Even if you don’t know the name, if you’ve done the rounds of Melbourne’s cafes, chances are that you’ve sunk your teeth into a Matt Forbes baked creation. His pastries have only been stocking cafes including Clement Coffee, Dukes Coffee Roasters, Twenty & Six Espresso, A Little Bird Told Me since October last year, and they’ve garnered something of a small but certain cult following.
With over 15 clients already, the growth of the wholesale business has been exponential and, according to Forbes himself, “a bit crazy”. But make no mistake, these aren’t some run-of-the-mill pastries; they’re the inventions of a serious dessert chef with some sweet credentials.
Hailing from Yorkshire, England, Matt Forbes’ CV reads a little like a Michelin-starred food guide, punctuated with stints at a range of the world’s most revered eateries alongside some of their most famed chefs.
Straight out of college, Forbes landed work experience followed by a “dream come true” job as a pastry chef with Raymond Blanc at two-Michelin-starred institution, Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire.
“They said the only thing they had was a job in pastry,” recounts Forbes, “so out of default I ended up there and I haven’t looked back since.”
He really hasn’t. A gig with distinguished chef Michael Wignall at Devonshire Hotels came after, as well as a position with Michel Roux, “England’s godfather of French food”, at the Waterside Inn.
“[Roux] was the reason I became a pastry chef. I actually turned down a job at Heston’s [Blumenthal] Fat Duck, so it was a bit of a big deal for me.”
Fast-forward to 2007, Forbes moved to Australia and straight into a job as head pastry chef at Shannon Bennet’s, Vue de Monde. This was followed by tenure with Gordon Ramsay at the short-lived Southbank eatery, Maze and a stage at Copenhagen institution, Noma.
With years of hard work packed into his 32 years, Forbes was keen to take a break from restaurant life and go out on his own. But it wasn’t until after supplying his first client, Clement Coffee, that he really noticed the gap in the sweets market of Melbourne’s cafes.
“There’s a huge amount of options but they’re all doing the same kind of thing; they all taste the same,” he explains in his British lilt, “so I thought we’d do something a little bit different.”
Take for example Forbes’ interpretation of the ‘Oreo’, salted caramel with cardamom sandwiched between two dark chocolate cookies; or gingerbread balls with a layer of toffee butter cream; or big peanut butter cookies with dark chocolate pieces.
However, it’s the humble doughnut that has become the most devoured item, with Clement Coffee alone taking six hundred of them every weekend.
“It’s something else, I didn’t expect them to be so popular,” Forbes says with genuine surprise.
Though if you’ve ever tried one, it’s not difficult to see why. The unique flavours are switched up weekly, with apple crumble and salted caramel appearing alongside more obscure offerings like cigar flavour (which Forbes describes as a “fluffy ball of happiness” stuffed with tobacco-infused custard).
The cigar doughnut represents Forbes’ whole creative approach – a blend of traditional techniques with innovative flair.
“The fundamentals are the cornerstones of everything I do whilst being open minded with flavours, combinations and ways of doing things,” he explains.
Forbes’ baking ritual consists of six hours in the kitchen four nights a week, followed by strategically mapped out morning deliveries across the city.
“I finish baking at midnight, then I get up at about 5:30am and do all the deliveries in the mornings. I’ve got a bit of a rhythm.”
The next chapter of the Matt Forbes story will be earmarked with the opening of his own cafe, Cobb Lane, in Yarraville’s Anderson Street. It’s set to be a tiny place, with only fifteen seats, serving a breakfast and lunch menu of proper English grub – so don’t expect baked eggs on sourdough.
“The food’s going to be based on my British roots,” says Forbes, “good solid food that’s a little bit away from the norm.”
We can anticipate too an abundance of baked goods, with loaves of bread baked in-house alongside Danishes, pastries and some more refined cakes.
Cobb Lane is set to open at the start of November.
13 Anderson Street, Yarraville