• The pavlova is considered a national dessert. Here, it's given a French twist. (La Pav)Source: La Pav
Johann Vanier fuses French patisserie techniques with fresh Australian produce to make a fanciful pavlova worthy of any dinner party.
Melissa Woodley

14 Sep 2021 - 2:07 PM  UPDATED 15 Sep 2021 - 12:01 PM

It's hard to find a more classic Australian dessert than the good old pavlova. Along with Vegemite and lamingtons, this family favourite is considered a national favourite. However, one chef is on a mission to redefine the "pav". 

La Pav is the brainchild of French pastry chef Johann Vanier and his Australian-born wife, Benita. Mirroring their French-Australian love story, La Pav marries refined French patisserie techniques with the own food story and flavours of Australia. 

Over the past decade, Johann has honed his skills working in the pastry sections of hatted restaurants, five-star hotels and patisseries across the world. Since moving to Australia five years ago, he has worked as head pastry chef at the Public Dining Room in Sydney's lower north shore and most recently as executive chef at a high-end pastry wholesaler. Johann was on a three-week holiday ahead of starting a new role when New South Wales' first COVID-19 lockdown hit in early 2020. He'd always been tempted by the idea of starting his own pastry business and took this as an opportunity to give it a crack. 

Despite being Australia's number one dessert, Johann had been disappointed by the pavlovas he'd eaten at family barbecues and parties. They were often nothing more than a sugary meringue base topped with whipped cream and a handful of mismatched toppings. Johann wanted to upgrade this classic meringue-and-fruit formula and give it a fine-dining touch.

Johann and Benita aligned the launch of their new business, La Pav', with Mother's Day in May 2020. They created a special raspberry, rose and macadamia flavour and did a soft promotion on social media.

"I ended up having more than 200 orders in a few days," he says. "The goal was to get 10."

Johann didn't sleep for the next two weeks. First, he scrambled to find a commercial kitchen, then he worked tirelessly for 12 to 13 hours each day making everything from scratch. He prides himself on the fact that all pavlova components are prepared fresh on the day of delivery using the highest quality ingredients. Johann sources these from local suppliers where possible, such as seasonal fruits from Hand Picked Providore and micro herbs from Urban Green Sydney. However, he does import some specialty ingredients, like Valrhona chocolate and Tahitian vanilla.

Johann then applies French patisserie techniques to create a light and fresh dessert that's balanced in taste and texture. "90 per cent of pastry techniques are French," he explains.

"There's always something crunchy and something a bit spongy so when you have a bite with everything together, it's a perfect balance."

La Pav's menu changes with the seasons and Johann has a list of over 150 flavours with which he'd like to experiment. Current offerings include Chai tea and blood orange, raspberry, rose and lychee, and their signature chocolate and hazelnut. This chocolatey version is La Pav's pride and joy and takes Johann five or six hours to make from scratch.

chef Johan in his happy place.

The process starts by gently piping out the meringue then topping it with a delicate layer of Valrhona chocolate. This is followed by creating a fluffy whipped chocolate ganache and rich, roasted hazelnut praline and finishing with garnishes.

"When I create a dessert, it’s 40 per cent the taste, 40 per cent the texture, 5 per cent the look and 15 per cent the love," Johann explains. "First will come the taste and making sure ingredients work together. Then I work on texture. There's always something crunchy and something a bit spongy so when you have a bite with everything together, it's a perfect balance."

Johann's business partner, Bernard Hajal, received one of these chocolate and hazelnut pavlovas for Father's Day last year.

"We got the box and we opened it and it was just so beautiful that we had no idea how we were to eat it," he describes. "It's an edible piece of art."

Bernard fell in love at first bite and knew he had to find a way to work with the pav perfectionist. He now takes care of the business side of things.

Johann says, "Bringing some a smile to someone's face, that's the main goal. That's what pastry is all about."

On a busy weekend, La Pav' sells upwards of 200 pavlovas. The team hopes to eventually scale its business Australia wide. The duo is also looking to engage with the community more during the lockdown. 

Bernard says, "Of course, we want to build a successful business, but there's the people aspect of that.

"Johann can start work at 2am on busy days and he doesn't do that for money," he says. "He does it out of love, and out of his passion, and we want to spread that love across Australia."

Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries.

La Pav

Unit 12, 10-18 Orchard Road, Brookvale NSW 2100

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