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Q and A with Marius Pop

by: Jim Clark, Nuvrei owner Marius Pop creates French pastries, including croissants, for restaurants and coffee shops. However, individual customers are welcome, too, at his well-hidden Pearl District bakery — if they can find it.

Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.

There have been a few complaints lately about the level of humor in some of our Q and As. So this week we promise a Q and A done in good taste. Marius Pop, home in Portland after an apprenticeship in New York, is all about good taste.

Pop is the guy who has been getting a reputation for making superior French pastry out of a store nobody can find. We found him in a half-basement bakery in the Pearl District called Nuvrei, where he produces sweets for high-end coffee shops and restaurants around town.

When the odd customer comes in - and we don't think we're all that odd, but this probably isn't the place to discuss it - Pop is more than happy to sell direct.

Oh, and in case you've always wondered, the answer is butter, all butter and nothing but butter.

Portland Tribune: Let's get right to it. What's the most amazing piece of pastry you've seen?

Marius Pop: It had to be a wedding cake. It was a French cake that had two swans on top of it that were blown out of sugar and all around it had this theme of a pond and swans swimming with little flower petals, all made out of sugar. But that's not something that really interested me. My fascination with French pastry is with how good it tastes.

Tribune: So what's the single most amazing taste experience you've had?

Pop: There was a dessert we did at Payard Patisserie (in New York City) that had seven different components to it. It was a combination of flavors and textures.

The flavors were pistachio, milk chocolate, dark cherry, dark chocolate - and I think there was a vanilla crème. It went straight up about 6 inches high, all in circle shapes stacked on top of each other like a sandwich. You could see the different components inside, a lot of contrasting colors.

It was a dessert for a private party of French chefs that was coming to town. We made about eight of them.

Tribune: Did you get to taste it?

Pop: We always make a few extra.

Tribune: So what did it taste like?

Pop: Amazing. The first thing you tasted was the milk chocolate and pistachio and then along came the apricot. The most subtle flavors hit you first, and toward the middle it was the texture of a crispy wafer you were crunching on and the dark chocolate kicked in as well and then toward the tail end the stronger flavors hit you with the cherry.

Tribune: That's it?

Pop: We had a pomegranate cherry sauce to go with it.

Tribune: You make wedding cakes, too. Any stories there?

Pop: I've got a horror story. It was in New York and it was a very large cake, about five tiers, that served 300 people. It was this beautiful cake, all the decorations were put on it.

In New York we had a steep stairwell we had to climb to get out to the street. It took three guys to carry the thing up the stairs, and at the top of the stairs there's about a 30-step stairwell. The cake wouldn't fit through the door. They had to carry it back down the stairs and take the top off.

They got it out, and the cake was set in the back of a delivery van. Halfway to the reception hall it collapsed. It was all over.

Tribune: What did you do?

Pop: I really don't know. It's something I've always wondered about. I imagine they gave the customer a full refund and a letter of apology. There's not a lot you can do at that point.

Tribune: We like horror stories. Any others?

Pop: When I first started in New York I had an assistant. The two of us would bake at night, and we were the only ones in the shop until the morning crew showed up. We had mixed a batch of dough and didn't put any salt in it. It was a pretty big batch in an 80-quart mixer.

When you don't put salt in the yeast the product rises like crazy. We realized we had made a mistake so we threw the dough in the trash and started over.

The garbage man came in the morning and we thought he would take our lovely bag of dough, but he didn't. He said it stunk really bad, so he left it on the sidewalk. It grew about four times its size in one of those black trash bags and it broke through the bag and it was all over the sidewalk.

In New York City everybody's waking up around 7:30, and here was this thing right in front of the bus stop, and it was growing like crazy.

Tribune: Speaking of odd shapes, do you get requests for cakes with unusual designs?

Pop: We've had quite a few. People will ask for theme cakes, 'It's my son's birthday, and he really likes trains.' There are also bachelor parties, and you can imagine what they're looking for. That's not what we do.

- Peter Korn