Behind a rainbow assortment of French confections that some people mistake as mini-hamburgers, Christina Ha and Simon Tung of the Macaron Parlour sit beneath their tent amidst the food and craft artisans gathered at the quaint Hester Street Fair. It is an unseasonably humid and sweltering Saturday, in which all but a few of their vibrant macarons are kept chilled under the table in a cooler. Yet Tung assures me that they still have full trays of every flavor ready-to-go for a much anticipated, tasty photo-op.
As I sit down with the newlyweds, it’s clear that their romantic chemistry fares well for their business. With a storefront opening this summer on St. Marks, Ha and Tung’s journey to macaron success began mostly with madness. A year before they met, Ha enrolled in a week-long macaron intensive school in Paris headed by pastry chef Pierre Herme, with every conceivable odd stacked against her: she didn’t speak French, her partners didn’t speak English and she was third worst in her class. But she recalls, “It made me feel pretty good, because the other two people that were the worst were the heads of their kitchens.” Ha says she failed every day for three months, baking virtually non-stop. Low funds even forced her to grind her own almond flour, a three-day process that included spending entire nights painstakingly peeling the skin off each almond.
Armed with countless hours of practice and a perfected technique, Ha’s culinary talents (fused with Tung’s front-of-house charm) helped them snag the final vendor slot in the Hester Street Fair back in 2010. The rest is macaron history. Together they spend long days of baking in Brooklyn and return to Manhattan where they find comfort in their favorite take-out joints in Chinatown like 69 for the oxtail on rice and Sweet Spring for dumplings where the owners know them by name. Despite the long, laborious hours, Ha and Tung are fully content in what they do for a living. When it comes to sustaining a happy relationship and successful business they admit that in the beginning, fighting was simply a rite of passage.
“There was fighting in the kitchen, but I always say that the business brought us closer. We fought through it and I think it really solidified our relationship,” Tung says.
Despite their young brand they are already a charitable one, as part of their proceeds from sales go directly to Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a foundation dedicated to finding a cure for children’s cancer. Ha shares, “I’ve unfortunately lost a couple of people to cancer and it’s harder when they’re younger. You lose these great people so young and you want there to be a cure.” Their signature lemon macaron is a testament to their continued pledge for the cause.
As a parting gift, I ask if they could spare one tip about how to make the perfect macaron. Without missing a beat Tung replies, “Practice; you have to. Even though she’s tried to teach me a billion times, I still don’t get it. But she’s definitely mastered it. She’s the talent in the kitchen.” A beautiful compliment for an equally talented couple.
Photos: Diana Tsuchida