Dr Marty's Crumpets

Like all good business ideas, Marty Beck started with…a slogan. 

“I really wanted to go with ‘Everybody likes a bit of crumpet’,” says the gentle and humble chef-turned-crumpet entrepreneur as we stand in the kitchen of his certified home kitchen watching a fresh batch of crumpets do their thing, while a fresh batter ferments.

“Somebody told me the phrase had other, er, anatomical meanings, so that was the end of that.”

Fortunately, there was more to Beck’s business concept than a clever catchphrase. And if there’s an overwhelming positive to be taken from where food has gone in the past few years, it is in the recognition that something humble, done really well, by hand, in low volumes with high care-factor, can have great beauty.

Enter the crumpet.

Across Australia — at cafes and even restaurants of high calibre — there has been a quiet resurgence of this wonderful star of the glutenous variety that seems to occupy a status somewhere between bread and pancake.

Everyone is remembering: a good crumpet is a really good thing. Marty Beck has little doubt.

Twelve months ago, the chef who trained at Cafe Grossi and later worked for his friend Frank Camorra, at MoVida, for six years, was making 180 crumpets a month and wondering if he’d made the right decision to get out of the restaurant rat race and make a product that made him and, it seemed, most people, smile.

These days, he’s making — you don’t exactly bake — around 1500 a week in his converted domestic kitchen, crumpet central in inner Melbourne, selling retail at farmers markets, wholesale and online.

“I’ve come to realise they’re super tricky,” says Beck. “You know, sometimes the simple things are.” At 6000 a month, we guess he’d know.

Research “crumpets” and you’ll come away very little the wiser. According to Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food, the earliest published recipe for crumpets of the kind we know now — round, with a baked base, holes in the top produced by the fermentation process (yeast) — is from Elizabeth Raffald (1769). The origin of the name is obscure. It is first recorded in the modern spelling and sense in the eighteenth century, although earlier references to something called a “crompid cake” exist.

It seems likely there is a connection to the Welsh crempog (pancake). Mrs Beeton (in her 1906 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management discusses the origins and colloquialism of the word crumpet as “a piece of skirt, any likely young woman, a girl with whom someone is having a passing affair” and notes that it took over from the expression “muffin” for the same meaning. That is because muffins and crumpets were essentially based on the same ingredients. Even Elizabeth David includes crumpets in English Bread and Yeast Cookerywith several of the original recipes, but virtually no background. Whatever, who doesn’t like a good crumpet?

Marty Beck discovered a talent for the crumpet working as a chef in a Melbourne cafe when the barista, of all people, shared his recipe and technique. “I started looking for a supplier for really good crumpets and nobody was doing it. So, well, I started doing them myself. “

The recipe is straightforward enough: self-raising flour, baking powder, yeast, a little sugar, a little canola oil and water.

It’s the technique Dr Marty, as he is known to his friends, won’t divulge. It involves a batter, electric frying pans … that’s all we can say.

“On the face of it, it should be quite simple shouldn’t it? but, well, its all about the gluten … I guess I have a feel for it.”

Like sourdough baking, there’s a point where science ends and instinct, feel, begin.

It was towards the end of a stint working at a restaurant in regional Victoria’s Castlemaine, The Good Table, that his friend and colleague Tim Watson-Sproal suggested there was a business in “Dr Marty’s Crumpets”. Beck listened and early in 2013 decided to give it a fly. A network of friends helped get a wholesale client base off the ground; a capacity for seven-days-a-week work either in the kitchen for 15 hour stretches or selling at farmers markets helped. Ultimately, however, it is down to the hand-made nature of the product, and its inherent appeal to food lovers, that the crumpet man has taken off.

“I was Marty’s second or third customer because I had faith in his product,” says chef Matt Germanchis, a partner at Melbourne’s Pei Modern, one of the City’s smartest small restaurants. “The fact that he’s a mate obviously helped the process. Such a simple concept which relates to everyone ... I mean who doesn’t like crumpets? ”

One Prahran restaurant sells Beck’s mini crumpets with foie gras. They are a staple at one of the city’s best bakeries, Tivoli Road.

“Delia Smith says you can’t make a crumpet without milk, but, well, mine are vegan and they’re going okay,” says Beck. “But I’ve been very, very lucky. I’ve had a lot of help from a lot of people.”

Of course Beck’s crumpets are more expensive than the supermarket alternative. That’s just a fact of life for anything made in such small scale by hand, in a manner that means they are baked to sell immediately, not stockpile in a fridge. That is, with no preservatives.

“And whatever the next step is, I know in my heart they will always need to be made this way. By hand.”

And so, while Beck and his chef wife Selma have surrendered their-inner city home to the crumpet business and moved to a rented apartment, you get the impression Beck will never, nor want to be, the next Golden.

“Guy Grossi once told me that if you sell something too cheaply, people won’t think its work anything. I’m never going to make a million dollars, but I’m loving doing it.”

Buy Dr Marty's Crumpets online

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