The new artisans
Zev Forman, bagel man.
Marty Beck, crumpet maker
The aroma of hot crumpets fills the backstreets of Richmond. It's early morning and former MoVida chef-turned-crumpet maker Marty Beck is well into cooking his daily batch of fat golden crumpets. He turned his back on the rattle and hum of restaurant kitchens and now makes a crust turning out hundreds of crumpets each day in the comfort of his home kitchen. He is part of a growing number of food professionals giving up life working for others, instead taking time and care making the food they love to eat. They are the new artisans, making boutique food products of outstanding quality but taking big risks using different business models that symbolise the path less travelled.
Beck had been commuting to work at the Good Table in Castlemaine. One day, during weekend breakfast service, the head of front of house said to Beck: ''Marty, your crumpets are so good, you have to sell them!''. Beck says: ''So I gave it a go. My mates call me Doc, so Dr Marty's Crumpets were born.''
One of the first things Beck did was have his home kitchen certified by the City of Yarra health department. Being made without eggs or dairy, crumpets are considered a low-risk food product, so all Beck had to do was buy a separate fridge for storing his products.
Like many new-wave artisan producers, his budget was tight. Beck's wife supported him while he concentrated on getting Dr Marty's off the ground. Friends helped him with business advice and a former colleague designed his quirky logo. After buying a bright-red marquee and trestle table, for a total of less than $3000, he was in business, serving his first hot crumpet at a farmers' market six months ago.
Ben Evans, dairyman
Building a milk-processing plant costs a little more. Boutique milk producer Ben Evans sold his flat and his car and risked his health to set up his micro-dairy in the heart of Fitzroy. He grew up in the rich green country of Koroit in Victoria's west with the taste of milk fresh from the dairy. With no land of his own, he immersed himself in the dairy industry, processing milk for large co-operative Murray Goulburn, milking cows in Ireland and making cheese in Bavaria.
In June last year he took over the factory space once used by the late Jonathan Gianfreda of Jonathan's Butchers fame. Every day for a year, Evans would leave work and spend another six hours cleaning, painting and building his small milk-processing plant. On a trip to China, where he was having his pasturing equipment built, he caught a virus and became paralysed.
''Although I have recovered, I still feel a bit numb in the fingers,'' Evans says, ''especially after you've screwed the lids on to a thousand bottles.'' Evans sold his first bottle of St David artisan milk a few months ago. It is made from the raw milk from several different Friesian and Jersey herds grazing on pastures in the volcanic highlands of central Victoria. Evans trucks it to his Fitzroy dairy for pasteurisation and bottling.
''I always wanted a dairy farm myself but unless you inherit one or are filthy rich you just can't afford one,'' he says. ''So I thought, 'I'll take the reverse path and start with a [boutique] factory and one day buy my own farm to supply this place.'''
Shuki Rosenboim and Louisa Allan, provedores
Not far from St David Dairy is a block of housing commission flats. At its base is a small commercial kitchen where community groups come together to make jams for school fetes and learn cooking skills.
It is here that perhaps Melbourne's most luxurious and fresh-tasting dips are made by chef Shuki Rosenboim and Louisa Allan. At the beginning of winter, Allan gave away her career as a teacher and journalist to make Middle Eastern dips with Rosenboim. His family lived in Israel but his mother was born in Iraq. The delicious falafel, hummus, baba ghanoush, green tahini, and pumpkin dip with fresh lemon and cumin are all recipes from Rosenboim's mother.
He approached Allan to work with him when she was covering a Middle Eastern meal he had prepared for SBS Feast magazine. By chance, Allan's father, a grower of chickpeas in the Mallee, found he couldn't sell his crop. The pair didn't have the funds to invest in a kitchen so worked with a community group that lent them its commercial kitchen at the base of the housing estate tower. In return, the pair teaches cooking skills to children from the estate. The duo sells its dips at farmers' markets and to Everyday Coffee, a cafe in Collingwood.
''Three months on and we're working six days a week,'' Allan says.
''We're using dad's chickpeas to make the hummus and we have employed one of the mums from the estate to work for us.''
Zev Forman, bagel man
Across the way in Port Melbourne is Zev Forman, who runs artisan bagelry 5 and Dime. He shares a kitchen at the back of Pure Pies' shopfront - their upmarket pies became too popular so, needing more space, they moved their operation to a much larger facility. Forman has his eyes on a similar success story: ''I want people, when they think of bagels, to think of 5 and Dime.''
The effusive baker originally from New Jersey was a chef with Taxi but was niggled by the softer style of bagel dominant in Melbourne. ''I wanted to make a New York-style bagel.''
After six months of baking, Forman has captured that salty glazed crust and pleasurable chewiness reminiscent of the bagels baked along the Hudson River, but it wasn't always the case. Unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of Australian flour, his bagels in the early days would spread and flatten with a change in the weather. His method involves making a yeast and flour sponge to pre-ferment and develop flavour before the bagel dough is hand-rolled and bulk fermented, shaped, proved and then boiled in a solution of salt and malt sugar. The boiling creates a gluey film that is both salty and a little sweet, which bakes to form the crust.
Forman started in farmers' markets but has expanded with a wholesale business selling to city hot spot Bowery to Williamsburg, plus Richmond Hill Cafe and Larder and Brunswick cafe Pope Joan. His aim is to ''bring Jewish food not just to Jews, but to everyone''.
Stewart Laing, farmer
Farmer Stewart Laing has eschewed the farmers' market route, selling his range of excellent fresh pork and pork smallgoods direct to a small but fiercely loyal clientele.
He was farming his pigs and sheep on a rented farm in Gippsland, but this year bit the bullet and bought a 16-hectare farm on rich soil in the shadow of extinct volcano Mount Franklin near Daylesford. ''We wanted to be closer to where the market is,'' says Laing, his soft east coast Scottish accent testament to his recent arrival in Australia. ''But arable land close to populations is expensive, so with the money we had we decided upon less but more fertile land. But our business is farming, not owning land. When we need to expand we will rent it.''
Originally from near Edinburgh, he watched the supermarkets destroy the local economy of the fishmonger, baker and grocer in his village on the Firth of Forth. This, combined with a calling to become a farmer - his paternal grandfather was a baker who raised pigs and his maternal grandfather was a farmer - led him to turn his back on restaurant management. He married an Australian woman who supported his vision of raising animals to create great meat products, and trades under the name Farmer's Larder.
He cross-breeds rare pigs (which produce carcasses with a lot of fat) with leaner, modern commercial breeds to make meat that balances flavoursome and moist fat with muscle. Working with country butchers, he produces pork sausages made with bread in the Scottish style, giving them that classic moist and moreish mouthfeel often lacking in Australian sausages. His hams are refreshingly full flavoured and porky.
Laing also raises Ryeland sheep, a stocky breed originally from Herefordshire and raised for meat. Looking out over his herds of sows and their scores of piglets in the rich volcanic soil, he looks up and says: ''This is what I was always meant to do.''
Back in Richmond, Beck is getting close to making his 1000th crumpet for the week. It's six months into the business. He's turning a profit and has just invested in a van to deliver to his 20 or so wholesale clients.
''I could never have done this without the generosity of family and friends,'' Beck says. ''There is also an online community on Twitter and Facebook who, if they like what you make, take it on themselves to let others know about what you do.
''I am glad I have made this move. I wouldn't have known what it was like if I didn't give it a go.''
Dr Marty's Crumpets Email email@example.com
Shuki and Louisa Email firstname.lastname@example.org
St David Dairy website here
5 & Dime website here
The Farmer's Larder website here