At 11 o’clock at night Greg Wilton’s alarm goes off. An hour later he is at work and, in his own words, the process starts.
Greg’s process is the hand-crafting from scratch a small range of authentic French pastries. The name of his business is, accordingly, Scratch Patisserie – and it has only been operating since October of last year. At the top of Anderson Hill Greg, his wife Angie and I sit outside – before us the vision of ocean meeting sky – and over wine and cheese they tell me how it all began.
Gleaming like jewels, lacquered with eggs, studded with chocolate, raisins, cinnamon, custard and almonds and laced lavishly with butter, butter and more butter, these are precisely the sort of breakfast pastries you find in France. And it was France which inspired Greg, Mullumbimby-born and bred, when in his teens and by his own admission not especially academically inclined, he decided to opt for an apprenticeship in a bakery then, after some travelling, apply for a job with Club Med. Why French? I ask. ‘I think it was the French language,’ Greg replies, ‘and I associated the French with being the ultimate bakers. For a farm boy maybe the idea of going to Paris was too much and Club Med was a sort of midway point.’
Greg did his apprenticeship at the Bruns Bakery, serving under Brian McDonald, who taught him not only the art of baking everything from scratch but also the business side of things. So determined was he to get a job, any job, with Club Med that, after finding out whom to approach through Centrelink, Greg was offered the position as kitchen hand with the group up at Lindeman Island. ‘But I went straight into pastry,’ Greg says, ‘and after three months they offered me a job in Noumea.’ Off he went to work there for several months before returning to Lindeman Island for another seven; when they then offered him a contract job in Japan he decided to turn it down.
Instead he went to work on boats in the Whitsundays, acquiring a skipper’s certificate and ultimately living on a pontoon on a reef and conducting diving and snorkeling operations and glass-bottom boat tours. He also met Angie who was herself working on boats but as a Japanese interpreter, taking a break from a university degree in eco- tourism. And they fell in love.
Seven years ago they returned to the Byron Shire. Greg had always wanted his own business in pastry-making, despite the period of disillusionment he had undergone up in the Whitsundays. ‘I didn’t think I wanted to ever bake again,’ he tells me, ‘because by this stage it was all pre-mixes. I’d worked in a few places but I’d lost my desire… But I always had that burning desire to come back home and start a baking business.’
So they began, or rather Greg in splendid isolation began, his midnight shifts. He currently works out of a factory at Mullumbimby but is beginning to look around for his own premises. Angie is due to have the couple’s first child in August and has her own job out at the Arts Factory, involved in administration, managing the garden burees and endeavouring to get the place eco-certified (‘A big process!’ she tells me) – despite being heavily pregnant she still does the Saturday morning deliveries.
The couple has done no advertising at all and it’s thanks largely to word-of-mouth – and quality – that their products are now stocked in at least twelve outlets, mostly cafes, around Mullumbimby, Byron Bay, Brunswick Heads and Bangalow. They would like to extend their reach; do the odd farmers market; start selling the successfully trialled Almond Croissants in a frozen form – but at the same time they have no desire to move beyond sustainability. ‘We’ve never been after the fame and the glory,’ says Greg, ‘but we do want to live comfortably.’ Angie adds that ‘you need to be able to go out, and remember why you’re there!’
There’s a bit of a running gag at the Rock’n’Roll Cafe in Mullum that Greg is single-handedly responsible for the widening of customers’ backsides. He takes that, quite rightly, as a compliment.
Scratch Mobile Patisserie make croissants, almond croissants, danishes, pain au chocolat, pain au raisin and, by order only, Greg’s speciality of profiteroles. Yes, he’ll do croquembouche as well. For enquiries call 0466 605 007.