Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Baker

So much is said, so often, of Melbourne and its love of food. Before I came here, it was one of the few qualities about Melbourne that those who had visited and loved the city could put their finger on. But it wasn't until I arrived and got to know the city and its citizens that I could claim to understand this relationship. I assumed that Melbourne could be no more 'foodie' than my hometown: London. After all, London is home to scores of highly-acclaimed, fantastic restaurants and showcases the servings of some of the world's most renown Chefs. However, as I discovered, this deeply entrenched relationship with food is more than just a proliferation of high-quality restaurants.

Next door to the fabulous Moss on Fitzroy Street is the equally (if not more so!?) fabulous Baker D.Chirico. This proximity to my place of work arguably makes me slightly biased but I feel this place truly epitomizes Melbourne's infatuation with good food. Everyday, but especially Saturday, Melburnians travel across the city for a loaf of bread. On Christmas Eve I bore witness to early-morning hoards of people queuing up out the door, down the steps and along the street, to claim pre-ordered (!) loaves, cakes and pastries. I hear it is even worse at Easter. This is some place!

Image courtesy of Broadsheet Melbourne
 And it isn't just bread, a whole host of delicious tarts, pastries, cakes, pies, quiches fill their counter, arranged on vintage plates and stands. Weekend brunch with friends is an infamous Melbourne tradition and 'Baker' (as known amongst its customer community) is a popular location, particularly as the accompanying coffee is so good. Baker also supplies a whole host of Melbourne's top eating establishments; their Wholesale list could act as a go-to guide for top eats in Melbourne.

I have a bit of a love affair with the mere thought of this place. Unlike great European patisseries, there is nothing about Baker D. Chiciro that is pretentious or ostentatious. Huge sacks of flour are piled up in the corner and food is arranged and piled and never knowingly styled into place. Whilst everything tastes phenomenal; my boyfriend proclaimed upon his first tart that one cannot claimed to have lived until trying French pattisserie chef Louis' pastry, nothing looks the same and there is not an assembly-line in sight. The staff and customers are on first name-basis and the girls who work the counter are a truly beautiful bunch, blue eyed and fresh-faced, despite the early starts a bakery workers' life naturally entails.

But there are fantastic bakeries everywhere, and all over the world surely? Indeed. And perhaps I am biased. I'm privileged to work in such proximity that I know the staff by name, I can gain insider recommendations and trading secrets. But there is no bias in the way that Baker's popularity speaks for itself. Returning to an earlier comparison with London's culinary scene: Londoners queue for tables at top restaurants and checkouts in Waitrose, they don't queue along the street or cross cities for bread in bakeries or a few tarts, however good. A real dedication and a commitment to good food exisits in Melbourne, on every layer. No-one is quite sure where this attention to and appreciation of food came from originally, but I know one thing, I'm certainly taking its ethos home with me.

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