Madame Macaron: How I left the mega corporate life and became Madame Macaron in Canberra

Madame Macaron: How I left the mega corporate life and became Madame Macaron in Canberra

25 June 2014


SHE’S worked as an occupational therapist, corporate big wig, TV presenter and media adviser to the Deputy PM. Meet the woman who gave it up to make macarons.

SHE has worked as an occupational therapist, a high-flying corporate player, a radio and TV presenter, and as a media adviser for the Deputy PM. Meet Marilyn — her friends call her Madame Macaron.

“It all started in 1975. I marched into Sydney wearing a pavement-length black Laura Ashley tent dress, eight months pregnant, with a pillowcase pinned to my dress painted with the words ‘fight for the right to control your own childbirth’. If anyone had told me then that some 35 years later I would be starting a business making macarons and working in a kitchen making biscuits, cakes and pastries I would have been appalled. Women were meant to be getting out of the kitchen, not back into it,” she laughs.

Together with her son Owen, Marilyn runs a busy patisserie — Dream Cuisine — in Fyshwick, Canberra. Although Madame Macaron does sell macarons, you’ll also get all sorts of desserts and pastry delicacies, and recently they’ve introduced an a la carte menu, too.

Q. When did you decided to start baking?

A. When my son Owen was in his 30s, and almost an engineer, he was finding it hard to focus on his engineering project and wanted to work. We decided to run a market stall for a few months. Our business plan was simple — we can do this! He had often worked as a pastry chef, and I had been to Paris and loved macarons.

Q. Canberra and macarons. Why?

A. Well, there weren’t any good ones being made here, and I have lived here since 1977. The first one I made was a raspberry macaron that was from a Gourmet Traveller magazine (they were on the front cover). Then we had a diverse group of people who tried them out and they all said they were too sweet, so we set about reducing the sugar content, and making the filling more flavoursome.

Q. And that was it? You decided to change your lives?

A. We wanted to do something creative and cooking made sense. We were both at a loose end at the same time in the same town. Owen had moved back to Canberra from Melbourne and we have always connected on cooking. He used to help me bake when he was little … then he got better than me. So we started to try and make macrons in November 2009, and we opened for business in early 2010 at the Capital Region Farmers Market.

Q. So how did you progress from market stall to Dream Cuisine?

A. While I was trying to make a perfect macaron Owen was registering our business and we went to talk to the Farmers Market and applied for a stall. We needed to find a commercial kitchen to get a tick from the health department. We camped for two days a week in a kitchen in Fyshwick, and paid them in macarons. At that stage we made 80 macarons a week and about 40 tarts. Now we make 3,000 a week and sell them wholesale to about 10 cafes, at the Farmers Market, at the Old Bus Depot market and in our shop in Fyshwick which we opened a year ago and are about to extend next door. And of course we sell hundreds of pastries — croissants, danishes, pain au chocolat, tarts and very large cakes for birthdays.

Q. Were there times when you felt it was too much?

A. In the first year that we were operating I spent about 12 hour days on my feet. I learnt what it was like being so physically tired that at the end of the day you just come home and go to bed. At times when I was using the commercial washing up machine and doing batch after batch of washing up I thought: I am mad. This is a woman who has worked for the Deputy Prime Minister and used to read the news on the ABC, and here you are spending hours of your day washing up? I struggled with working with my hands. I could hear the voice of my grandmother, Lady Chalkley, scolding me for being in trade.

But what sustained me was that we did not compromise. Owen is a master at finding the best Australian ingredients. We sourced the freshest almonds. We found a vanilla grower in the Daintree. We found an amazing flour miller with organically grown wheat. We experimented with using nuts other than almonds to make macarons. Recently one of our three apprentices invented a peanut macaron filled with chocolate and salted caramel. In 2012 we won a silver medal in the Sydney Fine Food Awards for our pistachio and lime macaron.

Q. Do people really call you Madame Macaron?

A. It was a joke. When we got our business cards made we thought we would call Owen King of Tarts, and so I had to have an equivalent — so we thought of Madame Macaron. My friends call me that sometimes — as a joke.

Q. Have any of your past careers helped you with what you are doing today?

A. Yes, I think so. Running a small business is actually very complex and you have to be good at accounts and budgeting, good at marketing and staff management, and you have to have technical skills. In our case knowing how to make some of the trickiest products in the book, macarons and good pastry. Being an occupational therapist teaches you that anything is possible, and that training has stayed with me.

You can visit Dream Cuisine at 9/18 Whyalla Street, Fyshwick, ACT, (02) 6162 2021.

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