Michael James isn’t your ordinary baker. Michael and his wife Pippa, are the husband and wife team behind the famous Tivoli Road Bakery in South Yarra which has people travelling from all over Melbourne to get their hands on their delicious sourdough.
Growing up in Penzance in Cornwall, Michael moved to London where he worked for Tom Aikens at 2-Michelin-starred Pied à Terre. Luckily for us, he migrated to Australia, working at Sydney’s Bourke Street Bakery before working in Baker D Chirico and MoVida Bakery in Melbourne as head pastry chef/bakery. Michael and Pippa then purchased the bakery in 2013 and reopened it as Tivoli Road.
I caught up with Michael to talk about his commitment to high quality produce and the secret behind his famous sourdough.
Your sourdough is highly commended by food lovers in Melbourne. What is the secret to making a quality sourdough?
Our sourdough bread is a very long process. We only use flour,water and salt and we mill a small percentage of our flour to keep it fresh and full of nutrients and oils. We do not use added gluten or ascorbic acid, like most bakeries in Melbourne. We like to keep it natural and simple with our organic flour.
The starter is fed twice a day firstly at 3.00am. We also start the autolyse then mix the flour and water to help with hydration and enzyme activity. When the starter is ripe around 7.00 am, we start to mix our first doughs. We use a delayed salt process which helps the wheat to absorb more water and gives the starter more time to bond and grow because salt inhibits wild yeast growth.
Another method we use is bassinage. Then we bulk our doughs for hours and start to shape our bread into our loaf shape at 12.00pm, then its retarded over night and baked from 3 am onwards the next day. At 2.00pm we start to build up the starter and feed it once more so it’s an ongoing continuous process 7 days a week.
What types of bread do you have at the bakery?
Lots! Our sourdough varieties are linseed, olive, rosemary and lemon, pelt and honey, 100% rye, multigrain, baguette and fruit bread. Other varieties include turkish bread, yeasted brioche and soda bread.
At the weekends we experiment with new grains, techniques and flavours of bread. For exammple whey, butter and honey or our wattle seed and macadamia.
What are your most popular items at the bakery?
At the moment it’s our bread which is great, since we put a lot of effort and thought behind improving the quality all the time. We sell out of bread on most days . Our most popular is the sourdough followed closely by the soy and linseed. Our doughnuts are always popular, especially the salted caramel. Croissants also seem to be becoming a new favourite item at the bakery.
What is the secret to your delicious doughnuts?
Good local organic produce, Mount Zero lemon oil and a long slow prove. And lots of filling!!
How are Australian bakeries different from bakeries in the UK? Have you brought any Cornish traditions to Australia?
I’m looking forward to going back home in April to check out some of the new bakeries. There has been a big improvement in the UK recently due to the huge success of the Great British Bake Off. Some of the bakeries like E5 , St John, Bread Ahead and Brickhouse produce magnificent baked goods in their own style so I can’t wait to see them all and report back!
At Tivoli Road, we sell Cornish pasties on Fridays. We also sell saffron buns from time to time at the farmers market and a few English items like scones, eccles cakes, custard tarts and treacle tarts.
We are also looking forward to having a big inspiration of mine – Justin Gellatly from Bread Ahead in Borough Market, London – come and visit Melbourne for the food and wine festival this year, it will be good to talk shop with him!
Can you see any new trends developing in 2015? Can we say goodbye to the cronut and the duffin?
We shall see…we really want to concentrate on our popular items and do them really well. We don’t sell cronuts anymore but we do like to play around with interesting flavours for our doughnuts.
What is it like working in a husband and wife team?
It’s working well! All duties are split and we have our own sections and space . My wife Pippa, organises the shop, works at the farmers market and does the books, and I do the back of house stuff at the bakery.
What have you got planned for Easter this year?
Laughs… Easter! Last year was very intense we got absolutely hammered after winning best hot cross buns in a few lists and publications . We are planning a good old-fashioned hot cross bun again using amazing fruit from happy fruit, Myrtleford butter, green eggs and organic flour. Perhaps a slight change in recipe? We shall also do our hot cross bun doughnut!
Are you at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival this year?
Yes. We are doing a pop up bakery in Queens Bridge Square with Justin Gellatly, Eric Kayser and my old boss Daniel Chirico. We will be open for breakfast, lunch and in the evening when we will transform into a wine bar serving light snacks. There will also be a masterclass on the weekend so hopefully it will be massive! And lots of technique sharing!