only other apprenticeship going – at Bowral’s famed Gumnut Patisserie.
He worked there for eight years, learning the finer points of bread and pies under the tutelage of patisserie owner Tracy Nickl. Then there was the petite gateaux – precious-looking cakes that come with all the layers and detail of the full version, at a fiddley, time-consuming fraction of the size.
From hands that would have once brandished a plunger and a wrench, Hindmarch’s creations took him to two national titles at TAFE’s Worldskills Australia (he won gold in the retail baking-pastry category in 2015 and 2016).
The Manning Street cafe, co-owned with wife Samantha Hindmarch, marks his first solo venture, and business is booming.
Customers are greeted by a display window of little cakes that are the stuff of food porn dreams.
There are some familiar ones, like lemon meringue, and some more inventive creations, like matcha nutella praline crunch.
A pale green dome, topped with a tiny pink macaron, is Hindmarch’s take on the apple pie – a spiced cinnamon mousse wrapped around a vanilla cremeux, with a fresh apple jelly layer on top of a short crust base.
For Hindmarch, it’s parfait by name, parfait by nature.
“There is an extreme amount of labour in my cakes,” he said.
“Doing many competitions and also my training have drummed into me that there’s no point doing something sub-standard.
“The price of butter in Australia is extremely excessive, so most people can only really justify using margarine or man-made fat, whereas I’d much rather sacrifice the profit and give a better quality product.”
Hindmarch laments the hardened, days-old, defrosted croissants that are the norm at many Australian cafes. His are the real deal, rolled daily in the dark hours with pastry chef Alexander Miller, served light and flaky and – on the rare occasions he doesn’t sell out – donated to food charities at day’s end.
“Most cafes around use frozen croissants, which is really sad,” he said.
“If you go to big, commercial places, they’re in packets, wrapped up 12 in a box, and you don’t know how long they’ve been there.
“Here, if it’s not sold on the day, they go out. There’s no way we’d sell them the next day.”
Hindmarch sees himself as a product of the TAFE system and the competitions and access to industry leaders that came with it. He sees value in sharing industry knowledge, in the hope of lifting standards across the board, and would like to take on his own apprentice.
The 15-hour days may be difficult to sustain, he acknowledges, and the lifestyle is likely a big part of the reason he is struggling to find someone “of the calibre I want”.
“It does’t take much skill. It’s more about passion, and basically how bad you want it,” he said.
“The hours are extreme, so you need to adapt your life around your work. It’s quite hard, but you get used to it. It’s bringing me lots of happiness.”