Martin Beck makes crumpets. And, although he ‘kinda fell into it’, he makes them very well and has a strong following in Melbourne cafes.
Let’s start with how you got into food.
Well now quite a while ago I finished Year 12 and got into Uni, but didn’t really think that study was for me and I’d always loved cooking so I thought I’d give an apprenticeship a go. That was in 1992. Back then it was more difficult o get an apprenticeship and it took me a few attempts and then someone gave me a go. Just started cooking, I guess.
I spent five years with the Grossis and then worked at MoVida and worked a little bit overseas and did a bit of traveling. I was a chef who knew I couldn’t do it forever. The hours aren’t so great and it’s pretty physical. So a few years ago I started making the crumpets. It was good timing really. I’d been cooking for 21 years. I still enjoyed it but I knew I had to come up with something else. I knew I never wanted to have my own restaurant. Working out the next step is always I bit tricky I think.
Crumpets are quite a specific product. How did you come to choose crumpets?
When I left MoVida I wanted to do something different so I went and worked in a little café that had just opened. It was just me in the kitchen so I was cooking all the dishes myself but that was what I wanted. The menu was traditional English and I wanted crumpets on the menu. No one was really making them, well, there was one guy but he couldn’t supply me. Then the barista in the café knew how to make them and he showed me and then I went to my next job and kept making them. I was working in Castlemaine helping a friend out and I’d make them up there all the time. The manager of the restaurant kept saying, these are great, you should sell them to other people. Then one day after spending a year and a half up to Castlemaine each week and stay up there 3 nights and work 40 hours in three days and then come back to Melbourne, I decided I needed something else.
I’d made some crumpets for my wife a couple of weeks before and she’d said, “these are really good. I didn’t know you could make these.” So then I finished up in Castlemaine and thought about what I might do. We sat down and thought, well why not give it a chance. We started doing it from home. The only thing we had to lose was my salary because I didn’t have a job. But I started doing it and thought there was enough potential to keep going and tried to get a customer or two. I was lucky in that first year, a couple of people wrote about me, I think because crumpets are something a bit different. And being a chef, I knew quite a few places and my first customers were friends who put them on their menu. So I had a lot of help, I guess. And I was very grateful for that support.
I’ve never even attempted to make crumpets, so I have no idea, but is it easy to keep them consistent?
They’re kinda simple, but they’re not and they give us grief every now and then. We try and keep everything consistent but things can change; the flour changes, for example. It’s like anything in life; the simplest things can sometimes not work. And there’s nowhere to hide. If they don’t work or they don’t have the holes or they don’t rise, we can’t sell them. Occasionally something will happen; the flour will change or the gluten levels in the flour, or the temperature changes. It’s amazing how much can go wrong. It’s probably why other people don’t do them.
It must be great seeing them on the menu of so many places.
It’s pretty surreal, to be honest. I just wanted to find something I could earn a living out of. And I never expected it to be as busy as it is now. You get caught up in running the business. I still work every day; deliver and cook, but very so often you stop and think. My brother came over for the States and he said. “Wow, they actually write your name on the menu. That’s pretty cool; you’ve actually got a brand name.” It’s not massive, but my name is out there.
Where does the Doctor part of the name come from?
It was my nickname at MoVida. I don’t know, I just got called Doc. I guess it came from the shoes. Dr. Martin. I don’t know where it came from, but one of the guys there was always giving people nicknames and was Doc and it kind of just stuck. Then when I went to Castlemaine at The Good Table working with Alex, they were always very theatrical when they wrote their menus and they were trying to find a way of wording the crumpets, and they said, “you’ve got to have a nickname?” And I said, “no,”, “then wait a minute. I used to be called Doc at MoVida,” so they said, “right, they’ll be Dr. Marty’s Wonder Crumpets.” That was what they were named up there but I didn’t really like the wonder part. I thought it was a bit arrogant and it also reminded me of Wonder White bread and I didn’t really want to be associated with that either. Like everything in the business, it just sort of happened. I just tried to make the right decisions as they happened. And you know, if it works, great.
The only problem was when I got the stickers made for the retail packs and I said that I prescribed taking two a day and the council said I wasn’t allowed to use the word prescription because I wasn’t a real doctor. I thought that was a bit mean.
How many crumpets do you make a week?
I make probably more than four and half thousand a week now.
Yeah, yeah. Some weeks are busier than others. Some weeks we make more than that.
What’s the ultimate way to eat a Dr Marty’s crumpet?
I think the beauty of them it’s entirely up to the mood you’re in. I think that’s why people love them. They are just such a good base for anything. I really like them with poached egg. But then I’m pretty happy to have them with jam or peanut butter or vegemite. It just depends on what you feel like. You can have a savoury one and then a sweet one. And that’s kind of like dinner.
A crumpet degustation.
Yeah a little bit. Everyone likes them with different things. Some people say they like them with just butter and salt and pepper and then I’ve had people come up to me at markets and tell me they have them with vegemite and sprinkles, or tomato sauce, from a bottle, which sounds pretty average to me.
They’ve never been like doughnuts or burgers where everyone goes nuts for them. But you don’t find many people who don’t like them. I think that’s been pretty wonderful.
I think that people still appreciate that we make them all by hand. That gives them a little inconsistency, but they’re pretty consistent and, at the end of the day, they are made with a lot of care.
Photography by Jazmine Thom