Milk Crate & August
Friend crushes… I’ve had a few. But it is easy when I meet so many amazing people as a result of this blog. I mean, these are my type of people - we can talk about our crushes on David Chang, how we are desperate to eat at Noma or bitch about how there is NO RAMEN SHOP IN WELLINGTON. I love it, I’m finally home, these people get me.
Agnes Almeida was prime for friend crushing. First she is a chocolatier, second, she bakes the most beautiful cakes and third she is so damn cute I want to eat her up (I bet she would taste amazing). Agnes is the pastry chef and chocolatier for Milk Crate and August and they are on to a great thing (as if having your cafes joined with a bookshop and art gallery respectively wasn’t already a great thing). Word is getting out about Agnes; people have been known to have her cake for lunch and Kitchenmaid (aka Stuff's Life and Style editor Lucy Correy) has snapped her up for some cute instructional videos on Stuff.
We nattered over coffee at Milk Crate and by the end we had already planned to swap cookbooks (My Ottolenghi Jerusalem for her Joe Beef, if you are interested), and she sent me off with a slice of cake (swoon). The following day I sent her a text to let her know I was planning to make a Croquembouche for my boss’ leaving party and she not only insisted I use her special Croquembouche mould, but she was on the other end of the phone the whole night being my “dial-a-pastry-chef”. Yeah...so...er that Croquembouche idea was WAY too ambitious; let’s just say if this was Masterchef, I wouldn’t have been kicked off but I definitely wouldn’t have won. But like a proud mum, Agnes gave me an “Oh well, at least you tried,” chat. Should probably leave that stuff to the experts.
You are originally from Canada - how did you end up in NZ?
I came to NZ from Montreal in 2006; my partner is from Waimate and we moved to Christchurch. I had a chocolate shop there for four years, and you know how with small businesses it is the fifth year that you start to make money back? Well, in the fourth year the earthquake happened. The building didn’t collapse or anything, but it just slumped sideways. We were able to get everything out and luckily I had insurance. I think the week before I thought to myself, “I think I’m going to cancel this insurance because it’s super expensive and what is the point?” But I didn’t get around to it and THANK GOD! That money allowed us to move to Wellington.
How did you start working at Milk Crate and August?
I was working as a pastry chef at Logan Brown, and some friends who know Ben Lenart (owner of Milk Crate and August) and told me Ben was looking for someone to do chocolate. I was still a bit, “Oh I dunno, I don’t know if I want to touch chocolate again, it’s bad joo joo,” but I met him and made him a few things and he went nuts for them! So I started doing chocolate on the side, but Logan Brown was just too exhausting - the hours were ridiculous and with a young family it was really hard. So I left there and was working at Fidels developing hot chocolates, making chocolates and doing the baking. But going from somewhere SO fancy and professional to somewhere it was mostly students, I just needed a happy medium where I could be creative and professional but have it not be too consuming. Then Ben asked if wanted to come on full time, so it was the perfect fit. I now do the chocolates at August and the baking at Milk Crate.
What do you miss about Montreal?
Poutine, in the biggest way. I tried to get Fidels to put it on the menu - they were a bit hesitant, but what’s not to like? It’s cheese, chips and gravy! There is poutine all over Canada, but nowhere does it as good as Montreal. After work we would always go for poutine and beers.
How long have you worked as a pastry chef?
Since 2001. I was going to be a French and Spanish translator, so I went and did a year abroad in Provence. There were four pastry shops on my way to school, and I would zig zag to each one. TEN KILOS LATER I was like, “I think I want to be a pastry chef,” while stuffing my face with strawberry tarts. I dropped out of uni, ate everything in France, went back to Canada and enrolled in a pastry course in Vancouver.
Who taught you everything you know?
My professor at pastry school, Patrice; he was incredible. He is fifth-generation pastry. It was really helpful to have that French degree, because all the teachers were French, so I was able to converse with them and it made me the apple of their eye. They hooked me up with a great job after graduation at the five star chateau Auberge Hatley. However, one day when I was at the airport, I was watching the news and there it was, on fire. It was really sad, there were a lot of great chefs there that have now dispersed. But a lot of it is also self-taught; I’m constantly buying cookbooks on Amazon.
Who do you admire in the pastry world?
Christina Tosi, I LOVE HER, I just want to be her friend, the way she writes she is so cool (Agnes may not know it but that is a classic friend crush right there!). I like Tosi’s stuff because it is very North American,. I’ve tried to do a bit of that here, but I find New Zealanders are a bit like, “But, I like my lamingtons, and where are the yoyos?” and I just want to put pretzels in their chocolate! You will love it, just try it. But I’m getting into my melting moments! I’m just adding maple or something.
I love Janice Wong at 2am dessert bar in Singapore. She does a lot more molecular stuff.
Here in New Zealand, I admire Juan Balsani from Kermadec - he just opened up a dessert restaurant in Britomart. His stuff is incredible.
What is your favourite thing to bake?
I’m liking the layer cakes with the exposed icing, you can see the work that goes into them. We do a chocolate and Milo layer cake at Milk Crate, which I’m a fan of.
Do you see any food trends coming up?
I’m hoping with a new dessert restaurant opening in Auckland that someone will have the guts to do it here. I keep asking Ben to open this place up at night for desserts and cocktails. I mean there is one place in Wellington, but it’s not very good. The concept is good: desserts and drinks before or after a show, it is just terribly executed.
What do you love most about chocolate?
I love that it is so forgiving. A lot of people hate working with it, think it is scary and think that they will ruin it, but even if you do ‘ruin’ it, say you under temper it, you can always add cream and turn it into a ganache, add whipped cream to that ganache you can turn it into a mousse, freeze that mousse, now it’s an ice cream. You know what I mean? It’s just the best medium. I love it because I make a lot of mistakes. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that, but I guess the best thing about me is that I can take that mistake and turn it into something else.
What makes a good chocolatier?
Being able to go with the flow.
What ingredient could you not live without?
I’m loving the Hailala vanilla bean paste, it is so amazing. Valrhona chocolate, oh man, Valrhona chocolate, it is so good. And good coffee - being able to make ganache out of Peoples Coffee makes it so much easier, as the ingredient is such high quality.
What would you eat for your Last Supper?
Poutine, for sure.
And for dessert?
That’s really hard, eh. I love a good lemon something, like a lemon meringue pie.
Where do you eat in Wellington?
The French Cancan in Newtown. Sophie and Eric Hausser are from France, Eric is a two-star Michelin chef de la cuisine. It is down in the Lychgate mall. You go through this weird mall thing, there is a dentist and a hand therapist and all the way at the back is this little chunk of Paris - the lemon meringue tart and the coffee eclair, you must try them. I was going everyday for a while, but I had to stop; it was getting out of control. I love Monterey, those Halloumi burgers are the love of my life. Six Barrel Soda for the sliders, I go in for one but I want five! I love Tatsushi - that is the most authentic Japanese in Wellington.
What do you make for yourself on a day off?
We eat a lot of Japanese at home; we lived there with the kids for two years. We get half a side of salmon and slice that up and have sashimi on bowls rice. The kids also love ice cream, so I make my own ice cream at home andwe dig into that.
Do you have a favourite junk food?
Zany Zeus’s Banana Split; it is the size of your arm for like $7.
Best childhood memory around food?
I have a fascination with pink cakes. I was about six and my mum had forgotten to pack me a lunch for a school trip. I was really embarrassed. It got out that I didn’t have a lunch and this one boy, I wish I remembered his name, gave me this pink cake. It was almost like a lamington - a sponge roll that was pink with coconut and jam inside. After that I just loved pink cakes. I didn’t fall in love with the boy, I fell in love with the cake.
If you could eliminate one food item from the world
Macarons. McDonalds has started doing them; let’s get them out of here!
What is the new Macaron?
Whoopie pies are becoming big, but I say bring the donut back.
Do you have a favourite gadget in your kitchen?
I have these antique chocolate molds that I covet, and I can't live without my Kenwood mixer. It is so old but it does the trick.
What are your future plans?
Ben wants to come up with a line of chocolate bars. Ivan, who works as a barista at August, is also a paper artist. He is going to design our boxes. Tom, who also works there, will be screen-printing them. It is going to be this beautiful artistic chocolate. In the wintertime, we are going to launch our own single origin hot chocolates. That is going to be really exciting. And I guess just trying to convince Ben to open a dessert bar!
Milk Crate, 35 Ghuznee St, Te Aro, Wellington
04 802 5960
August, 13 Garrett Street, Wellington