When Ignace Diompy first came to Australia with the intention of improving his English to be able to accept a franchise opportunity in Dubai, he had no idea that he would fall in love with the country. He now owns several Canberra bakeries and late last year opened his latest store, L’épi Artisan Bakery.
It all started long before this though, when Ignace was a boy growing up in France. Even before his formal education in baking, though, Ignace knew that it was his passion.
“My mum just reminded me, actually—I used to bake a lot of cakes at home. Before doing any apprenticeship, when I was a bit younger—12 or 13 years old—I baked cakes whenever we had guests over.” Ignace says.
“That was the start of me wanting to become a pastry chef or baker. That was the beginning—at home.”
From that humble beginning, Ignace began his formal baking training when he was 16-years-old, apprenticing at a bakery.
“First, I wanted to become a pastry chef, which is a little bit different in France, you just make cakes. And then I found a spot in a bakery and jumped into a bakery apprenticeship,” he says.
Although, Ignace found that experience a little bit difficult, he took something out of it.
“It didn’t have the best people… But I believe staying there taught me about endurance, strength, and hard work,” he says.
“After that, I worked in many different bakeries in France—mainly because I wanted to learn different ways of doing things, different techniques. I wanted to get experience.”
Ignace’s desire to learn and grow, to discover different techniques and products, took him across Europe to Switzerland, where he worked for five years after he finished his stint in France.
Eventually, he decided to accept a bakery franchise in Dubai, which is, in a roundabout way, how he ended up here.
“The main reason I came to Australia was to learn English. I was meant to take a franchise of a bakery in Dubai. So, what happened is that I came here first to see everything, then for a working holiday to learn English,” Ignace says.
But his desire to accept the Dubai franchise opportunity didn’t last long, and Ignace soon found himself falling in love with Australia.
“As soon as I came here, I think, my willingness to go to Dubai was fading. I had a rethink. I thought I could maybe do something here, myself, instead of taking a franchise, so I started working in different bakeries around here and seeing how everything worked,” he says.
But it was not all rosy skies and plain sailing once Ignace arrived in Australia. The differences between Australia and continental Europe meant that he had to learn to adapt.
Ignace says, “In France, sourdough is not the number one product that people are selling. It’s more about great baguettes. We are more focused on lighter bread, rather than heavy things like sourdough. That was a big change for me.
“Pies are also products that we don’t have in France, and I had to learn to do pies here.”
Since discovering the heavier sourdough bread that is heavily favoured in Australia, it’s quickly become one of Ignace’s favourite things to bake.
“I really like sourdough. We do a high-hydration sourdough, which I’ve found surprises me every time—even now! Just by changing the timing—one hour extra, two hours less—you get completely different loaves,” he says.
“I think that bread is really sophisticated depending on what kind of flavour or what kind of experience you want to make people leave with. I really love to do bread—high-hydration or ancient grain sourdough is really what I find interesting.”
This sophistication is something that Ignace is bringing to his newest venture, L’épi Artisan Bakery.
“The meaning is ‘ear of wheat’. We say it in one word in France, so it sounds different from English. If I were to call it ‘ear of wheat’ that wouldn’t be a name, it would be a description, but in France it’s a description written like a name, which I found really interesting,” Ignace says.
“It is the beginning of the magic, before becoming flour or before doing a loaf of bread, it’s an ear of wheat. That’s why I really like the name.”
L’épi joins the other bakeries Ignace owns, Crust in Fyshwick and Bakehouse in Kambah. He says there are big plans in the works for the bakeries.
“L’épi is basically what we are looking to make all of the bakeries become. My thought for our places is that we want them to be L’épi, to create something really strong with that,” he says.
And the people of Canberra have responded very well to L’épi’s opening late last year.
“We’ve been pretty blessed,” Ignace says.
“The welcome was really great. Obviously, there is still a lot to do to get the place to where we really want it to be. But we’ll get there!”
One of the things that’s important to Ignace is having the freshest products, and having those products available for customers throughout the day.
“I’m looking forward to baking throughout the day. We’re not doing any wholesale, so we’re just focusing on our shops. This means we can bake our products throughout the day and have a third batch, so that every person who comes into the shop at whatever time of day can get the freshest experience,” he says.
This is a difference between Australia and France, Ignace says.
“In France, everything is baked two hours before you come to get it. That’s what encourages people to come every day.”
The realisation of this goal is an exciting one for Ignace.
Something else that he finds especially exciting is the nature of the Australian bakery and pastry market. The industry is booming, and instead of balking at the idea of the competition, Ignace revels in the expansion and growth of the industry.
“The market is becoming really interesting. I really love to see all of the new bakeries opening. We want the level to be higher; that is for the good of the customer—everyone doesn’t do the same products, so you get more choice when you go out,” he says.
“I think I like to see that kind of competition, where you see more new bakeries opening. It’s really interesting; it’s a never-ending game.
“We do everything so that any person who comes in has a great experience.”