FREDERIC Robineau is an elusive man to tie down.
A message comes back that he’s too busy to talk.
However, for a man who doesn’t own a mobile phone, it’s not an intentional ploy to dodge a journalist’s questions.
His workload really is that strenuous.
He spends hours in the kitchen of Robineau Patisserie, in Cockerton, Darlington, working to satisfy the growing clamour for his masterpieces.
Hardly surprising really for a man whose skills impressed the Royal Family at banquets and former French president Jacques Chirac while Mr Robineau was head pastry chef during military service.
He runs the business with wife Jane, with its reputation for wedding cakes, chocolate delights and its cafe and shop continuing to grow.
It also played a key part in the ITV television programme Ladette to Lady, teaching chef Rosemary Shrager the art of baking.
The couple met when working in the pastry kitchens of London’s Connaught Hotel, where the Queen personally thanked Mrs Robineau for a meal.
Mr Robineau, who hails from France’s Loire Valley, also spent time at The Landmark Hotel, in London, where a busy workload was the accepted norm.
He said: “From a young age I used to play with pots and pans.
“I was always interested in cooking and perhaps a little bit more towards cakes, and I started an apprenticeship when I was 15.
“I’ve been involved with pastry ever since.
“The Landmark was a busy place and we were there 24 hours a day.
“It was a great place too because you learned such great standards of working, but it didn’t allow you to have much of a life outside of work.
“Jane and I worked together at the Connaught before we changed to two different jobs.
“We weren’t seeing much of each other, and after a while we decided to start our own business.”
The company started with wedding cakes, and has expanded its base in West Auckland Road.
It was its reputation for cakes that saw ITV come calling.
He said: “We were asked to help out on Ladette to Lady.
“They came to us for some help and we made the cakes that appeared on the screen.
“Rosemary was pretending a little.”
The couple founded their venture just weeks before the recession hit, which crippled businesses across the UK.
So how did it survive, and how is it continuing to flourish?
Mr Robineau added: “We have competition from the supermarkets, so we have to be different and do the things they cannot do.
“It’s all about focusing on high quality and people know where our products are coming from too, which gives them a lot of reassurance.”
Five minutes with... Frederic Robineau
Favourite North-East building and why?
The Bowes museum. A French chateau here in the Dales. How strange, the planning department would never allow it now.
What was your first job and how much did you get paid?
An apprentice in a small boulangerie patisserie and was paid about £2 an hour.
What is the worst job you've had?
I have always found good places to work at but the Landmark Hotel in London was by far the hardest. Long hours and stress.
What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner?
Something simple and homely. Maybe a roast with all the trimmings and a cake from Robineau.
What would your superpower be?
Time travel, because life is too short.
Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party:
Richard Branson, to pick his brain; the Queen, for a sense of British occasion; Raymond Blanc, for the cooking; and Mrs Brown, from Mrs Brown’s Boys, to spice up the party.
Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much?
Private education for our son.
Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?
Jamie Oliver. Always fashionable.
The Stranger, by Albert Camus.
When did you last cry?
What is your greatest achievement?
Opening Robineau Patisserie with my wife Jane in sleepy Cockerton and making it work.
What’s the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given?
Find your purple cow. Find one thing that people will remember you by.
Favourite animal and why?
A dog. They are a loyal companion.
Most famous person on your mobile phone?
I don’t actually have a mobile phone. I like freedom too much and don’t want the idea of always on call.
What was the last band you saw live?
Describe your perfect night in:
Something home cooked on the table to share with the family before watching a funny film while eating chocolate.
In another life I would be...
a full time oil painter.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
Tom Hanks with a French accent.
What irritates you?
People who don’t take pride of where they live. Leaving rubbish behind, not looking after their homes, businesses or shops. The North-East would better promote itself if it was cleaner and more inviting.
What’s your secret talent?