Artisan Boulanger – baker (I do love the word “artisan” which highlights the uniqueness of a savoir-faire – know how), pâtissier, host on French TV, author of various culinary books, Gontran Cherrier cannot go unnoticed when he opens his first bakery in Melbourne. I had the pleasure to have an interview with Gontran Cherrier, an absolutely lovely man Mesdames and also very sexy sorry Messieurs. But let’s focus on the bakery…
I was really looking forward to giving my opinion on the opening of his bakery. What I saw first was a modern bakery mixing different flavours from different countries so, I ordered a croque-monsieur, Pacdon Park free-range ham, gruyère béchamel, and Dijon Mustard… I was already under the spell.
When we started the interview, I could immediately notice a cool attitude, a man passionate about his journey as a “revolutionary baker”, always open to new recipes. And after all, it’s quite normal for someone raised in bakeries and patisseries.
After more than 25 bakeries in the world, why did you choose Australia and especially Melbourne for a new bakery?
Australia is an extension. I opened a bakery in Singapore after one in Japan, one in South Korea, and now we open in Tai Pe (capital of Taiwan) so I tried to complete in Asia–Pacific. We are also going to open in China and in Thailand in November; and if everything is ok, in Indonesia next summer. I came already few times in Australia, essentially for culinary festivals and I just love (j’adore) this country. I love the lifestyle, the cuisine, and the ingredients that we can find in this country (olive oil, the cheese, the oysters, the wine…); it’s very rich. I went to Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney… and I moved around and it’s so great (c’est vraiment top).
I came already few times in Australia, essentially for culinary festivals and I just love (j’adore) this country.
I chose Melbourne because I think it’s maybe the most adapted city to start and open a French bakery. Actually, it’s also good for me to become more popular and exposed in this country for those who don’t know me. The French culture is more developed in Melbourne than in Sydney. Also Smith Street reminds me of Montmartre in Paris.
So you tell me that the Australian don’t know you, could you introduce yourself in few words?
I opened my first bakery 5 years ago at Montmartre. I’m the 4th generation of “Boulanger” (baker). I grew up in bakeries where my parents and grandparents were working. I learned to be a baker at school like everyone but at my parent’s place too. Quickly, I wanted to work differently, to follow my career path linked to bakery and patisserie but also follow other sectors in the industry. I worked in high-range restaurants like Passard (Alain Passard is French chef and owner of the three-star restaurant L’Arpège in Paris located Rue de Varennes in 7ème arrondissement of Paris), in different caterers, and I worked overseas.
I have written books, I was on TV, and I was also teacher. In parallel, I also have a consulting business. I do a lot of different things. However, I always wanted to open a bakery abroad. Now, I have almost 30 bakeries over 5 years and 3 of them are in France. (Just at this moment, an Australian came to congratulate Gontran and I was pleasantly admiring this 37 year old man being very humble and very warm with people, definitely a French class).
What are the reasons that push you to open different bakeries overseas?
I was just frustrated to see the opening of bakeries overseas called “boulangerie française” (French bakery). At the end of the day, the only French side was the name (and right now, I totally understand him, leaving also overseas and having experienced a lot of pseudo French places). A lot of French chefs export themselves but only few bakers. So I decided that I was totally able to do it and I did.
At this point of the interview, I have this pleasant French pride when I think that « our » French baker has a worldwide vision.
Oui oui that’s true because when you live overseas, you reconnect differently with your own culture and you’re happy to see your culture exported. But let’s back to the interview…
Today I’m in 7 countries; I would love to reach 10 countries and later open in US, Canada, and South America. I love atypical places, I don’t like to go where everyone goes; one of the reasons I went first to Asia, inspired by their culinary culture especially Japan. I’m totally fascinated in their cuisine.
You said to me you have been disappointed in few French bakeries so what is it for you the characteristic of a French bakery (from now on, the secret may be revealed – wink)
First, it’s to have a good baguette (giggles – ok Gontran but what is a good baguette? Because I know French people are very demanding so imagine a French baker). The French baguette is the traditional baguette: it’s tasty, in general there is a long fermentation, the crust is thicker, and we have a better conservation (and I can confirm this because the day before I bought a French baguette at Gontran Cherrier and I was totally amazed to see that the following day, the baguette was still delicious, bringing me back to France).
And then other characteristics of a good French bakery are a good croissant and a good Parisian brioche.
Your favourite recipe?
Le pain de seigle et miso (rye miso bread) and le croissant (translation? really?). I can spend nights to perfect the croissant. J’adore.
So what is a good croissant for you?
It’s all about a good pastry. We need a good pastry to make outer the croissant crunchy and crusty, and inner very fluffy. (I confirm it again after trying a croissant, what a tough job I have).
Your signature recipe?
My rye miso bread and croissant.
What do you love about bakery?
At the beginning I wanted to do patisserie but later I went to the “Ecole de boulangerie” in Paris and it was love at first sight. There is something very sensual to touch the batter; you give life to something. I love patisserie too but I get bored when I think with bakery it’s always different.
But isn’t it a big challenge to open a bakery overseas when the bread is not as traditional as in France?
The consumption changes a lot. This is the case in Japan they eat more and more bread. Today the bread becomes more important than rice. (Are we “frenching” the world?). And I always do a “fusion bakery”.
I love fusion. That means when I arrive in a country I keep my classic French products but I also like to mix with local products.
I adapt my products to the country.
For example I use Australian miso for my bread and local dried grapes for the scones. I want to visit farms, use local products, and create new recipes that I can bring in Japan and vice versa.
The Melbourne recipe, what it is?
There are lots of spices in Australia. For example, I love the lemon myrtle leaf, very perfumed. I also love dukkah. It’s excellent. I discovered it the first time in 2008. It’s very Australian and delicious.
This is very representative of Australia and actually it can be the Australian signature in my recipes.
New projects in Australia? (Thinking about Sydney, that can be jealous). And oui Gontran affirmed that he plans to open a bakery in Sydney and a new one in Melbourne (trying to influence him by coming close to my place). “Once, we are well settled with the bakery and the products.”
Gontran has the passion of an artist. When he speaks about French boulangerie, you can see this little light in his eyes. And after all with a good baguette and a good croissant, it’s all about art. Think about it… You are first hooked by the delicate captivating smell; then the flavour and the taste carry you to a pleasant state of admiration. Art creates emotions, it is what happens for a French person when you bite a croissant fresh out of the oven. Hope it will happen to you too.
Merci beaucoup Gontran Cherrier for creating more emotions in our Melbourne and soon in Sydney, and for sharing with us your love for bakery.
Visit his website: www.gontrancherrier.com.au
Gontran Cherrier is now open from 7am to 6pm
Address: 140 Smith Street, Collingwood