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February 5, 2015

The man behind the macarons

Macarons are great. Macarons that taste like Chomp bars are even better. For treats like these we have Please Say Please’s macaron genius, Alex Crawford, to thank.

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  • Words: Johnny Von Einem
  • Pictures: Daniel Marks

Not all great relationships start off on the right foot; as was the case between Alex Crawford and food.

“I had Candida when I was a kid, so I couldn’t eat a lot; I couldn’t eat sugar, couldn’t eat bread, couldn’t eat any wheat,” he explains.

“Out of desperation my mum pushed me into a children’s cooking class and I ended up loving it and did about 20 of them.”

So, when life gives you lemons, make lemon tart macarons.

Before long, Alex had surpassed his classmates, moved into the adult classes, and at the age of 14 started as a trainee chef at Chloe’s Restaurant.

From there, he finished high school, toured his hospitality skills through Queensland and Melbourne, and worked as a barista at Bar 9 on Glen Osmond Road.

It wasn’t until a brief self-exile from the industry that Alex got his start in pastry.

“I tried to get out of hospitality, thinking there’s no money in it,” he says.

“I did marketing. I was doing really well … and then I saw Heston Blumenthal live and I got yanked back. So instead of reading marketing textbooks I was reading Grant Achatz from Alinea.”

During his studies, Alex spent a lot of time at nearby Coffee Branch, and made friends with owner, Josh Baker, who, after trying samples of Alex’s macarons, convinced him to sell some through the shop.

Shortly after, Dan Freer opened Please Say Please and contacted Alex about his sweets.

“I just started bringing in more products for him to try, like the Tanzanian cookie, and that’s how it all started. It was really by fluke,” Alex says.

A fluke any Grenfell Street passerby would be well advised to take advantage of.

With flavours like iced donut, salted caramel popcorn ice cream and Christmas pudding and custard already covered, Alex knows his luck in finding someone willing to collaborate.

“Sometimes I’m in a complete block and [Dan will] help me out and go ‘how about we do this? We haven’t done this in a while,’” Alex explains.

However, they’re not all winners.

Bacon and eggs,” Alex says smiling coyly. “I glazed the bacon with honey, and I made sure it was triple-smoked, and I added that back to the ganache and let it sit, and I tried it and thought ‘yeah, this tastes pretty good’. Sweet and savoury were all covered, it’s not over the top, but then some people just can’t grasp it.”

Coopers Lager macarons were an ambitious Australia Day idea that didn’t quite make the cut.

“I’d absolutely love it, but no one else would,” he laughs.

“There’s a line there that you’ve got to figure out. Does it overstep or is it a bit too boring, because there is that fine line. I think the main thing is you can be as creative as you want, but if you don’t have the right ingredients, and fresh ingredients, you’re going to fail.”

The next step for Alex is finding a larger kitchen so he can increase his output and start a pop-up shop to take his sweets to the streets, and hopefully work his way to owning a patisserie.

“It’s easy to say, but you really need to work hard,” he says.

For now though, Please Say Please is the only stockist of Alex’s creations.

Next week’s flavour is Valentine’s Day-inspired champagne and strawberry macarons, made from real champagne and Adelaide Hills strawberries.

The perfect Valentine celebration (or consolation). Cheers, Alex.

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