“In those days, nobody opened on Sundays. We were the first!” Madeleine remembers. “Even Franklins didn’t open on Sundays. We always had a long queue.”
“Every day!” says Hieu. “In those days not many people knew how to make French pastry croissants, which I’d learned from a pastry chef in New Caledonia. We made freshly baked croissants there, so we used to have a long queue.”
“All those trays of croissants,” Madeleine laughs. “We actually had to educate the customers about them! The croissants have to be baked quite dark in colour to get the caramelised flavour, and customers would say, ‘No your croissants are burnt!’ They were used to having these huge croissants, these big blown-out sweet bread croissants. Ours were a lot traditionally smaller and people tried them, and they loved them. They used to queue up for hot croissants and it was really rewarding to serve croissants fresh from the oven.”
Not content with starting a lauded local bakery and introducing authentic French pastry to the people of Belrose, Hieu and Madeleine decided to go traveling – but not for leisure.
“We rang up some top bakeries around the world and we just said, ‘We’re interested in working with you. Can we come over?’ So we did,” Hieu says.
The pair would find themselves working – and learning – in renowned bakehouses such as Daniel Leader’s Bread Alone in New York and La Brea in Los Angeles, where MasterChef’s Nancy Silverton plies her trade. After stopping in the Loire Valley to explore organic baking techniques, it was finally time to return to Australia.
Overflowing with newfound know-how, more successful bakeries followed – as did semi-retirement when Hieu and Madeleine had children and found financial stability.
It wasn’t long until Hieu announced: “I’m bored!”
Realising he hadn’t yet fulfilled his original dream of opening a bakery cafe in the city for the lunchtime crowd all those years ago after one fateful bite of a stale sandwich, an opportunity arose: Madeleine’s Italian godmother was just about to put a property in Surry Hills on the market. It would make the perfect eatery in the perfect location.
In 2006, the very first Taste Baguette would open, then their second, called Taste on Sussex Lane in homage to its location. Success at first seemed a little farther away. So far away that Hieu and Madeleine almost went broke. That is, until, more than a few glowing write-ups started appearing in local papers and magazines. Suddenly, the kind of queues they were used to seeing at their very first bakeries returned.
“We were serving the Westpac bankers!” laughs Madeleine. “The irony!”