big breakfast, Brassica rapa nipposinica, breakfast, brownies, cakes, celery, Chili pepper, chutneys, Coriander, cos, Crunch, Crunch cafe, Fennel, fermentation, garden, Gorgonzola, green chilli paste, green chillies, High Street, jams, labne, lettuce, local produce, Melbourne, mizuna, Mortar and pestle, muffins, organic food, pies, plums, raddichio, Salt, sandwiches, sausage rolls, Strained yogurt, Thornbury, Vegemite
So we find ourselves, our ways of telling unbalanced, trapped inside a runaway narrative, headed for the worst kind of encounter with reality. In such a moment, writers, artists, poets and storytellers of all kinds have a critical role to play.
From The Dark Mountain Manifesto, 2009.
The story of Crunch café is a story of love, of a passion for good food, of the kind of creative ingenuity called for in overwhelmingly mediocre times, and of becoming an integral part of the community in which you find yourselves. It’s also the story of the best big breakfast north of the river.
Mat & Amy tell of how they came to own and run Crunch …
“Well, it began when an Englishman fell in love with both the Melbourne coffee scene and a Melbourne girl while on a one-year working visa from the UK. We had both worked in hospitality for years and we had always enjoyed cooking for people.”
“We used to joke that we would backpack around the world eating as many variations of breakfast as possible and then come back to Melbourne and open a café serving our favourites … Then, surprise! Amy was pregnant with twins and the world tour was put on hold.”
“But we kept our dream in the back of our minds as our kids grew, and then we moved to Thornbury. We eventually found our favourite local café, which was called Crunch, and was owned by a lovely lady called Jen.”
“As time went on, the idea of working for ourselves became more and more attractive and we started to seriously look into setting up or buying a café that would be something like Crunch. After about six months of research we stopped in for a coffee and mentioned to Jen that we were looking to buy a café. She jokingly said, ‘Why don’t you buy this one?’ So we did. And we ended up with something exactly like Crunch.”
Crunch’s infamous big breakfast.
“Our central philosophy is ‘Don’t be a foodie wanker’. We aim to provide an unpretentious space that makes people feel welcome; we make ‘green choices’, prefer to buy and sell local and, where possible, use organic ingredients and support other small businesses. You won’t find multinational-owned drinks in the fridge, but we also know you don’t mess with a human’s need for Vegemite.”
“We make practically everything ourselves – the cakes, muffins, brownies, pies, sausage rolls, sandwiches, jams and chutneys. Alas, we don’t make our own bread, but Pure Bread Bakery in Surrey Hills do such a good job for us. Over the years we’ve experimented with homemade butter, yoghurt, labne, ice cream, sour cream, cottage cheese, sauces, cordials, pesto, pickles, preserved lemons, sun dried tomatoes, activated nuts, sprouting and fermenting.”
A selection of the homemade goodies available on a daily basis at Crunch.
“Basically, getting a raw ingredient and playing with preparation techniques is what excites us. Loads of our customers bring in family recipes or produce from their gardens for us to play with. When you’re given 10 buckets of plums you bet you’ll find 10 ways to use up those plums.”
At the moment Crunch has a delicious salty green chilli paste on offer, alongside their usual range of condiments. This was a simple recipe that Mat came up with after being given a bounty of green chillies from a local garden. Using inspiration from the pots of dried chilli in oil you find on every table in Vietnamese Pho restaurants, Mat created this mellow fresh green version.
Mat’s Salty Green Chilli Paste
- 1/2 kilo green chillies, washed and with stalks removed (remove some of seeds if you are concerned about the heat; they can be added back in if you decide you want more towards the end).
- 1 cup olive oil/sunflower oil/your preferred oil (whatever oil really, as its flavour will be lost to the chillies).
- 2 tablespoons good salt (iodised table salt is not recommended).
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon dried lime (optional)
- Juice of 1 or 2 lemons
Lightly toast the coriander and fennel. Grind the spices and salt in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Put everything into a food processor and blend to a chunky paste. Put in sterilised jars and top up with some oil to cover.
Mat in his adopted garden, across the road from Crunch.
Mat describes the events that led to him adopting a nearby garden: “One of our neighbours had a large garden with raised beds that she wasn’t using. She was telling another customer what a shame it was to have such wasted space and it was suggested that she contact us, as we were pining for our own green space to grow veggies.”
“The beds were lined with weed mat and pebbles and required lots of preparation. We set up compost bins and got some worms in to help the soil along and put in some small rainwater barrels to get us through the worst of summer. Most things are grown from seed and a relative with an organic farm was very generous with some seedlings to get us started. Fresh herbs are now in abundance and we supplement our salad mix with lots of our own leaves.”
“Two months ago we planted 300 cloves of garlic, so in a few months we’ll have loads of it. Over the last year we’ve planted over 40 different varieties of edible plants and veggies. The best thing was watching the amount of rubbish in our bins drop by 50% and knowing what was once going to landfill is now enriching the soil. We’ve had to get creative with our slug control and we now dry and crush our eggshells and sprinkle them around EVERYWHERE! We lost our entire crop of Mizuna lettuce, thanks to those slimey suckers.”
Mat’s homegrown Cos and Mache lettuce salad with Radicchio leaf, celery, walnuts and Gorgonzola. A simple wholegrain mustard vinegarette is used sparingly with marigold petals for colour.
The feature image shows a bit of Crunch stuff, including a jar of Mat’s Salty Green Chilli Paste.