FIRST there was Chez Louis, then L’Epicerie …
Now another French couple are adding to the flavour fabric of Whakatane with their fresh pasta food truck Le French Corner.
The eye-catching black-and-white trailer, based at the Wharaurangi plaza on The Strand, has been sign-written with words that epitomise the casual dining experience Gaelle and Martin Lachaud are hoping to introduce – words like enjoy, health, tasty and bon appetit.
The couple, who moved to Ohope 18 months ago with their two children Nina, 8, and Ruben, 4, have a long association with the food industry in Europe and since arriving in the Eastern Bay have been working at Chez Louis.
In fact, pizza chef Louis Desbats can take much of the credit for convincing the Lachauds to set up home here.
Gaelle says the sunshine was a big drawcard along with the sea because they came from a mountain area of France and Martin loved to surf.
They thought about Christchurch but found it too noisy with all the construction taking place, and also considered Whakatane’s sunshine rival Nelson. “But then we met Louis and he said give Ohope a chance. So, we did – and I’m pleased we did.”
Martin is now working as a chef at Fisherman’s Wharf Cafe, leaving Gaelle in charge of Le French Corner.
After living and working together for the past 10 years, they’re both looking forward to being able to go home and ask about each other’s days without already knowing the answer.
Having become well-settled in the community, and with an open work visa, Gaelle says she looked at whether she wanted to be employed by someone else or have her own business. Describing herself and Martin as “challenge people and adventure people” she decided working for herself was the way to go – it was just a matter of deciding what sort of food business to open.
They talked about different possibilities including a restaurant and an ice-cream shop before settling on pasta.
“We noticed there was no pasta in town, and it’s a pretty healthy food. I thought I’m going to bring a little bit of French cuisine into Whakatane.”
‘But pasta’s not French, it’s Italian’, you might say. And Gaelle doesn’t disagree although she says pasta is strong around the Mediterranean coast of France where it borders Italy. Hers will be pasta with a French recipe.
She admits considering – albeit briefly – calling the food truck Italian Corner, but it didn’t have the same ring to it – and she’s not Italian. So, while the name might have better reflected her main dish, it wouldn’t have reflected who she is, and the French spirit and culture that infuses the food.
One of the things that annoys her is people using the French spirit and culture – or any other culture – when it’s not authentic.
It’s been a rapid journey from developing the business idea to securing a year-long contract from Whakatane District Council to operate from Wharaurangi. The trailer, made by CB Transporters in Te Awamutu, a company they discovered while attending the Fine Food Show in Auckland in June, will be open for business following an on-site blessing on Friday morning.
Gaelle is planning to operate five days a week, Tuesday to Saturday, from 10am, but depending on the season may be open seven days.
All the preparation will be done at her home in Ohope in the mornings as far as making the sauces and pasta dough. There’s no packet pasta – dry or fresh – to be seen here with Gaelle making her own from durum wheat flour.
She was worried initially that she would have to import flour from Italy but, thankfully, managed to find suitable pasta flour in New Zealand, from a mill in the South Island.
“For people to know that it’s not just taken from a packet is really important to us,” she says. “And because it’s fresh, it only takes two-and-a-half to three minutes to cook. People think pasta is not healthy so the challenge will be to educate them that is can be – just don’t add too much sauce and too much cheese.
The creation of the pasta will be part of the show for customers with an extrusion machine in the trailer allowing them to see the pasta being made, then popped into the pot of boiling water. Around three minutes later they will be eating.
She’s planning to offer three different sauces, which will be changed regularly depending on the season and customer preferences. She wants to make sure her regulars do not reach the point of thinking “oh no, chicken bolognaise again”
As for what the future holds…
Gaelle plans to introduce soup in the winter. Belgian waffles and desserts, eaten from a takeaway box, like chocolate mousse, deconstructed lemon tart and panna cotta. Takeaway pasta deliveries are also a possibility, they are just finalising the best packaging.
“I’ve got millions of ideas – I just need time to achieve them,” she says.