18 Jun 2020
A commercial kitchen in a Darlington backyard conceals one of Perth’s best-kept gourmet secrets. See how Perth’s pastry queens are building an empire.
A decade ago, Cath Rose stood at a crossroads. The breakdown of her relationship meant she needed to find a job that would help financially support her daughter (then seven) but offer the flexibility to do school runs, play dates and all the gigs that come with being a mother to young children.
The answer lay in food – specifically croissants – but never did Cath imagine her simple pastries would lead to a much larger business opportunity.
“I decided to do something with food, because I’ve always been involved with (the industry),” begins Cath. “Initially, I started making croissants because at the time no one locally was making really good ones. I’d sell the croissants at the farmers’ markets and over time, started diversifying from croissants to all sorts of mostly croissant-type pastries.
“So for about five years we worked at the farmer’s markets on the weekend, doing all the production during the week during school hours. That’s until Paul Cherry, who used to own the Tuck Shop Café (then renowned for its pies), asked me to make pastry for him. He said, ‘Oh, I heard you make really good pastries’, but to be honest, I didn’t really make any pastry at that time other than croissant dough!”
Regardless, Cath seized the opportunity and through the process of perfecting Paul’s recipe, she invigorated her passion for pastry.
“With Paul’s help, I learned more and more about pastry and discovered that I totally love making it. I then built on that to have a wholesale product line, which I was producing in addition to the markets.”
That product line is now known as Empire Pastry and today, the business produces up to 400kg of pastry per week, supplying more than 20 wholesale businesses (including The Black Truffle) with 10 different types of pastry including premium puffs, premium shortcrust, sweet shortcrust, chocolate pastry and croissant pastry among others.
Cath manages all this with the help of business partner and chef, Meg McCallum, in a custom-designed commercial kitchen located in a shed in her backyard in picturesque Darlington.
“Meg came on board 18 months ago, thank God, and it’s meant that with her skills we’ve been able to really diversify what we do. And because our kitchen has been kitted out to specifically make pastry (Cath tells us the machinery is surprisingly large), we’ve been able to push out a lot of new products and trial new things.”
While at its core Empire Pastry supplies frozen puff and shortcrust pastries to clients, much like larger producers, there are a few differences. Firstly, Empire cuts its pastry to size for customers, which saves wholesale businesses time and eliminates wastage.
“Working with (small) businesses is almost like being a part of their team in the sense that whatever they need, we try to accommodate our product to match those needs,” explains Cath.
“We can work with customers sometimes for months to get it right, but when it comes to our (pre-cut) pastry, we now have quite a big range of different types cut to different sizes. So if someone rang us and said, ‘Oh look, I want pastry to make pies’, chances are, we’re already cutting pie pastry to a size that will suit.”
Any wastage in the Empire kitchen is simply re-rolled to produce additional products.
“We just keep rolling it through (the machines),” explains Meg. “This produces different grades of pastry. The first roll produces the premium pastry, the second roll is great for, say, sausage rolls which don’t need to puff as much. Locals like to buy these rolls too, as does the school canteen across the road – they buy three rolls (a week) because it doesn’t cost as much (as the premium product), but has the same beautiful taste.”
The other big Empire Pastry difference is the quality of ingredients.
“It’s really important to us that all of our products are local – the butter is Australian, the flour is WA grown and milled, the salt we use is WA salt. For both me and for Meg, the integrity of our product lies in the importance of it being as local as possible,” says Cath.
The pastries are also made the traditional way. Never do they contain oil or margarine – a cheaper shortcut sometimes taken by larger producers – just pure, high quality butter, eggs, flour and salt (and sugar, of course, when it comes to the sweet products).
“Pastry, like puff, is much more difficult to make using butter (rather than margarine or other fats) because it has to be made in a controlled temperature environment, but when pastry is made with butter it tastes so much better,” explains Meg, adding that pastry made with cheaper fats often leaves a greasy feel in the mouths.
But as difficult as making pastry may seem, Cath and Meg assure us it’s much easier than it seems, as long as you follow a few simple rules.
“You have to keep everything chilled, have a lot of patience and just, I guess, be organised,” says Meg. “You have to be methodical and you can’t rush it. Once you’ve mixed it (the dough) you have to let it rest, then you roll it, then you have to let it rest and so on. It’s a real process, but it’s not difficult.”
With a new machine recently added to their pastry making arsenal, Cath and Meg’s have recently begun making chocolate pastry. They’re also working on a number of retail offerings – including mini tart shells in a range of shortcrust styles – and will continue to work with their wholesale customers to provide the very best product and service available.
“We’re known for our excellent customer service,” says Meg.
“Absolutely,” agrees Cath. “We love our customers, so we try to do whatever it is we can to help them have a product that helps their business.”
Retail customers can visit the Empire Pastry online store to purchase a range of pre-rolled sheets, pre-cut bases and mini tart shells in puff, savoury shortcrust and sweet shortcrust. Empire Pastry also offers Corporate Gift Baskets.
Alternatively, pop into The Black Truffle where we turn Empire Pastry’s incredible, premium products into mouth-watering pies, sausage rolls and quiches. We also sell Empire Pastry’s pavlova shells – Cath and Meg’s delicious solution or all those unused egg whites!