“We want to make real food in a real way from real farmers,” says Franco Villalva, who opened new bakery To Be Frank with business partner Lauren Parsons in December. “To Be Frank is about bringing this level of respect to bread.”
During my visit to the Collingwood warehouse that To Be Frank calls home, Villalva introduces me to chefs visiting from nearby bakeries All Are Welcome and Falco. I wonder if they’re there to scope out the competition, but I learn there’s a bit of a “bread alliance” among Melbourne bakers with a shared love of good bread.
Villalva tells me he’s worked as a pastry chef for more than 15 years, with stints in restaurants in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Spain and France. In 2012, he moved to Australia and spent five years at Bacash Restaurant in South Yarra, but it was a bakery he came across while on holiday in Thailand that inspired To Be Frank.
“The bread my friend was making at Amantee Bakery [in Bangkok] was like nothing I’d tried before,” says Villalva. “I was really impressed by the quality of the ingredients, and how it’s not all about the sourdough. So I decided to move to Bangkok to learn the process, and bring the product back home to Australia.”
While sourdough is arguably the bread of the moment, Villalva is making slow-fermented breads from wholegrain flour and a little yeast. There’s no sour taste, but that means you can better taste the grains.
“I think yeast has a bad reputation from its use in commercial breads,” says Parsons. “It’s the use in high quantities to speed up the fermentation process that’s the problem – but used properly it can actually make a beautiful product.”
Stone-ground flours are sourced from certified organic producers such as Demeter Biodynamic and Rolling Stone Mill in Victoria, and Wholegrain Milling Co in New South Wales.
For an indulgent treat, try the specialty. It's loosely based on a factura, a pastry Villalva remembers from his Argentinian upbringing. The version here is flaky pastry folded in half like a taco then filled with dulce de leche .
Other sweet things include almond croissants and pain au chocolat. There are two kinds of escargot (a spiral-shaped pastry traditionally dotted with raisins): a walnut-and-fig number, and a chocolate-cranberry version filled with chocolate crème patisserie.
Villalva is currently working with Quentin Berthonneau (baker-owner at Q le Baker) on a wholemeal croissant, too.
Alongside traditional baguettes and ciabatta, there’s an Incan-influenced loaf made with quinoa, amaranth and maize flour, and a Ukrainian-inspired one with caraway seeds. The fougasse, a French-style focaccia, comes with blue cheese or olives, and there are croque monsieurs too with ham, cheese and béchamel.
Single-origin coffee is by Symmetry, and there are no single-use cups available. If you forget your reusable cup, a swap-and-go system is managed by Green Caffeen.
The interior of the 120-square-metre warehouse is by MIC Projects (Stomping Ground, Rustica Melbourne Central). It’s functional and industrial, with timber plywood bench seating, high ceilings and a few upturned milk crates out the front functioning as makeshift seating.
The oven isn’t separated from the rest of the bakery, so if you time your visit before 10am you can see Villalva in action.
“I want people to see the mixing, shaping and baking processes transparently and for it to be easy to ask questions as I bake,” he says.
To Be Frank
1/4 Bedford Street, Collingwood
Wed to Sun 7.30am–4pm
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on February 13, 2020. Menu items may have changed since publication.