Wendy Lau has had a thing for sweet treats for as long as she can remember; she recalls fond memories of growing up in Brunei, baking soft, swirly marble cake with her mum and picking up treats like ondeh ondeh (a mochi-style ball filled with gula melaka (palm sugar) and covered in freshly grated coconut) with her family after their weekly market shop. “Being raised in a Muslim country where people don’t drink, the focus on food is huge. We meet up with friends for cake and desserts a lot – it’s part of how we socialise.”

But as much as she loved baking it wasn’t immediately something she considered doing full-time. “I actually studied architecture in Scotland because I loved maths and art and it seemed like a good combination, but it really didn’t work for me and I ended up going back to Brunei after just two years,” says Wendy. She worked for a while in her parents’ electronics business and made sugar cookies on the side with her sister, selling them online. Yet the more she baked, the more her passion grew. The call towards a career in patisserie got stronger and stronger, and eventually (after many long, intense discussions) she convinced her parents to let her study in Wellington at Le Cordon Bleu.

Wendy loved learning the intricacies of classic baking techniques and when she graduated in 2017, she moved to Auckland landing her first job at crowd favourite Amano. Roles at Ozone Coffee and The Sugar Club followed before lockdown hit in 2020 and – like many people in hospitality – this enforced pause gave her time to reflect on her next steps and career direction. She gathered up her courage, started an Instagram account showcasing her clever creations, and before long was selling assorted dessert boxes to delighted customers.

“I guess I realised at that point there was a market for what I was doing, combining what I’d learned at Le Cordon Bleu with my favourite Asian flavours, and even though I went back into a job at a café when lockdown lifted, it was always on my mind to open my own shop.” After testing out retail at a couple of smaller markets, the real opportunity arose when a space became available on Dominion Road at the end of 2021. “I knew it would be the perfect place to open as what I was making would appeal to an Asian clientele, at least initially.”

And so Folds Patisserie was born, where customers were thrilled to find tastes of their childhood in creative new formats: beef rendang and kaya toast in stuffed-croissant form; Wendy’s beloved ondeh ondeh reimagined as a fluffy swiss roll; pandan lamingtons; and matcha yuzu cheesecake that looked like mini works of art. “It was so great to see everyone so excited, especially the older Malaysian people, who were the first to come.”

Before long there were younger visitors and adventurous New Zealanders poking their heads in, too. “People were really willing to try new things and it was so great to be proud of what I was making and not have people look at it weirdly.”

And 18 months in, there are no signs of any dip in popularity, with Folds’ regular monthly high teas adding to the fun, too. It’s a chance for Wendy to mix up her sweet favourites with savoury options such as a clever salted egg and curry macaron on stylish white-tiered stands. She’s even managed to make Malaysian-hawker favourite nasi lemak into a teeny-tiny tart with sambal frangipane, cucumber jelly, egg mayo and pan-fried ikan bilis (anchovies). “It’s so great to watch Asian flavours become such a big part of what Aucklanders like to eat,” Wendy says. ALEXIA SANTAMARIA