An essential stop-off for any Canberran passing through Braidwood, you’ve likely heard of or seen…
It may seem like an unlikely headline to some—but not for the cult-following of a certain family bakery.
Zach Elliott-Crenn has spent time cheffing in Melbourne, London, New York and Singapore—even picking up a coveted Michelin star two years ago at Portland Restaurant in London’s Fitzrovia.
However, his latest gig is somewhat closer to home, at Spence Family Bakery.
A tightly-held secret of northsiders who find solace in their traditional sourdough, lamingtons, pies and vanilla slices, Spence Family Bakery has something of a cult following.
Even so, should customers be surprised to find Chef Zach in the kitchen? Not really. After all, it’s owned by his parents—Catherine and Dean Elliott.
Having spent three years at Portland Restaurant after cutting his teeth at Civic’s Courgette and Melbourne’s Vue de Monde among others, Zach was poached by Singapore’s Maggie Joan’s in late 2019, where he gained acclaim for his pastry-inspired menu items.
But as COVID spread across the world, Zach and wife Chloe saw the writing on the wall.
“I was deeply worried as the virus started to spread in China and beyond,” says Zach. “Despite the [Singaporean] government’s preparedness and its seemingly good handling of the situation for the first couple of months, small restaurants like mine were already feeling the pinch as people became more cautious and stopped eating out.”
Zach and Chloe hopped one of the last flights to Australia and after two weeks quarantining in Sydney, it was home to Canberra—and the family bakery.
And a good thing too—they needed all the help they could get.
“We’ve actually really increased our sales—we’re flat out,” says Catherine Elliott, co-owner of Spence Family Bakery and Zach’s mum.
“I had to put extra staff on and we have a lot of local customers who are using us instead of the big supermarkets. We’ve increased trade by about 30 per cent in the past two months. So when we got the call from Zach that he wanted to leave Singapore, we said ‘come home!’.”
But while Catherine says Zach has been turning his hand to a few new items for the bakery, Zach says he has no intention of upsetting the apple cart.
“The bakery is a great source of inspiration for me, and I can’t wait to be back in a kitchen where I can test out all the ideas that have come to me in the last few weeks, from variations on bread to petits fours and desserts.”
“But considering how quickly everything flies off the shelves in the bakery, I would say my father knows exactly what his customers want, and I’m not going to upset that delicate balance. He knows what he is doing!”
Zach isn’t the only son to be working in the bakery either, with younger brother Max having recently qualified as a pastry chef. For Catherine, having her family together has been a high point in these tragic times.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful—you’re always worried about them overseas, even though he’s made a lovely life for himself. It’s always lovely to have them home.”
Zach says he’s also appreciated the unexpected return to Canberra.
“It’s been wonderful having so much time to spend with my wife and with my family—being home for dinner every night, cooking together and simply having the time to unwind without worrying about work. Time feels suspended, in a way.”
“Of course, I’m eager to get back into the kitchen and feel the warmth and conviviality of a full restaurant and happy diners again, but it’s been a lovely hiatus nonetheless.”
Zach says that in the future, he and Chloe will try and find work in Sydney, where he can “showcase the truly amazing produce Australia has to offer”.
But until then, it’s the baker’s life for him. As for which bakery items are must-try for new customers, Zach says it’s hard to pick just one.
“My father’s sourdough breads are remarkable, and as a bread lover I really appreciate having a fresh loaf of delicious sourdough around all the time. And the pies are dangerously good. On the sweet side, I can never resist a chocolate éclair or the banana bread…”
What: Spence Family Bakery
Where: 1 Glassey Place, Spence
When: Monday-Friday 6.30 am–6 pm, Saturday from 6.30 am–2 pm, closed Sundays
More information: Facebook