Chez Dre: Intimate Details

Chez Dre: Intimate Details

Globetrotter Andrea Reiss has teamed up with Stephen Sam to create an art-deco hideaway in South Melbourne. Australian Baking Business talked to the pastry chef about the intimate details built into Chez Dré.

Hidden among the alleys and markets of South Melbourne is a chic patisserie built into the guts of an old warehouse. Chez Dré, French for ‘house of Dré’, is a dream come true for co-owner Andrea Reiss. Having bouncedthe idea around with business partner Stephen Sam for more than a decade, the presence of a bustling retail space and long row of vibrant pastries is testament to her determination to build her dream.

With the South Melbourne Market just a few metres away, the local community and fresh ingredients shape and mould Chez Dré’s products. The store interior has been engineered with European spaces and areas, an art-deco blend of “jénoise”, Asian influences and French classical styles. An open-cut wall provides a view of the action happening in the kitchen, creating a direct connection between customers and the chefs and pastry chefs making the food. A lack of boundary facilitates an open exchange of ideas, an offering that requires the business to have a degree of confidence and experience to pull off, Andrea says.

“The theatrical aspect of cooking is amazing to watch and is a big highlight. For me, it has been why I have always worked in open kitchens. It was a great feeling to always have that open,” the 31-year-old says.

Andrea began her gourmet career studying as a cuisine chef at Holmesglen TAFE before moving to London, the “place to be” for any aspiring chef. There she found work at Greenhouse in Mayfair, was introduced to the world of pastry and never looked back. When Andrea returned to Melbourne and got in touch with Stephen, the idea to launch Chez Dré finally came to fruition.

“It’s been the most amazing, incredible experience,” Andrea says.

“It’s just fantastic. Melbourne is just very much switched on in regards to the food scene. I think we were able to place ourselves in a [good] position and South Melbourne is just really happening in regards to food. There’s a market, there’s massive chef’s warehouse and a Chef’s Hat [restaurant] is just next door.”

While the area around the business is vibrant, it is also has a low-key community feel that adds to its uniqueness. The store’s range of colourful vienoisserie is well displayed, along with petit fours, macarons, croissants, danishes and brioche. A full café menu and all-day breakfast is offered, which has picked up significant trade recently. There are specialty coffees and take-away items, with a bread offering supplied by Melbourne’s Noisette.

A diverse spectrum of customers visit the store, including young families, pregnant mothers, business executives and older local residents. Typical for Melbournians, they all seem to be conscious of seasonal and fresh food.

“What’s fresh, what’s in-season? People are able to see that, from our doorstep you can see the markets. It means that you have that correlation between what’s fresh and the kind of produce being put out there, and we take a lot of suppliers from the market. It has that community feel,” she says.

While focused on improving their retail presence and menu offering, other ideas for expanding the business are also underway. The process of organically growing into catering is slowly taking place.

“People have approached us, rather then we have gone out and tried to seek business as such. That’s what’s given us the idea that perhaps there is a market,” she says.

“But it’s in very, very early stages now. For us, that’s not necessarily a priority. If it’s a project and it comes to fruition great, we will roll with it. We are a young business so we can see what avenues and what directions we would like to change and do what we would like to do.”

The business has three pastry chefs and Andrea is happy with how the team is functioning.

“Everyone from the hot food to the pastry are all great members and all really hard-working, but it is a constant challenge,” she says.

“You never have enough staff. Or if youdo, do you have enough skilled staff? It’s always that balancing act that we as owners and managers need to play. Where are we going to slot people in, who’s having a bad day, this produce is out of stock, etc.‚ and being able to balance and coordinate all the levels.”

Those interested in working in the food trade are often misconceived about the level of hard work needed in a kitchen, Andrea says.

“I always tell my staff members, if you want to work in a kitchen, you have to love hard work more than you love cooking. Because anybody can cook, anybody can love to cook and buy cookbooks, and read and do all these knowledgeable things,” she says.

“It’s actually the hard work of wanting to pursue in depth what it means to be in a kitchen, which is very different from loving cooking. So for me that’s the real challenge, of finding those people that actually want to go above and beyond thinking that they just love cooking.”

In order to run a business, Andrea recommends bakers know their customers, keep developing their business and never become stale.

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