我家下午茶必备 -- 悉尼Black Star Pastry的西瓜蛋糕了解下。
1 September 2018 — 12:00am
When Black Star Pastry’s strawberry watermelon cake became a social media star more popular than the Sydney Opera House and Bondi Beach for Chinese tourists, Louis Li became obsessed.
Li, the 30-year-old founder of Victoria’s luxury Jackalope Hotel group, had tasted the world’s most instagrammed cake three years ago when a friend bought him a takeaway slice.
He’d watched its enormous popularity on WeChat – the Chinese social media app – via friends and relatives in Kunming, where his parents are land developers and hoteliers.
He started visiting Black Star’s four Sydney stores undercover, to observe the cult following of the "click-then-consume" cake. He was so impressed he bought the company.
As of Monday, Li, who moved to Melbourne in 2007 to study film and then undertake an MBA, will become majority shareholder and CEO in the company. He plans to take it from its humble beginnings in Australia Street, Newtown to the world.
"This cake is a phenomenon, not just a fad," said Mr Li, who plans to open Black Star stores in New York and Los Angeles as well as across Asia and Australia.
"This is a Sydney pastry that’s so iconic it will displace the lamington as the best-known Australian pastry.
"The cake is bigger than the Black Star brand itself – I was obsessed by this cake and could see it had broad appeal when I saw the queue... at the Black Star stores was evenly divided into Asian as well as Western customers."
The cake, dreamt up by Haberfield-born pastry chef Christopher Thé for a friend’s wedding, has become so much more than just two layers of almond dacquoise (a sort of meringue), rose-scented cream, watermelon and strawberries, garnished with pistachios and dried rose petals.
Thanks to a partnership with Destination NSW it is now a tourist attraction. Busloads of Chinese visitors visit Blackstar’s Rosebery premises, and tourists regularly make the shop near the airport their first port of call or last, visiting with eskies and ice to take the cake back to eager consumers in Asia. Pop-up stores in Melbourne, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan were met with a frenzy of interest, with the company’s signature cake now shifting more than 16,632 slices a week.
The partnership will allow Mr Thé to focus more on research and development of other new sweet sensations as the company's creative director, while Mr Li will handle the business.
"I have a very Newtown/inner west mindset, but Louis has a worldwide business view," says Mr Thé. For the 46-year-old father-of-four, the sale is the culmination of a decade of hard work, rising most mornings at 3am to make pastry in his Newtown store front. As a sole trader in the early days, he coudn't afford to pay for his barista past 3pm, so did most of the work himself.
The son of a Leichhardt chemist, who was taken in by a Haberfield Catholic family when they migrated to Sydney in 1968, Mr Thé quit his university studies when he became obsessed with pastry making. After working at Claude's and Quay, he started his own boutique patisserie in 2008. There are now four Sydney stores: Newtown, Rosebery, the CBD in the Kinokuniya bookstore (which sells only the signature cake), and Moore Park, which houses the kitchen that bakes the cakes.
"A lot of people saw the picture of the cake and would want to come to taste it in real life – and then suddenly we had queues overnight in Newtown of people wanting to taste the cake as if it was a bucketlist thing you must do while in Sydney," Mr Thé said.
"When I first made it I asked myself what would romance taste like and developed these aromas that get your emotions going – it seems to work well with the Asian palate and the fragrance is so long-lasting it has a life of its own," he said.
Mr Li's $40 million five-star boutique Jackalope Hotel, which opened to guests on the Mornington Peninsula in April 2017, was awarded ‘Australia’s Hotel of the Year’ at the 2017 Gourmet Traveller Australian Hotel Guide Awards.
The former Chinese teen TV star's goal is to keep Sydney as the focus for the Black Star brand.
"I want Sydney to remain known as the roots of the brand and for people to come visit the Newtown store just like people go to Seattle to see the first Starbucks," Mr Li said.
Feeding the fans
To make 258 slabs (more than 16,000 slices) of strawberry watermelon cake 30 Black Star Pastry chefs require:
- Two tonnes of watermelon from Flemington Markets
- 300 kilos of strawberries
- 900 litres of cream (in short supply because of the drought)
- 100 litres of rosewater (imported from Iran)
- Nine kilos (6 1.5 kilo boxes) of rose petals (also imported from Iran).
- 20 kilos of pistachios