Baker Bleu is a must-visit for bread lovers in Melbourne. Owners Mike and Mia Russell are obsessed with quality food and ingredients, and they’re committed to taking the time required to get it all just right. This careful attention to detail is evident in every bite of their exquisite bagels, challah, bread loaves and sweet treats.
Baker Bleu has been brewing Market Lane filter coffee in-store and retailing our beans since 2019. Mike talked to us about his food inspirations, and what makes Baker Bleu’s bread so very delicious!
Market Lane Coffee: How did you fall in love with bread and baking?
Mike Russell: I think I first loved the concept of owning a small business. Whether it be a bar, deli etc. I started working in restaurants and hotels, which led to working in the pastry section. I also had real obsession with pintxos, and I wanted to start a pintxos bar, and this led to me wanting to bake my own bread. Then I fell down the rabbit hole of bread – wanting to bake more, read about it more. I worked for some great bakers wanting to learn the craft. And here we are today!
Was there anyone particularly inspirational to you back when you were getting the business up and running?
I’ve been inspired by people that I have met both here in Australia and abroad. I think that the bread is a craft and you have your training, but then once you start a business it becomes so much more. I think more in a business sense, but I still have the parameters of one of the world’s oldest food products. It’s all relative to the end product: how can we respect the craft and not destroy the process by making more, making it easier for the staff, only baking in the morning and during the day. So bakers and business people inspire me from Apollonia Poilâne, Andrew Connole from Sonoma Bakery, Igor and Ludmilla Ivanovic from Iggy’s Bread, Paul Allam and David McGuinness from Bourke Street Bakery.
Who inspires you today?
A range of bakers and businesspeople in both baking or food backgrounds, and non-food backgrounds too. Ben Shewry is so hardworking and innovative, and also honest genuine to the core. Neil Perry has built a well-known brand and is an icon, and he’s a champion for growers and producers. Andrew McConnell, a restaurant and business owner with the ultimate aesthetic approach. Gabby Leibovich, founder of Catch of the Day – so hard working and innovative.
What was it that drew you to open your first shop on Glen Eira Road in Elsternwick?
Everything about that shop shouted yes you can! It was next to busy café, it had all the utilities ready to go, and the size was just right for a small set-up.
We wanted to be in a neighbourhood that had a European heritage, where customers would appreciate dark crusts and large format bread for sharing.
Your bread is some of the best we have eaten! What makes it so good, and how is your bread different from other sourdough loaves found throughout Melbourne?
Thank you! You guys are too nice. Bread is quite simple, it varies from bakery to bakery, but the secret to any good sourdough is the quality of the ingredients and the process. We use high quality ingredients from local growers, and we ferment our loaves longer than most. From the moment a dough is mixed it’s almost 24 hours of proofing and fermentation until its baked. We control this process very carefully. Using cool humidity to accentuate the flavour, develop the crust and the flavour.
How do you enjoy coffee at home?
Always filter! We have a Moccamaster at home. When travelling, I have an Aeropress. I also love chilled filter.
What have been some of the most special moments serving people in your shop?
It’s always humbling to meet a customer who loves the bread and perhaps has a story about one of our products that recalls a memory of a sensory experience.
For example, for a customer whose grandmother used to bake a large loaf for the family every week back in the old country, warm fresh bread can bring back that sensorial experience.
Where do you go to eat, drink and hang out on your days off in Melbourne?
When near the bakery I like to go to Goodies Takeaway Shop on Balaclava Road. I love the lunch plate at Friends of the Earth on Smith Street in Collingwood. I also love Carlton Wine Room for the snacks, and the sandwiches are great at Morning Market [on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy]. Congress Wine is always good for the wine list, Spring Street Grocer for gelato, and Market Lane Coffee at Prahran Market for amazing lattes!