Throughout March, a pop-up artisan bakery rose daily in the heart of Melbourne, becoming the focal point of this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
Victoria’s best bakers and pastry chefs were in the spotlight at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, drawing record crowds to an open-air riverside pop-up area. And, if it seemed almost every visitor was cramming a doughnut into their mouths, or tucking baguettes under their arm, it was because the artisan bar and bakery was actually the festival’s key attraction.
Open from 7.30am until late for the duration of the festival, the artisan bakery and bar was a non-stop hive of activity. Daily goods sold out early, nonetheless, the stellar line up of guest chefs rolled, kneaded and glazed around the clock to satisfy adoring hordes of bakery lovers – many of who queued for more than an hour for a spot in a workshop.
The bakery was set up so visitors could look through a perspex window at the bakers at work, which included baker-in-residence Tim Beylie of St Kilda’s Woodfrog Bakery, as well as Mike McEnearney of Sydney’s Kitchen By Mike, and Michael James of Tivoli Road Bakery, Melbourne.
For Melbourne Food and Wine CEO Natalie O’Brien, shining the spotlight on the baking sector was a logical step for the festival.
“Every year after the event, our team gets together and asks, ‘what are the important themes and trends relating to food and wine?’
One year we featured a coffee pop-up and built a coffee farm, bringing trees down to show the process from growing a bean right through to roasting. Then, we had top baristas serving the end product,” Natalie says.
“This year, we really wanted to represent a core part of Australian food culture – and what better way to celebrate a staple part of Melbourne than artisan bread? The industry has become so strong in Victoria, it just seemed a natural focal point.
“We knew bread and pastries would resonate with the industry. But we didn’t realise just how popular it would be with consumers. They voted with their tummies by lining up to get their bread and doughnuts every day of the show.”
The informal atmosphere encouraged visitors to sit and linger, with Natalie saying there was plenty of space to pull up a chair and take in the action.
“Not only were the resident bakers working, but there were also small classes where people could get their hands into the flour and the dough,” she said.
“Together with our own talents, Justin Gellatly and Éric Kayser were fabulous names to add to the list. Giving people access to talent like this is an integral part of the festival – it’s a gathering where ideas can be exchanged and hands-on skills passed on. It’s all about reconnecting with this beautiful craft.”
Éric Kayser: bread guru
The esteemed French baker with more than 125 patisseries under his belt shared his appreciation for beautiful bread at the festival.
They say you can’t live by bread alone – but if the bread was created by French baking icon Éric Kayser, it could be an exception to the rule.
With his Maison Kayser bakeries scattered around the world, Eric knows a thing or two about bread. You might say, in fact, baking is literally in his blood. As a fifth generation baker, he draws on artisan bread making methods, which stretch back centuries.
In 1994, with fellow companion Patrick Castagna, Éric invented the Fermento Levain, a piece of equipment which allows for the continuous use of liquid levain – the key to his now famous sourdough breads, which rely entirely on a liquid natural starter without commercial yeast.
It’s little wonder, then, that Éric’s recent presence at the Festival Artisan Bakery and Bar caused quite a stir.
As one of the guest baking superstars at the event, Éric ran bread making workshops, and baked bread – which sold out almost immediately.
Éric, who came from his home in Paris for the festival, describes his Australian visit – his first in 15 years – as the ideal opportunity to meet some of Melbourne’s outstanding bakers and to discover Australian people’s attitudes to bread making.
“For me, it’s beautiful, because I met a lot of people and they wanted to learn how we do the bread, and how they can recognise very good bread,” he says.
“People ask a lot of questions. I think the people in Australia now, they are very interested in understanding bread and are becoming very concerned about the products we put in the bread.”
Éric sees the Australian baking scene as an exciting and dynamic industry, with many “very good artisan bakers” producing “beautiful, beautiful bread like sourdough”.
“We need to push that,” he says.
And pushing the importance of keeping artisan bread alive is is precisely what he did during his workshops, which overwhelmingly embraced a ‘back to basics’ approach.
“I showed the people how they can knead with their hands, how they can divide the dough, which type of dough they can produce. All the people are fascinated by the sourdough, but they don’t understand it. So this is what I aimed to introduce.”
The workshops attracted people from a variety of professions and ages who all had a common desire – to learn some of the secrets behind the age-old artisan bread making techniques. Éric thinks this is a reflection of people’s desire to produce and eat food that is fresher, less processed and more natural.
“I think the people need and want to try making bread at home,” he says
“You know, it’s difficult and it takes time and all of that, but it’s important to try. The same should be said to the professional bakers, try new things. Maybe not every day – but at least once a month or once a year. Try some recipes with the children, the wife, the husband. We need to keep the tradition alive.”
Eric, who splits his time between Paris and travelling the world, believes the fascination with artisan bread making he experienced in Australia indicates a trend worldwide.
“I think now what they want, the people in Europe, is to eat the most natural bread. This is what I’m seeing. They’re thinking and they’re trying to work with the levain. This is true for European people, American people, and I see this in Asia too.”
People’s desire to go back to traditional baking may seem at odds with today’s time-poor society, but Éric disagrees.
“No, we cannot say we don’t have time. People spend time in different ways. You see the people how long they spend with the computer, with the iphone with all of that. It’s part of life, but I think sometimes the people realise they need to go back to a normal way – spend time in the kitchen, spend time in the garden. It’s just a matter of your priorities,” he says.
From a man whose chain of stores have retained the traditional elements on which he has built his formidable reputation as a master baker, what advice does Éric have for bakers who want to expand without losing the magic of artisan bread making? It’s all about sharing knowledge and taking time.
“We need to teach a lot to the young bakers about how they need to work,” he says.
“You need to want to share. If you like to keep your knowledge with you, you cannot teach to the people. How will the art of bread survive if we cannot teach the people?”
Justin Gellatly: doughnut master
The passionate co-founder of London’s Bread Ahead travelled to Australia to take part in the 17-day event, catching up with Australian Baking Business in between a back-to-back schedule of workshops and demonstrations.
What was the attraction for you, as a baker, to be part of a food festival that placed its bakery pop-up as the star attraction?
The bakery pop-up was a massive attraction and because we had such a great dedicated space we got to use some amazing Australian flour and products. It was such a boom to meet all the other bakers involved in the industry, like Michael James (Tivoli Road Bakery), John and Jesse Downs (Rise Authentic Bakery), Dean Brettschneider (Global Baker) and Tim Beylie (Woodfrog Bakery). Plus it was great for us to showcase what we are baking in London.
What did you demonstrate?
We were baking the ‘Royal Bun’, named after the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, as I did the bread for their wedding. Those who attended were mainly home bakers, plus some of my fan club, and people who just wanted to meet me!
What was the general atmosphere at the pop-up bakery?
Everyone was excited and relaxed. People here get very excited about doughnuts! The feedback has been amazing.
What are your thoughts on croissant-doughnut hybrids?
Cronuts are dead; long live the doughnut!
What are some out-of-the-ordinary glazes or fillings for doughnuts bakers could have a go at?
I would say classic vanilla custard is a good doughnut recipe for beginners, moving on to caramel custard with salted honeycomb for the more experienced.
Any tips for making great doughnut dough, fillings or glazes?
Long fermentation with your dough is all important. But all my secrets for the best doughnuts in the world are in my cookbook Bread Cake Doughnut Pudding
By celebrating bread and pastry the way the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is doing, are you helping keep the art of bread alive?
Damn right, power to the sour! Also, this is what we are trying to teach back in London at our Bread Ahead Bakery School
What’s the next patisserie trend we can expect to see come out of London?
We are doing lots of great things with locally milled flour and ingredients, plus using ancient grains and sprouted grains.
The festival website has used the slogan: “bread, wine, coffee – the staples of life.” How true does this ring for you?
Well, if you add cheese and change the coffee to tea you have my staples in life!
You have a Twitter account, and are active on YouTube. How important is social media for food professionals?
I always think if you do something amazing, people will find you somehow, but social media does help, especially Twitter.
Follow Justin on Twitter at @Justin Gellatly.