How the bakers of
Brunswick make our day
The inspiring stories behind our daily bread
HILE most of us are still under our doonas, eking out the last hours of sleep, the bakers of Brunswick are already at work, making our day.
Melbourne’s artisanal baking began 40 years ago, with the opening of Natural Tucker in Carlton. They rediscovered old sourdough recipes and wood-firing techniques. Today’s second generation is less focused on authenticity and more variety of breads.
Brunswick has seen an expansion in artisanal businesses: craft beers, coffee roasters and particularly bakers. I spoke with some of our bakers to get their backstories. What surprised me particularly was the important role they play socially for their employees as well as the locals grateful for their daily sustenance.
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Ovens Street Bakery
I first encountered Ovens Street Bakery during one of Melbourne’s epic lockdowns. The bread queue was a rare opportunity to socialise in the open air. As a bonus, the queue stretched down the sunny side of the street.
Like pilgrims at a shrine, we waited patiently for our turn to witness the sacred scene. I eventually reached the doorway. The wall on the right was covered with mysterious sayings like “Working hard to make a leaven” and “All you knead is love, love.” Then finally, on the left, there appeared a mesmerising assortment, including sourdough breads, crunchy baguettes, filling Polish doughnuts (paczki), groaning pizzas and hefty Turkish bread. What to choose?
Ovens Street Bakery is set up so that there is room for only one customer at a time. If you can’t take the suspense, or you can’t get there early enough before everything is sold out, goods can be ordered in advance.
Ovens Street Bakery is run by Pip Hayes and many of the cakes are inspired by his Polish grandmother. His day begins around 4:30am, soon followed by the pastry chef Jackie O’Sullivan. Pip gained his skills at Loafa Bread, which was an offshoot of Natural Tucker. As flour, he uses whole-grain white wheat from the Mallee region, which is grown sustainably. The electric oven is a Mono Deck shipped over from Wales.
Pip enjoys the social life around his bakery. “It’s a constant flow of storytelling”. The bakery is also well-networked locally. The ice cream for milkshakes is made in Brunswick (Luthers) as are the coffee cups (Sophie Harle). They supply local businesses like Bertoncello Cafe in Sparta Place.
You’ll see Pip about town riding his bike cart, now accompanied by the bakery’s mascot, Remy. If you’re lucky enough to be his neighbour, you might find some spare loaves left out at the end of the day.
In another industrial back street, a macro bakery has emerged including not only bread-making but also a cafe, shop and fermentation lab. Wild Life is a place of discovery. As well as hearty sourdough loaves with different flours, the “Viennoiserie” features French doughy pastries. On the shelf, you can find original creations such as lacto-fermented Loquat + Jalapeño Hot Sauce and green apple sauerkraut.
Wild Life was established by Huw Murdoch in 2017. Huw has worked in hospitality for 15 years, with a focus on specialty coffee. But he got a taste of breadmaking. Their work starts around 4am on weekends.
“I’d always loved bread, and my sister got into home baking with really good results, so I started learning to bake at home too, and found it really exciting,” he explained.
“I was struck by the fact that, at the time, there wasn’t really any bread available in Melbourne that was similar to what I was making at home. Nowadays the sort of ‘Tartine style’ high-hydration sourdough is fairly common, but back in 2014 or so there wasn’t a lot, and I loved it.
“I sort of realised that, if I could make it at home, it wasn’t unavailable due to it being too hard to make or anything, but likely just because bakeries weren’t trying to make it.”
Feeling a gap in the market, Huw decided to set up a cafe-bakery combination in a former car mechanic building. It’s proven a great success and now there is a shop on Sydney Road to sell their products on the main street.
Besides bread-making, Huw is committed to supporting staff. He is critical of the hospitality industry: “Staff continued to be underpaid and exploited all over the country, and the owners responsible continue to be celebrated in food media.” He now employs three bakers and around 30 staff in total.
The morning I visit, I witness a flurry of activity. Baker Lachie Hayden has been there since 5am and is pulling out a Danish rye from the oven. On the wall, I notice a calendar with staff birthdays marked up. It’s a testament to the philosophy of the bakery.
I ask if there’s cake when it’s someone’s birthday. “Cake is too ‘everyday’ for us.”
Choukette has been providing French pastries and breads for 15 years. The baker Nans Wojtczak begins around 4am, earlier on weekends. Of course, the signature product is the croissant: “I always enjoy making them. It takes a long time to learn. They are never the same, according to the different ingredients and weather.” Nans uses New Zealand butter and Manildra flour.
You have to be early to buy one of their traditional baguettes, but their award-winning macarons are readily available and a favourite with children. Demand is growing now the weather is getting colder.
Nans was born in Poitiers, central France. For seven years, he did his “tour de France” to learn patisserie skills across the country. He originally came to Australia for a two-year working holiday, “but I got stuck here. I loved so much the country and people.” He employs other French staff smitten by Australia to ensure we are served with the appropriate accent.
Choukette has a distinctly cosy feel. There’s a reading nook with colouring books at the back. The Pay Forward system they set up to provide coffees for people in need around the neighbourhood is generously subscribed.
New on the block is Pulcinella, named after the mischievous Commedia dell’arte character from Naples. It was founded by Alexandro and Vincenza, who first met ten years ago when working at the legendary Brunetti’s cake shop. As fellow Neapolitans, they decided to open a shop that specialised in the iconic pastry, the sfogliatella. Shaped like a seashell, crispy outer layers of dough envelope a creamy filling.
It’s a challenging process, beginning with a very thin pastry, which is then layered slowly over three days. It’s important that the dough relaxes between layering.
Their day starts around 5am. Despite the hours, they seem to love their work. According to their Neopolitan dialect, it’s “wanama”! Fabulous!
There’s a new kind of bread in the neighbourhood. Satoshi Narusawa makes a shokupan, a soft fluffy milk bread popular in Japan for sandwiches and breakfast.
Back in Tokyo, Satoshi worked for a French bakery before taking work in Cairns two years ago. In Melbourne, after working at Loafer, he partnered with Bench Cafe on Breese Street to set up his own bakery, which also supplies Japanese cafes around Melbourne.
The day normally starts around four or five in the morning. There are two full-time and two casual bakers.
The bakery’s name Little Cardigan is a tribute to his best friend: “He lives in Carlton, in Little Cardigan Street. He always feeds me good food and good drinks. So this is for him.”
Japanese presence is growing. Satoshi likes to visit Tochi Cafe where he shares an interest in psychedelic music with the owner, Shingo. Does he supply them with bread? Satoshi laughs, “No, they only want rice!”
There are many other bakers worth mentioning. Pantheon bakes biscuits and baklava for the Greek Community. There is also the Lebanese bakeries, Tabet’s and A1 (covered in a previous story).
The bakers keep our community alive. Rather than anonymously grab a sliced loaf wrapped in plastic from the supermarket shelf, we get to say “Good morning” to the people in the bakery. These minor social interactions add up over time. They help us feel we belong here.
This article was originally published on ‘Culture Makers’, a newsletter written by Kevin Murray.