Life Eat & Drink From F1 engineer to croissant master

From F1 engineer to croissant master

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Kate Reid’s career path has been anything but conventional.

Today, she owns and runs Lune Croissanterie in Elwood, Victoria, a bakery known for round-the-block queues and completely selling out of its golden products before 8am.

Kate Reid
Kate Reid

Her croissants are a masterpiece – the perfect combination of sweet and savoury, flaky and doughy and perfectly buttery.

It may surprise you, then, that baking wasn’t Reid’s original career path. Even more surprising still is the fact that, prior to embracing the art of French viennoiserie, the whip-smart Reid designed cars. 

Race cars, to be precise. Formula One race cars.

A childhood spent sitting up late to watching car races with her dad and a penchant for maths and science naturally lead to a career as an aerodynamic engineer.

When looking for a big job, Formula One was Reid’s first port of call.

“I sent an email to (English engineering company) Williams and heard back from them within a week asking to interview me. I guess that was pretty rare,” she bashfully admits.

After getting the job, she moved to Oxfordshire, England, and began the daunting task of designing Formula One racecars. She was the only female engineer in a company of 500 and regularly worked 12 hour days.

“It was super intense,” Reid says. “I often would go days without seeing daylight.”

If you’ve seen the movie Rush, you know what she means.

After three years in the industry, the pressure of the highly competitive environment became too much and Reid was forced to return to Australia to recover from a serious illness.

Readjusting was hard.

“A lot of people said ‘Oh my God, you used to design formula one cars and now look at you.’ I had to block that out.”

Reid decided to lay low for a couple of years, doing work in the hospitality industry. She soon decided she needed a holiday, a decision which would forever change her life trajectory.

A Williams Formula One car in action. Photo: Getty
A Williams Formula One car in action. Photo: Getty

“I was flipping through a book of French patisserie and saw this photo of pain au chocolats stacked up on top of each other, zoomed in so you could see every layer,” Reid recalls. “I booked a flight to Paris that day.”

Once she was in the city of lights, Reid decided to track down the bakery where the delectable croissants were made. With stilted French she told the owner, Christophe Vasseur, about her love for French pastry and he swiftly loaded her up with a dream selection of baked goods.

Well-fed and even more in love with French baking, she emailed him the next day, asking if he was looking for an apprentice.

“I’m not usually that crazy!” Reid laughs. “Well, maybe I am.”

Vasseur, who Reid describes as a “master baker”, replied straight away telling her it was not the bakery’s policy to take on apprentices.

“But…” he wrote, “I see the same passion in you that it’s in me. When can you start?”

To use a cliché, the rest was history. Reid moved to Paris in 2011 and worked unpaid for three months, learning the intricacies of pastry dough and absorbing traditional techniques.

Coming back to Australia, Reid realized her home country was seriously lacking in great croissants.

Reid’s delicious creations

Thus, she opened Lune Croissanterie in October 2012, opening on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to queues.

Now, Reid is Australia’s answer to Dominique Ansel – the innovative New York-based French chef behind cult food hybrids like the Cronut.

Her croissants take three days to make, are gone by 8am and are accented by guest stars like a chocolate/almond croissant lovechild, a Breton classic called the Kouign Amman (which she describes as “pastry crack”).

Then there’s the Cruffin – a freakishly good hybrid of a croissant and muffin that comes in flavours like jam donut, lemon curd and salted caramel with macadamia.

Due to demand, Reid’s hours are now longer than the ones she worked while at Williams and she never stops.

“Baking is a form of engineering,” she says. “It’s a science. It takes three days.”

She has no regrets regarding her drastic career change.

“In Formula One I didn’t do anything that was changing the world. Now I’m making people’s days,” Reid says.

“I’m not doing this to make money, because I’m not making a lot of money. I’m doing this because I’m super passionate and I want to do the best that I can and allow people to enjoy what I create.”