Food News

Behind the scenes of Lune Croissanterie

A former designer of Formula One racing cars, Lune Croissanterie’s Kate Reid now goes full throttle at the business of baking, writes Maggie Scardifield.

Freshly baked croissants from Lune

Jessica Reftel Evans and Martin Reftel

It’s 7.30 on a winter’s morning in Melbourne’s Fitzroy and there’s a long line of people queueing around a corner. A sign fixed to the grey painted wall reads: “Please respect our neighbours and keep noise to a minimum.” But these people aren’t waiting to get into a club. They’re here for pastry. Welcome to Lune, where lovers (and would-be lovers) of next-level croissants gather before sunrise to get their taste of what many consider to be Australia’s best baked goods.

There’s still half an hour until the doors open. People read books, take selfies, swap stories and stand on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of Kate Reid and her team making magic.

But Reid probably wouldn’t use the word “magic” herself; if Lune croissants are miracles, they’re miracles of design. This overnight sensation was years in the making, and the road to success for Reid has been anything but direct.

Croissants were by no means Kate Reid’s first passion. That was motorsports. Before she launched Lune, she worked as an aerodynamicist for Formula One team Williams. “I was on the front-end team,” she says. “We designed the front-wing end-plates, any fins or attachments to that end-plate, the front brake ducts, the nose cone and the engine intake.”

Founder Kate Reid.

(Photo: Jessica Reftel Evans and Martin Reftel)

Reid was 13 when she decided she wanted to work in Formula One. “I was going to be the first female technical director of an F1 team and live in the UK for the rest of my life,” she says. After completing a five-year aerospace degree, and working stints at Volkswagen and Ford, she was accepted to do a Masters of Motorsport Engineering at Cranfield University, an hour’s drive north of London. In a bid to make herself “as standout as possible”, Reid emailed a few teams in search of work experience. “I didn’t really expect to hear back, but I woke up really early to an email from the chief aero at Williams.” She was hired – not as an intern, but as their next junior aerodynamicist.

Visit Lune’s headquarters – a warehouse on Rose Street in Fitzroy – and you can see that Reid remains an engineer at heart. Everything, she says, is based on a set of rules and formulas. All of Lune’s pastry dough is worked within “the cube”, a six-metre square climate-controlled glass room where bakers in white neckties knead, roll and wrap dough at a central black marble counter. The LED tube lighting overhead and rocking playlist might be more reminiscent of a bar than a bakery, but this is serious stuff. The bakers make about 1,200 croissants a day – and for each of those 170 batches per week the temperature of every ingredient is measured and recorded, and the resting times are adjusted according to those variables. “When I was at Williams, every little change made a massive difference to the performance of the car,” says Reid. “It’s the same with croissants.”

Inside the cube.

(Photo: Jessica Reftel Evans and Martin Reftel)

That attention to detail has paid off: last year The New York Times described Lune’s classic beurre croissant as perhaps “the finest you will find anywhere in the world”, and even five years after launching, folks still queue. The shards of pastry seem crisper than most croissants – buttery, the colour of bitter caramel, and sweet but without the bready mouthfeel. They shatter in a way that makes you hope and pray Lune will start selling the flakes just as old-school ice-creameries once did with broken waffle cones. Reid attributes this to Lune’s unique combination of turns, the series of folds made to the pastry before proving and baking. The dough is laminated by being spread with butter and folded in thirds like a business letter a number of times, but Reid does this fewer times than is traditional. “With that style you actually get more layers than with the combination of turns we use,” says Reid. “I find that with slightly fewer layers you get that lovely crunch and the big flakes, with a feathery, soft interior.”

After three years at Williams, Reid decided to change lanes and leave the trade; it just didn’t quite measure up to the 10 years of expectation.

“The job wasn’t at all what I’d imagined,” she says. “That’s confronting when you’re a bit of a control freak and you’ve planned your entire life around something.”

What Formula One did introduce her to, however, was Paris and, more specifically, the world of Viennoiserie. “I had to travel to France quite a lot to be closer to the teams,” she says. “I remember fondly the routine of stopping for a croissant and coffee in the morning. It wasn’t just a muffin or something quite simple to make. Croissants seemed quite technical to me.”

More than a thousand croissants are made daily.

(Photo: Jessica Reftel Evans and Martin Reftel)

In 2010 a glance at a coffee-table book on French pâtisseries, and in particular a double-page photo of pain au chocolat – “so perfectly stacked-up and zoomed-in that you could see every perfect layer” – inspired Reid to book an impromptu ticket to Paris. When she got there she went searching for the pastries; they were from Du Pain et des Idées, a small bakery in the 10th arrondissement run by award-winning baker Christophe Vasseur. “It was everything that I’d imagined and more,” says Reid.

The visit to Du Pain et des Idées set Reid’s next big move into gear: she would become a baker. In 2011 she returned to Paris for an apprenticeship with Vasseur and spent 10 hours a day for the next two months learning Viennoiserie. The sky-blue corner bakery, with its painted glass ceiling and gold lettering, opened in 2002 in a restored 19th-century building. The light bounces off mirrored walls and Versailles-style cabinets, and the front windows are filled with vintage biscuit tins and towering piles of sourdough baguette and the house specialty, a nutty focaccia-like bread called pain des amis. Round platters of chaussons aux pomme, pain chocolat-banane and fresh fruit escargots sit behind tall glass cases like precious jewellery.

“It was like living in a movie,” says Reid. “I’d walk to work at six in the morning and the whole city would be glowing gold and smelt of butter. Formula One was amazing, but nothing compares to the experiences I’ve had with baking.”

There were other discoveries in Paris, too, including the kouign-amann, which Reid first noticed at the boulangerie around the corner from her local laundromat.

“I had eyed it off for the first couple of weeks and then I built up the courage to ask the ladies what it was,” she says. Now the Breton pastry is a celebrated part of the Lune repertoire.

Lune croissants waiting to be baked.

(Photo: Jessica Reftel Evans and Martin Reftel)

After returning from France in 2011, Reid landed a small shopfront in Elwood, just south of Melbourne’s CBD. She moved in upstairs and would bake into the night, then deliver the pastries to espresso bars such as Clement, Everyday Coffee and Patricia in the morning. “Melbourne has such good espresso bars but not one of them at that time had that perfect complement of a really good croissant,” she says. Despite her intentions for a modest wholesale business, it wasn’t long before people came looking for her croissants straight from the oven.

In 2013, Reid’s brother Cameron joined Lune as co-owner, and in 2015 the pair moved the operation to the much larger warehouse space in Fitzroy. These days wait times (which can easily run to more than half an hour) are soon forgotten when a box of ham and Swiss Gruyère croissants, pain au chocolat, cruffins (a Lune creation), or the beurre-style signature is handed over.

Everything is made with top-shelf ingredients: free-range Villa Verde eggs, Laucke flour, Sungold Jersey milk, and two different kinds of butter, Pepe Saya for the dough and Beurre d’Isigny from France for laminating. The meat for the Reuben, and ham and cheese croissants is from Andrew McConnell’s luxed-up butcher, Meatsmith, just around the corner. Then there’s the Lune Lab where customers can try the latest Lune experiments – millefeuille filled with roasted pear, whipped caramelised white-chocolate and thyme, say, or a Yorkshire pudding-style Danish with rare beef, mushroom duxelles, peas and gravy. The labs sell out months in advance.

Reid preparing a tray of croissants.

(Photo: Jessica Reftel Evans and Martin Reftel)

Reid hasn’t stopped at baked goods, either – she’s gaining speed in the tech space. In March she launched Supp, a free app to help hospitality businesses fill shifts last minute and for restaurant and café professionals to find casual work. She has had her fair share of staff calling in sick or changing shifts at the 11th hour. “There are only so many people in your personal network and only so many friends you can call on for favours,” she says, “but when we started using Supp we’d have someone standing at the counter, the coffee machine or the kitchen sink within an hour.”

Workers can specify their minimum hourly rate on the app and set preferences for locations, availability and experience. Employers can adjust their parameters, too, and both parties are rated at the end of a shift. “The whole platform works off reputation and connections,” says Reid.

The app is also about ensuring a better workplace. “We’ve approached a lot of businesses and found that they’re paying kitchenhands $15 an hour. We won’t sign them. We want to ensure a happy, safe and legal workplace, and push other businesses to do that as well.”

More than a thousand workers and over 200 businesses use the platform. “We’re focusing on the upper-end of hospitality in inner-city Melbourne to start so we grow from a position of quality and strength,” says Reid. Top Melbourne cafés including Higher Ground, St Ali, Tivoli Road, The Kettle Black and Top Paddock use the app, as do restaurants Lûmé, Pope Joan and Entrecôte. “This industry is hard work but it’s refreshing to see someone like Kate using her skills and knowledge to think outside the box,” says Shaun Quade, chef and owner of Lûmé. “It makes it just that little bit easier for us all.”

Reid’s quality control extends to measuring the temperature of each ingredient in each batch.

(Photo: Jessica Reftel Evans and Martin Reftel)

Not every Supp worker who picks up a shift at Lune will be allowed in the cube, though. “The dough recipe is pretty highly regarded and kept under wraps,” she says. “You have to spend time showing us that you’re committed.”

Reid is now scouting for a Lune site in Melbourne’s CBD. The raw pastry will still be worked in Fitzroy, but the pared-back “satellite” will prove the croissants and bake them fresh on site. She also envisages that once they’ve built a strong framework for Supp in Melbourne, they’ll expand to other states and pitch it overseas.

An engineer, according to Reid, will never design something once and be done with it – they have a baseline and then start looking at what happens if one variable is changed. “Does it improve?” she says. “If it doesn’t, I’ll go back to the baseline and try something else. And I’ll keep going and going until it gets better.”

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