A career change that takes some topping: all hail the Pav Queen

Nerida McPherson doesn't have a sweet tooth and had never made a pavlova until four months ago.

Yet she has found an unlikely new career making the classic Australian dessert.

Pandemic pivot: Nerida McPherson with pavlovas she has made for Christmas orders.Credit:Chris Hopkins

While many of us are winding down, Ms McPherson, aka the Pav Queen, is whipping up a storm in a Collingwood kitchen, with 100 orders to fill this week before Christmas Day.

She said if you had told her a year ago that by the end of 2020 she would be running such a business, "I’d have said, 'It’s the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard in my life. I have never made a pavlova, I have no desire to. I couldn’t care less about them.'

"And here I am, I’m obsessed with them."

It started in August when COVID-19 restrictions meant her work producing foodie podcasts for Virgin and hosting live food and wine events dried up.

Ms McPherson (right) and the queen mother Jenny Darlow.Credit:Chris Hopkins

"I’d really hit a wall and I thought, 'I now have to do something else.' It’s not in my nature to sit being bored anyway."

She decided to make a pavlova for the birthday of a friend who loves the dish. Her first attempt was "a tooth-breaking, horrible, flat little mess".

But eventually she made a good one with a lush, fresh berry topping. The friend raved about it on Instagram. Ms McPherson received 35 orders in a week, and they haven’t stopped.

Two customers dubbed her the Pav Queen, a name she registered.

Pavlovas ready for Christmas.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Chef Scott Pickett heard about her enterprise and offered her use of the kitchen at one of his restaurants, Lupo in Smith Street, Collingwood, until early next year.

Ms McPherson's mother, Jenny Darlow, works as the logistics whiz and daughter Tilly Conway, 19, is the pavlova stylist. Her son, Finn, 14, helps with toppings.

A regular pav that feeds eight people costs $40, plus $10 for delivery within 35 kilometres.

There are four toppings: classic berry; mango and passionfruit; Turkish delight; and chocolate and berry.

A classic berry pavlova.Credit:Pav Queen

Her Instagram page describes the pavs as "crunchy on the outside, but squishy in the middle''.

A double-stack pav – two meringue bases with cream and topping – costs $85 and feeds 20.

Then there are mini-pavs ($12) and the jar pav ($12) that has broken pavlovas and topping mixed in.

Ms McPherson said people liked to buy pavs because they can take hours to make at home and it's hard not to get the meringue too dry, or too moist.

Her customer base is growing, and she's surprised.

"I thought I was going to do this for a couple of weeks, to bring some joy to people through lockdown, and that would be it."

She loves interacting with customers. "I love the joy on their faces when they smell them and see how pretty they are. They appreciate the love that goes into them, and it’s just so joyful."

She now plans to hire a kitchen, and maybe open a shop. "I’d be crazy to walk away from it."

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