Bread in Common may have only just turned one, but its name is already cemented as one of Perth’s artisan elite. We catch up with bakery manager Gabrielle Lewis about volcanic rock ovens, communal eating and being a stickler for tradition.
The old Fremantle boathouse, stripped back to its original red brick, has been reclaimed by bakers with a simple philosophy: do one thing and do it well.
With a passion for wholesome bread, bakery manager Gabrielle drives a gentle and pure set of principles in the close-knit team of four. Slowly, each loaf is shaped by hand and cooked in the draft heat of a wood fire with minimal intervention – and the taste is unforgettable.
As well as servicing a booming restaurant and wine bar, the Bread in Common bakery sells direct to the public, with up to 700 loaves pumped out of just two ovens on any given Saturday.
Asked how she would describe the bakery, Gabrielle simply replies, “flour, water and fire”.
“We follow simple, rustic, age-old recipes, craft traditionally and allow for natural, overnight fermentation,” she says, with the deliberate pride of someone who knows they’re on the right track.
“Each loaf is hand-thrown and hand-shaped. You could definitely call our bread ‘slow’ bread. Using local, wheat-belt organic flour, small-batch milled, each dough is unique to each bread, with minimum yeast, sourdough and natural levens.”
The bakery only sells four types of bread, but they have been honed to near-perfection. The best seller is a white, Mediterranean-style ciabatta, the Common Loaf. Then, there’s the Common Ground, a wholemeal sourdough using a rye starter.
“It was given to us by Perth baking veteran Gotthard Bauer at the famous Yallingup Woodfired Bakery, our sister bakery. He’s been in business for ages, so the starter would be at least 10 years old,” she says.
“We’ve also got a very popular all-organic fruit loaf packed with Turkish apricots, figs and sultanas. My grandmother won’t let me get away with not delivering this loaf at least once a week and, in the bakery it literally flies off the shelf! We also have a crusty white baguette-style loaf, which is a crowd pleaser.”
It’s the wood fire ovens that really set Bread in Common apart from other artisan bakeries. The two sister ovens, affectionately named Hansel and Gretel, were designed and built specifically for the premises.
Housed in recycled bricks, the ovens are built from volcanic rock sourced from New Zealand – as local as the team could get. It’s the same kind of infrastructure found in bakeries built as long as 300 years ago.
The rock absorbs and dissipates heat gently, resulting in a beautifully textured and aromatic product.
“When the fires are lit every morning the smell is incredible. In fact, it’s my favourite part of the job. We use jarrah wood in the oven and the aroma definitely infiltrates the breads and gives them a very unique taste,” Gabrielle says.
“The ovens are fired up around 4am, allowed to get as hot as possible and then settled around 7am. We use the residual heat to bake in, rather than baking in the fire itself.”
There isn’t a temperature gauge on the oven and none of the bakers could say exactly how hot it gets; a testament to their craftsmanship. “For us, it’s all about getting in touch with our breads and the environment they are baked in. It’s very personal,” Gabrielle says.
“I understand there is a need for bakers in this industry who simply follow procedure – do this at a certain temperature, do that at a certain time – but in our bakery it’s
all done on feel. It takes time to get to know your oven, but when you establish that connection it can be a very special thing. Our head baker Steve and I are certainly connected with the process and the produce, and so are our hard-working bakers Aleida and Dwaine.”
Gabrielle’s sentiments feed in with one of Bread in Common’s key philosophies, happy baker, happy bread. The business is not focused on pumping out as many loaves as possible. Rather, its priority is making the best bread in Perth; bread that is made with love. It’s a laboursome and visceral calling, a far cry from Gabrielle’s former career as an accountant.
“I always dreamed of having a bakery-restaurant in retirement. But it seems I get the pleasure of being involved with one much sooner,” she says.
“To work with a business that has such clearly-defined ideas about what food should be and what it means for the local community is truly wonderful… it’s motivating.”
Indeed, as its name suggests, Bread in Common has a clear focus on sharing and the celebration of good food, wine and,
most importantly, company. The business is equally split between the bakery, restaurant and wine bar so the diner is provided with everything they need for a memorable experience.
Altogether, the menu really celebrates the bread. Diners mopping up the saucy remains of their dinner with sourdough, baked only a few hours earlier out the back, is a common sight. The bakery’s produce is also sold in the deli, alongside locally-made and imported cheeses.
“We also make a lot of our own jams and preserves in-house, so everything has that ‘from scratch’ taste. I think it really gives our customers a sense of connection with their food,” Gabrielle says.
Little more than a year old, the bakery is still in its infancy and ensuring the brand is associated with top-quality produce is still the team’s number one priority. Nonetheless, while she’s keen to stick with her small, but adored offering, Gabrielle says she does look forward to introducing a few seasonal treats.
“Hopefully we can expand a bit over Easter and do some fun hot cross buns. We did this last year and it was the biggest production order we have ever had. I’d love to see if we can do sourdough hot cross buns this coming Easter,” she says.
“But in general, we’re just sticking to what we do best; keeping it simple and putting a lot of heart and soul into every loaf.”