Most people are settled at thirty-four. They have started a family and bought their first house, or about to do one or both. They aren’t about to tear up the foundations of their business or work life and start again from scratch. But that’s exactly what Christina Tran did, years before she opened Melbourne’s latest must-try bakery: Falco.
Tran had an epiphany. She didn’t want to be stuck in a cubicle working as a lawyer any longer. She wanted to be covered head to toe in flour doing what made her happy.. baking bread. That was only a handful of years ago.
Now, the Melbourne baker is the mastermind behind Falco Bakery, which opened in Collingwood last December and has swiftly grown in popularity during a pandemic that transformed the hospitality industry for months and is only starting to release its grip on society.
Along with her business partners, Michael Bascetta, Casey Wall and Manu Potoi – the team behind Melbourne’s Capitano in Carlton and Bar Liberty in Fitzroy – Tran quickly established Falco into a bread destination.
Before Bascetta approached Tran to be involved in the project last February, the baker forged a name for herself at Tivoli Road Bakery in South Yarra and Loafer Bread in North Fitzroy, either side of a stint at one of the most prestigious bakeries in the world: Tartine in San Francisco.
It was there, in the Bay Area, at a place some in the culinary world refer to as the ‘Noma of bakeries’, where Tran spent more than 12 months in 2016 and 2017 learning the craft before returning home via Europe on a path to Falco.
“I was a lawyer working in government as a legal adviser and just feeling a bit directionless and unfulfilled. I had a big rethink of my life and thought bread might be it; I used to bake a bit and really enjoyed it,” Tran told Man of Style.
“I did one of those random one-day bread courses that was run out of an artisan bakery and felt so energised. It was the most amazing feeling and made me realise that was the right thing.”
“I’ve never looked back, seriously never looked back. I was 34 and that was sort of part of it. I realised I was getting older and wouldn’t have too many more goes at changing career, so I better do something if I feel so serious about this.”
Earning an opportuning inside the kitchen at Tartine is like being spotted by Manchester United or the New York Yankees. Chances rarely arise, especially for those living in this neck of the woods. But sometimes you can find luck on your side.
When Tartine co-owner Chad Robertson and then head baker Richard Hart – who has since moved to Copenhagen and teamed with trailblazer chef Rene Redzepi to open Hart Bageri – came to town for the 2016 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, they worked out of Tivoli Road.
It was there where Tran crossed paths with two of the best bakers on the planet, who offered her a job at Tartine on the proviso she could secure a visa.
“I was told if you can get a visa, you totally have a job with us. It was a once-in-a-lifetime offer. I did everything I could to get that visa. I was there in 2016 and 17,” says Tran.
“It is like no other bakery in the world. I don’t think I’ll ever work at another place like it. It sounds really extreme, but I consider it a privilege that I got the opportunity to work there.”
“You get to work in a bread team where you only do bread and you are totally focused on that, the fermentation of the dough and making sure you do everything at the right time to make the perfect loaf. I just don’t think any other bakery would be able to do that. I love that city and I miss it all the time.”
Now, Tran is holding down the fort at her very own bakery, building a brand during a time where the COVID-19 virus has crushed most – but not all – of the hospitality industry across the globe.
Her cardamom buns sell out every day without fail. The jalapeno and pastrami croissants are extremely popular. The pies have received rave reviews. But most importantly to Tran, her bread doesn’t stay on the shelf for long. The country loaves exit the doors in droves.
“People haven’t been able to go too far so it has been good to serve so many locals,” says Tran.
“Initially, it was a little scary because we didn’t know if we could open. I had a few days where I didn’t know if I should order more flour or if we were going to be shutdown. Once we got through that it became a bit of a hub for the local community which is what I always wanted with a bakery.”
Tran is the first one through the doors most days, turning the keys before 5am to ensure the ovens are loaded and baked goods are ready for customers to devour when they start streaming in after 8am.
Trading the sanctuary of a desk and the security as a lawyer for the uncertainty of hospitality and the stress of running a business in a pandemic hasn’t fazed Tran one iota.
“Even I’m surprised that I’ve never regretted anything. Getting paid less money and the crazy hours and being covered in flour the whole time, I always knew it was the right thing for me to do,” laughs Tran.
Turns out it is never too late to make a career change, even one as dramatic as this one.
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