Dessert constructor and sugar shop owner Darren Purchese talks to Gemima Cody about his new book and having his fingers in a lot of pies
Darren Purchese is sweet-fanged candy bad-ass. His kitchen is equipped with liquid nitrogen and Bunnings paint guns. He’s currently working on a dessert using tomato and beer, and his new book, Sweet Studio, may boast the only glossary where ‘kaiserfleisch’ follows ‘kaolin edible clay’.
But don’t take him to be some eccentric lolly-thrower (“I’m not Adriano Zumbo,” as he puts it). Darren Purchese is as much a chemist and an architect as he is a pastry chef, and for him, it’s all about order. “I like the precision of the pastry side of the kitchen. I like to know how every ingredient works.”
Breaking things down is kind of Purchese’s thing. At his Chapel Street store, Burch and Purchese, as many sugar groupies gather to stuff their bags with ready-made smoked white chocolate, aniseed and coffee desserts as to pick up components: spreads, ice creams and coconut caviar, for taking a crack at making something at home. Apparently, the salted caramel spread has its own cult following. “We’re thinking of setting up a Facebook page for it so people can post pictures of what they're doing with it.”
His book follows suit. Between the puffy covers lie recipes for cake bases, glazes and gin and tonic marshmallows; with the fully constructed cakes and desserts at the back. “The book’s set out in such a way that these things which look impossible to make are really achievable. If you aren’t confident to do a whole dessert right away, just make the coffee crumb and run it through vanilla ice-cream.”
It may seem strange for someone whose success is based on their unique products to come out with a tell-all book. But Purchese, who had no formal training before he fell into his first chef job traveling Europe, gets as much of a kick out of teaching as he does creating. “There’s no point guarding a recipe. What are you going to do? Take it with you when you die? If you put everything out there, it just
improves the general skill level of home cooks, and it forces me to try and come up with something new and innovative. Otherwise, you just end up doing the same stuff.”
Purchese may be the busiest man in desserts. He’s about to go national with an online store; he’s just collaborated with Connoisseur to create a salted caramel ice cream, and, y’know, because being at the
store almost seven days a week, working events, and appearing on MasterChef isn’t enough, he’s about to start doing dessert evenings.
“I miss plating up desserts. But I like the store set-up too. I was locked away in the kitchen for years, and here I get to see the genuine joy on people’s faces when they come in and hear the sweet soundtrack.” That’s a 300-song loop of sugar themed music, in case you’re wondering. “We’ve had it on for 18 months and haven’t gotten sick of it,” he promises us. But we get the feeling he’d keep it up even if ‘Lollipop’ made him want to claw his face off.
“We try to do things here that nobody else does. The place smells good, and sounds good; everyone gets samples when they come in. As long as people are having fun, we’re happy.”
Sweet Studio, Murdoch Books, RRP $49.99