Rock star baker Gontran Cherrier has set up shop in Collingwood, and it has carb lovers weak at the knees.
A twist on Marie Antoinette’s famous French phrase is emblazoned across the wall of Gontran Cherrier’s first Australian boulangerie: “let them eat croissants”. And flaky, buttery croissants they shall get.
There’s nothing pedestrian about Gontran Cherrier, which is both the name of the Parisian celebrity baker and his burgeoning global brand. This is a place where bread rolls are infused with curry and paprika, where buns are dyed with squid ink, and where croquet monsieurs are served dripping with Gruyère béchamel. It’s a little bit fancy, and a whole lotta tasty.
If Gontran’s charming looks don’t get you, his bread will. Crusty on the outside, but with a chewy, resistant interior, his baguettes are made the Parisian way with Foricher flour and Lescure butter.
A national icon in France and known throughout the world for his work at three-Michelin-starred restaurant l’Arpège in Paris, Gontran enjoys celebrity status wherever he goes. Melbourne has proven to be no different, with foodies clamouring to the opening of his Collingwood store – his 28th worldwide.
French by blood, but intrepid in spirit, Gontran’s boulangeries are an eclectic fusion of cultures. He has travelled the world, bringing ‘the French touch’ to kitchens and bakeries throughout Europe, North Africa and Asia. In turn, he’s stashed away an enviable repertoire of ingredients and techniques, marrying them with his own classical recipes.
Gontran’s particularly fond of Japanese flavours – think rye paired with miso, kimchi quiche and yuzu cheesecakes. The rest of the Asia-Pacific gets a nod as well, with Korea and Taiwan among his favourite destinations.
“As a baker and a chef, I think travelling is very important,” he says.
“I like to explore the world, looking for new flavours and new products to give to my customers. Diversity is something I value most.
“Asia has a very wide choice of noble raw materials that can easily be used in breads or pastries. For the European pallet, those flavours are pretty exotic and it makes for a special product.”
Gontran is the protégé of four generations of baking purists. But, as you may have picked by now, he isn’t afraid to break with tradition.
“Just because a bakery follows the French way doesn’t mean it has to do the same thing French bakeries have done for centuries,” he says.
“You can pick and choose the best pieces from every country that inspires you. We live in a truly global community and, among other benefits, it has done wonders for the international food scene.”
Down under, he’s also cherry picked some of the most iconic Australian flavours and native ingredients, such as pepper leaves, lemon myrtle and, of course, Vegemite.
“There is crazy food here in Australia,” he says, laughing.
“Melbournians have a great curiosity about different types of food and Collingwood in particular is a place full of people with open minds. There are already lots of really good bakeries here, but I hope I can bring something new and different.”
By nature, Melbourne food culture is also very European, which makes Collingwood a logical setting for Gontran’s flagship boulangerie-café. While his other businesses fuse bakeries with restaurants, the Collingwood business celebrates casual dining throughout the day.