All you need is the right recipe for one perfect pastry tart shell, then your options are endless – Corentin Esquenet of Butter shows you how.

It’s taken just a year for Butter, the Christchurch-based business owned by Corentin Esquenet, to achieve success off the back of an Instagram feed full of exquisite French-inspired tarts, canelés and other traditionally influenced contemporary pastry. Yet the biggest thing he has learnt in the past year is to take his time. “I’ve been taught patience by pastry. I’ve learnt that I need to put in the time that it deserves and I know that the longer I take, the better the outcome.”

Launched in July 2020, Butter is an online business, offering a small range of tarts and treats for pick-up or delivery in the Christchurch area. Just nip online and place your order, then a couple of days later pull up to the hole in the wall on Tuam Street, toot your horn and all your sweet dreams will be fulfilled (or you can have them delivered to your door).

Cut a slice from one of Corentin’s vanilla tarts and you’ll see the precision of a truly crisp pastry shell, a tender almond sponge, luscious white chocolate ganache topped with a pillowy vanilla mascarpone chantilly and a sprinkle of vanilla powder. Layer upon layer of technique and flavour eased into a six-inch shell. As in tarts, so in life. There’s Corentin’s French childhood supplemented by growing up a Kiwi. There’s his training in graphic design and photography – skills he thought he had no further need for – now driving his Instagram-fuelled business. There’s his evident prowess as a pastry chef taking him into the realms of being a small-business owner.

For Corentin, 2020 was supposed to be the year that he headed overseas to broaden his skills, gain experience and maybe even work with his pastry heroes. But we all know what happened next. Few businesses can afford a specialist pastry chef even in good times, and with hospitality reeling Corentin was forced to take the decision to set up alone.

But surprisingly the timing couldn’t have been better. With overseas holidays on hold, an upsurge of backing for the ‘support local’ trend and people looking to treat themselves with small luxuries, Corentin soon found an enthusiastic local customer base. An early supporter was his ex-boss, chef Alex Davies of Gatherings, who told Cuisine, “His product would stand up anywhere in the world and the pastries he makes are out of this world… some of the best pastry I’ve ever seen.”

Corentin has fulsome praise for his adopted home town. “I have never seen the type of support that is in Christchurch, especially the support that the restaurant and hospitality businesses give each other. Businesses have become more open, generous and customer-leaning as a result of COVID.” And he pays it forward, too, sourcing his ingredients locally where possible. In fact he believes that French patisserie is particularly suited to Kiwi ingredients, as the essential butter, eggs and milk which form the basis of classic pastry are all world-class in New Zealand. “With Kiwi products the quality is so high that it makes French pastry even better.” TRACY WHITMEY