To be the best, one must hold oneself to a higher standard at all times. There is no room to rest on your laurels, particularly if you work in an environment where the locals know great food and expect it on every occasion. “Even LeBron James says, ‘I’ve got to watch the film,’” points out the ultra-talented pastry chef and baker Marius Pop who owns Nuvrei, located in Portland’s trendsetting Pearl District. “I wish the people in our industry could watch film of their own work.”
Pop, who took on New York City at the youthful age of 19 and returned to Portland to open Nuvrei in 2004, brings up an interesting point. Think of all the amazing skills that bakers and pastry chefs learn over the years, but seldom is anything recorded. Pop spent his training days in New York City where he learned classic French pastry techniques under renowned chef Francois Payard.
“Who your teacher is is very important,” Pop says. “It is important to surround yourself with talent so you absorb the right stuff. I needed a New York type of experience to resonate with me. I just had a drive, a desire to acquire knowledge. Absorb, absorb, absorb.”
After three years in New York City, Pop returned to Portland where he opened Nuvrei to immediate success among a rapidly growing clientele. He admits to being blessed with a good palate, so that putting together great flavors comes naturally. What did not come as naturally was the business side of running a bakery.
“A lot of time and money was spent on mistakes,” he says, “but you don’t give up. You keep going. You learn from your mistakes and you understand how to manage your vision with the requirements of running a business. Now I’m equally passionate. I view the business and the product as connected. In order to succeed, you need to fall in love with the process. You don’t look at the reasons it won’t work. You ask yourself, how can I make it work? Now I think if you can make it here in Portland, you can make it anywhere.”
“A lot of what a business becomes has a lot to do with its surroundings,” Pop adds with emphasis.
Pop uses classic pastry as a platform for modern experimentation and creativity. Upstairs in Nuvrei’s cafe, customers delight in an array of viennoiserie, cookies, pastries, hand-shaped pretzel bagels, and sandwiches. Pop believes pretzel bagels are poised to trend upward because the product offers a softer texture and distinctive flavor. “I think a bagel revolution will happen, and I want us to be at the forefront of it.”
Nuvrei uses the highest quality ingredients in all of their products, each made carefully by hand. Quality over quantity dominates each decision. “We exclusively use Valrhona chocolate,” he cites as an example. “The quality of product is superb.”
Ode to French macarons
In November 2014, Nuvrei opened MAC BAR in the basement kitchen, as a way to invite customers into the workspace and showcase their superb Parisian macarons, known as the best in the city. MAC BAR also serves croissants warm from the oven, baked all day.
Nuvrei is putting together a benefit celebration for Macaron Day/Jour du Macaron, inspired by similar celebrations held on the same day in New York and Paris. For Macaron Day PDX, set for March 20, bakeries and pastry shops around Portland will offer a free macaron to each customer who donates to Meals on Wheels People in their shops for one day (suggested minimum donation of $2). March 20 is also the first day of spring, and these colorful confections and their bright flavors celebrate the vibrancy of the season. So far, some of the city’s best are on board, including Nuvrei, Farina Bakery, Pix Patisserie, Maurice, Frice Pastry, Pearl Bakery, Petunia’s Pies and Pastries, and St. Honore’s three locations.
Nuvrei will give out commemorative tote bags to the first round of customers that day, encouraging them to visit all of them. Not only does the event raise funds for charity and highlight bakeries around the city that make the colorful Parisian cookie, but offers a fun experience for macaron lovers. To learn more, visit www.macarondaypdx.com.
The best they’ve ever had
Pop says “a lot of anything is perseverance,” and so he will continue to tinker and analyze and strive to perfect every step of the way, both on the production and business side of the patisserie. He believes the industry needs more knowledge of techniques, and he will do his part to perfect what they do best.
“We always try to take things that are familiar and make them the best possible way,” he says. “I love when a customer says that’s the best version of that particular thing I’ve ever had. That’s the compliment I want to hear.”