Autolyse: Takes on Sydney

Chippendale is now home to a new, French-inspired artisan café-bakery. Australian Baking Business catches up with the owners of Autolyse to talk about serving up handmade sourdough and pastries all day, every day.

With a successful bakery-café in Canberra already under its belt, the Autolyse brand has opened its first Sydney location.

Spanning the ground level of Chippendale’s Broadway development, the polished artisan bakery prides itself on producing all-natural handmade sourdough, pastries and an eat-in or takeaway menu where nothing tops $15.

The owners, Mickey Gubas and wife Mariana Cavic, David Damour and Darren Perryman, have been stalwarts of the hospitality industry for years. With a string of cafés and restaurants behind them – including Canberra’s Milk and Honey, Alto, and Bread and Butter Café, the group has happily swapped late-night shifts for the bakery scene. And, as Mickey says, their commitment to deliver fresh hot bread throughout the day means they don’t even have to wake up with the birds.

“We don’t do any baking at night, we do it all during the day. It’s a fundamental part of our bakery and something that really helps set us apart as a handmade sourdough business,” he says.

“Baking starts around 5-6am and goes through to 3pm. Not only is it a better work environment for the bakers, but the customer also has a better product because it’s straight out of the oven. It hasn’t come out in the middle of the night and spent eight hours on the shelf.”

And, it’s certainly not hard to see what’s coming out of the Autolyse ovens. White-tiled walls and huge industrial lights give a crystal clear view to the open bakery, where the pastry chefs prepare the day’s fare in front of customers.

With nowhere to hide, the staff is diligent in their cleanliness and presentation. More importantly, they are able to develop face-to-face relationships with their customers, to discuss the breads and pastries of the day and to explain their age-old techniques.

“People have such an interest in food these days, so we wanted to make it very easy for them to interact with those who were baking it and preparing it for them,” Mickey says.

“In Canberra, we noticed the customers were wanting to talk to the bakers and the pastry chefs about the ingredients, asking them questions like, ‘how long do you rest the sourdough for?’, things like that. We loved the backwards and forwards chit chat and wanted to expand on that as a concept for the Chippendale bakery.

“It’s also great for the bakers, because many of them are used to working through the middle of the night by themselves.”

The bakery and kitchen area is huge, occupying a decent amount of the premise’s 400sq m. Within it operate 32 staff, including a head chef, a sous chef, a pastry chef and a barista.

Focusing on quality over quantity, there are only a handful of breads on offer: a traditional European-style rye loaf with a dark, dense and full-flavoured crumb; a nutritious quinoa and seed loaf with iron, protein and essential Omega-3 oils; a wholemeal sourdough with a golden crust and a soft sweet crumb; and the best seller, a classic white sourdough.

On the weekend, customers may also find a fruit loaf, along with a baguette and an olive and thyme loaf. All are 100 per cent preservative-free.

“We’re also doing a lot of organic spelt at the moment. It started off as a special loaf, but we had a such a great response we tend to do it most days now,” Mickey says.

“Our customers are asking a lot more questions about what’s in their bread, and products with a more nutritious slant will definitely become a bigger focus for the bakery moving forwards.

“People are aware of what they are eating and they want to know about the products they are buying. We’re going to explore this in a lot more detail with the new website, which we’re working on at the moment. We’re going to publish all the nutritional information of our breads with very accurate breakdowns of ingredients.”

On the pâtisserie front, the staples – croissants, pain au chocolat, escargot and tarts – line the display cabinets every day. For a bit of variety, the pastry chef is given considerable scope for innovation, meaning anything from pear and mascarpone cheesecakes, choux rings filled with hazelnut pastry crème, and salted caramel tarts can be found.

Sticklers for authentic, fresh food, Mickey and the team make everything onsite. It’s a key part of the Autolyse ethos and fundamental to them building a reputation as a bona fide artisan bakery.

“A lot of places say they don’t bring things in, but it’s all very cliché. But we mean it. We even cure our own salmon! We’re very much about doing things the right way,” he says.

Knowing this, it seems less surprising Mickey and Mariana poached head baker David Damour directly from an organic French bakery. While a savvy businessman, Mickey is not a baker by trade and quickly realised David was the missing link in his quest for top-notch bread. “In France we even have government rules for bread and I really wanted to bring that level of seriousness to Autylose,” David says.

“I mean, if you want to call your bread sourdough in France, you have to use a starter, not just yesterday’s dough. And you can’t use more than 3g of yeast per kilo of flour. The starter is just so important; it’s the natural yeast that makes the bread rise and gives it its taste.”

David’s long fermentation process requires him to rest the dough, mix it, rest it again, shape it and leave it to rest again in the cool room overnight. No wonder the bakery is called Autolyse; a French word describing an extra rest period for dough to ensure optimum moisture and texture.

Of course, the bread also gets its authentic flavour from its flour, particularly the rye and wholemeal flour, which is shipped direct from France. It must be working, because David won the Champion Loaf trophy at this year’s Royal Canberra Bread Show for his baguette.

“There is an art in doing good bread and pastry. People think bread or flour is all the same, but they should compare it to wine. Are all good grapes the same? Are all wines the same? It is the same for bread – different flour, different weather, different ways of making it change the taste and the texture,” David says.

“This is why it’s so great the customers can see what we are doing and speak with us directly. There is something magical about bread and pastry – starting from simple ingredients like water and flour and ending with such a complex product. Customers love this and they love to be able to chat with us about their experiences, what they ate in different places in France and so on.”

It’s this dedication to quality bread that will, eventually, boost the brand’s reputation as an artisan bakery, rather than as a café – something Mickey hopes will happen as more and more Sydney-siders walk out the door with a loaf under their arm. And, despite the two Autylose bakeries opening this year within just six months of each other, Mickey’s eye is already wandering.

“It would be great to do more bakery-café stuff in Sydney. Perhaps we could have the big stores and then send out little satellite shops,” he says.

“We certainly have to focus on peoples’ perception of the brand. We definitely don’t want customers to think we are a chain that has come in from overseas. We want to keep the right image; that we are artisan bakers and that we are dedicated to 100 per cent all-natural handmade sourdough.”


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