Sometimes people will queue for hundreds of metres outside bakery Lune to buy and eat one of Kate Reid’s croissants.
“There are moments where I am genuinely still shocked and thrilled,” Reid told Jonathan Green on ABC RN’s Blueprint for Living.
“But honestly, I eat these at least four or five times a week and I’ve been doing it for 10 years and I don’t grow sick of them. And I don’t really like eating anybody else’s croissants. So maybe I would get in the line as well.”
Reid has a reason to rate her own work.
In 2016, a New York Times food critic wrote that her classic croissant “with its holy balance of buttery heft and feathery flake, may be the finest you will find anywhere in the world”.
Israel-born British chef Yotam Ottolenghi told Conde Nast Traveller in 2019: “This is the croissant that should act as the prototype for all others.”
A croissant is both an incredibly simple and complex piece of baking.
Reid recalls delivering her croissants to a cafe, after spending the usual three days making them, including a 4am wake-up on the day of delivery.
“A guy came up to me in a cafe and he went ‘Oh, so do you just get up in the morning and whip up a batch of croissants?’ and it was so cavalier.
“I was like, ‘I hope you realise that what you’re biting into is three days’ worth of blood, sweat and tears.'”
Since it opened in Melbourne in 2012, Kate’s business has gone from a one-person shop to a five-site bakery in two states. Now, Reid has also published a cookbook: Lune: Croissants All Day, All Night.
But being Australia’s croissant queen wasn’t always her dream job. First, she had a pit stop in Formula 1.
Formula 1 and fulfilment
Reid’s love affair began when she was 13 years old, and her father took her along to Melbourne’s Grand Prix.
From that moment she geared her studies towards working as a Formula 1 engineer.
She studied aerospace engineering at RMIT University, and at age 23, began working for the Williams F1 racing team.
Reid told Patricia Karvelas on RN Breakfast: “I’m extroverted. I like to be around people. I love working with my hands. I love being collaborative.
“And when I got to work in Formula 1, I discovered that the life of an engineer is definitely not those things. It’s very isolated and solo, you spend a lot of time working on a computer.”
It was the early 2000s and her dream job had taken her to the United Kingdom, far from her family and her support networks in Melbourne.
“I thought that I would get everything that I needed out of a career in Formula 1 to feel completely fulfilled and unfortunately, it wasn’t the case.”
She developed depression that then turned into anorexia.
“I became really sick and the ironic thing about an eating disorder is that you can’t stop thinking about food,” says Reid.
“If you’re starving your body, your body’s just sending signals to your brain all day telling you to think about eating food and you don’t dream about eating a leaf of lettuce.”
Baking and recovering
Reid was drawn to baked goods, so every night after an unfulfilling day of work, she’d bake.
“I would start to get a bit experimental with it and I lived vicariously through this process of working with raw ingredients, like flour, sugar and eggs … through the magic of science and baking, you end up with a product that is so much greater than the sum of its parts.”
Reid would then share her creations with her colleagues.
“Seeing how happy it would make everybody, I started to think ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t be an engineer. Maybe I should be a baker instead.'”
But she had also become so unwell that her father had to fly over to the UK and bring her home.
Back home and still incredibly unwell, but itching to do something, Reid talked herself into a gig as a counter hand for a local bakery.
“[I] put myself in the most torturous position possible, surrounded by all this food that I wasn’t letting myself eat. But … I absolutely adored it,” she recalls.
“The only thing that just drove me nuts was that I wasn’t making what we were selling … this whole period of time, I was on a slow road to recovery.”
Then Reid worked for the next two years, on and off, baking cakes and biscuits for a little cafe.
“But I was starting to get a bit bored by the simplicity of that style of baking and getting a bit more interested in French pastry because it’s so technical,” she says.
So Reid, hypnotised by a double-page spread of pain au chocolat in a book about Paris patisseries, booked a ticket to Paris.
‘Little moment of joy’
In Paris, Reid visited Du Pain et des Idées, the famous boulangerie where that fateful photo of the pain au chocolat had been taken.
“I was so taken by the experience I’d had in the boulangerie and the beauty of the pastries that I’d eaten,” she says.
There was a constant queue outside the bakery.
“I had this realisation that every single person that was standing in that queue was having this little moment of joy … this moment of happiness while they ate something that they’d looked forward to.
“[Pastry chef/owner Christophe Vasseur] gets to give this to several hundred people a day — that’s pretty special.”
The next day she wrote an impassioned email to Vasseur and eventually plucked up the courage to ask him to take her on as an unpaid apprentice.
He said to her: “At the boulangerie we have no-one that speaks English, and it’s very small. We don’t normally do that. But for some reason, I can see the same passion and motivation in you that is in me. Yes. When do you want to start?”
“So that’s when my love affair with the croissant really started.”
She writes in her cookbook of her month-long stint at Du Pain et des Idées in 2011: “I felt like I had finally found my thing.”
Reverse-engineering a croissant
Back home, though, Reid discovered she had really only touched the tip of the iceberg of the croissant-making process.
Her early attempts were “pitiful” but, undeterred, she invested in commercial bakery equipment (including a dough mixer, laminator and prover) and decided to open a croissant-only bakery.
“I naively thought that I was armed with the information that I needed, but obviously wasn’t, and I had spent my life savings already,” she says.
“So instead of going back to school, or an apprenticeship to learn, I thought, ‘Well, I’m an engineer, maybe I can reverse-engineer this process.’ So I imagined that final perfect end product.”
Every single day for three months, she tested, experimented and refined until she landed on her own Lune-style croissant, which is quite different to the classic French style.
Reid opened Lune in 2012 in Melbourne bayside suburb Elwood. Initially, she supplied cafes, but after her brother joined the business, they turned the site into their own retail space.
In 2015, they expanded the operation to a large warehouse in Fitzroy in Melbourne’s inner north. Other stores followed.
The experimentation continues
When it comes to Lune, Reid approaches everything with the mindset of an engineer rather than a baker.
“I’ve had a lot of journalists laugh at me in the past like, ‘Well, Formula 1 to croissants — that’s ridiculous! But I’m not testing croissants in the wind tunnel, yet,” Reid laughs.
“Studying engineering not only taught me the very technical things about designing a Formula 1 car, but it taught me how to think, how to break down problems, how to experiment and hone and improve some things.”
Just as Reid developed her own croissant, she says her pastry chefs, like engineers, have the agency to test the process.
“It’s not common for a bakery to challenge the status quo of a classic recipe. Typically you’ll come in as an apprentice, you’ll be taught the traditional croissant recipe and then it’s just your job day in, day out to replicate that process.
“But these guys have the ability to change and improve it, which I love.”
Reid was experimenting again when she started writing her cookbook.
It coincided with Melbourne’s extended 2021 lockdown, when Reid was at home, armed only with a rolling pin and stand mixer. She ended up reformulating her dough for the home cook.
“I really had to start from scratch and think about it from a completely different angle. It was a challenge, but I got there,” she says.
Reid’s advice for those starting out on the three-day journey to a croissant?
“Just because something doesn’t work out the way you thought that it would doesn’t mean it’s a failure. It’s just a different result that you can learn from … I think that’s probably also a bit of an engineering mindset.”
RN in your inbox
Get more stories that go beyond the news cycle with our weekly newsletter.