Brother and sister team Will and Sophie Petersen run Infinity Bakery, a Sydney institution with bakeries in Manly, Paddington and Darlinghurst. As the business nears its 20th birthday we talk to Will about the importance of good bread, pushing the boundaries, and the culture behind their (sourdough) culture.
Infinity Bakery is a cult classic for Sydney bread-lovers – how did it all start?
We were one of the first sourdough bakeries in Sydney. The original owner, Phillip Searle, started Infinity in the late 90s. He was one of the first to teach customers about the benefits of good bread. Today it’s about ensuring we live up to that philosophy – make good bread and educate people about it.
Please, educate us! What’s the benefit of sourdough?
Sourdough is a very different process from most commercially produced bread. The process is so much slower that it actually digests the gluten in the flour. So when you eat it a lot of the work is already done for you. Mainstream bakery chains are killing their own business to a certain degree, because they’re trying to produce excess amounts quickly, and they’re producing bad bread in the process.
Infinity Bakery is turning 20 next year! With such a long tradition is there a risk that you can get stuck in your ways?
No, you have to look at different processes – the only way that we will continue is by doing that. And it’s a really fun part of it. If you’re willing to put the time in you can learn new ways of making the same stuff.
What are some of the new things you’re making at Infinity?
Well, it’s not a completely new product obviously, as it’s all about bread, but we are using different ingredients – such as ancient and sprouting grains. We are also using longer fermentations and higher hydrations.
There is a big difference between the standard loaves and these new varieties. It’s all about pushing those boundaries, and using different processes to draw out different flavours characteristics.
And how have your customers responded to these new varieties?
It can take a while for the customers to appreciate a new product, but we want to make sure we are doing stuff that’s making people think about what they’re eating, and sharing that knowledge and experimentation with the community.
Speaking of – what’s the trick to creating a strong local community?
It’s all about communication. When you first start out, you fear feedback, but with time you realise it’s people trying to talk to you, it’s people caring about your product, and wanting to take part in the process. If you embrace that and respond to it you’re able to create a good community. With Infinity we really try to make sure that communication stays open.
What are your best ways to ensure that communication happens?
It’s really important for the person that’s serving to understand what’s going on. Educating them is key. Then the customer gets what we’re doing. It’s all about following through from that initial concept all the way through to the sale. You need to spend time with the guys at the counter and with the bakers as well – the baking process is a long chain.
We’ve all heard about the crazy amounts of bread waste in the world, what can you do to minimise a problem like that?
Soph regularly (Will’s sister also runs the business) drops off bags of leftover bread to the Asylum Seeker Centre in Newtown. And it’s not that we’re palming off ‘old bread’. The beauty of sourdough is that it ages gracefully – it doesn’t need to be eaten the day that it’s baked.
There are other steps we take to minimise our environmental impact. We only use biodegradable items, and plastics bags aren’t offered to customers. If they request one we’ll provide them with a reused plastic bag, or give them calico bags and ask them to return it on their next visit. There are other incentives like 50 cents off when using KeepCups or returning glass jars. It seems like a small thing, but en masse it can make a big difference.
And finally, what’s your favourite part of running a bakery?
I like the physicality of it. It’s like a trade that allows for creativity. I like the problem solving of trying to develop a product that will work long term and then implementing that.
and what about…
Your favourite bread? A very well hydrated ancient grain with freshly milled flour and sprouted grain, it usually delivers some great flavour and is by far my fave.
If you were any food, what would it be? I would have to be a loaf of sourdough bread… simple on the outside but complex on the inside.
If you were to be buried as an Egyptian pharaoh, what 3 items would you take to the afterlife? My little Buddhas, my wedding ring and my long board.
Weirdest customer request? Vegemite on a ham and cheese croissant left me wondering!!
Sydney’s best kept secret? Centennial Park (it’s like everyone forgets it’s there!!) Food: Osteria Riva and Swim: Mahon Pool
Image credit: Infinity Bakery