It’s over a year ago since we first visited Grace Patisserie in Wellington (see Cuisine September 2019) where wife-and-husband team Mariah and Andrew Grace had newly opened to share their flair for classical French-patisserie techniques and unusual Asian-inspired flavour pairings. Far from taking baby steps, the couple has stormed through the year, working with big-name brands, hosting pop-ups, introducing a high-tea service and achieving fabulousness at Wellington On A Plate 2019.

Approached by chocolate-makers Whittakers to showcase their artisan chocolate range, Mariah crafted the Fijian ginger and Kerikeri mandarin dark chocolate into a craquelin-crusted chocolate choux filled with mandarin-and-ginger chocolate cremeux and topped with frozen mandarin marmalade and a ruff of snow-white ginger-infused Italian meringue.

From big business to ultra-boutique, Mariah and Andrew have an ongoing collaboration with Kevin Ngadisastra and Louise Ing of Townhouse Ramen (see Cuisine September 2020) with Grace being a home base to host their wildly popular ramen pop-ups. While Kevin dishes up bowls of expertly executed ramen, Mariah and her team serve desserts specially created with lightness and freshness to counterpoint the richness of the ramen, such as a lemongrass mousse with green apple and pear sorbet, mint sponge, Greek yoghurt and pistachio praline.

Grace’s high tea has quickly garnered a swathe of enthusiastic followers, including Wellington’s High Tea Honeys – a group of ladies who know their finger sandwiches from their friands – who coo over tiers of stacked savouries and ever-so-pretty sweets, served in the elegant, pared-back café surrounds. Again, it’s the flashes of the unexpected that stand out, those pairings of flavours that surprise; think a sweetcorn and coconut macaron, one of last season’s surprise favourites. “For the spring menu I’ve been experimenting with sea buckthorn,” says Mariah. “I saw it used in Ukraine and it has a unique sour flavour which I’ll pair with hazelnut.” With seasonal influences dictating the selection of petits gateaux flavours, fans eagerly anticipate each season’s range hoping for new iterations, last year’s favourite matches appearing in a fresh guise.

Thus for the cookie recipes created for Cuisine, the crowd-favourite jasmine tea and apricot macaron flavour is recreated as a pretty pastel shortbread, and the blending of rose with touches of lychee and raspberry jumps from a macaron to a contemporary take on a Linzer cookie.

Admiring the sophisticated look of the cookies on the following pages, don’t be fooled into thinking that cool elegance is the only way to roll. Keen to showcase what they can do, Mariah created ‘The Egg’ for Wellington On A Plate 2019, a dazzlingly ambitious stage for these newbies in the Wellington line-up to strut their skills. ‘The Egg’ – which won Best Festival Dish of the year – was a creation that encapsulated not just the trademark amazing flavours – coconut mousse, passionfruit curd, tropical mint compote, hazelnut moelleux – but bags of drama, too, as the diner, when presented with a perfect egg perched in a kataifi pastry nest, cracked through the chocolate shell to reveal a glorious sunshine-yellow ‘yolk’.

If all this has whetted your appetite for what Grace has in store for Wellington On A Plate 2020, I’m sorry to tell you that their pop-up collaboration with chef William Mordido of Buko is sold out – yes, for all three nights. Promising a four-course dessert dégustation, each dish is inspired by one of nature’s four elements – earth, water, fire and air – and will be matched with ethically sourced and certified organic teas by Noble & Savage. Get on that waitlist now.

In the meantime, have a go at Mariah’s beautiful cookies presented here. “Making the dough, rolling out and cutting the cookies is very easy,” she insists, while admitting that the decoration could be a bit more of a challenge. “It’s really just dabbing blobs of colour,” she says of the delicately coloured watercolour sablés, though I have to say that Mariah’s blobs of colour look so much more stylish than mine. TRACY WHITMEY