One of the most loved and admired food places in the Blue Mountains is Hominy bakery in the dip in Katoomba Street. It has been here for decades and has an extraordinary reputation. On Saturdays and many other mornings, you can identify its location by the queue outside. The owners are Jenny Ingall, who manages the shop, and Brent Hersee, manager of the bake house. Michael interviewed Jenny.
Michael: When did it all begin?
Jenny: In 1998, so we are 24 years old. Prior to that we had Blackheath Bakery Patisserie for 10 years.
Michael: What did Brent and you set out to do?
Jenny: Our original mission statement was to make the sort of food we wanted to eat, having been young foodies travelling Australia and Europe. We were particularly interested in pain au levain, or sourdough, having read about it in my beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder books, such as Little House on the Prairie, and then having eaten it in Paris. The name Hominy is a Native American Indian word, meaning chief sustenance.
Michael: Tell us more about sourdough.
Jenny: Sourdough means a bread made on a sour starter dough, which is simply flour and water. The beautiful, clean organic flour - in our case from Wholegrain Milling Co. Gunnedah - is mixed with filtered water. This creates an ideal environment for wild yeasts and micro-organisms to thrive, producing and excreting many different flavoursome acids, hence the term ‘sour’ dough. They also produce gas, allowing the starter dough to act as a leavening agent in the bread you produce. Also, importantly, wild yeasts are polycultural, meaning they are each contributing a distinct flavour (acid) to the bread, as opposed to industrial bread made using commercial cultivated yeast, which is not only monocultural - one flavour - but also aggressive, delivering much faster bread-making for mass consumption.
Michael: Does it take long to make?
Jenny: The secret is patience and time, along with time-honed skills in reading the dough. As the ingredient list is so simple, it is difficult to make, as you have no stabilisers and additives to make it easier. The dough is subject to weather, flour and water quality, and strength of starter - all hard -to-control variables. Our starter is 31 years old, giving it strength and enormous complex flavours.
Michael: How did you learn how to make good sourdough?
Jenny: Brent trained as a baker in Sydney, before going to work at Poilane in Paris, where the starter is 250 years old, and bag checks are conducted at the end of shifts to ensure no-one steals any starter!
Michael: Can I ask about your small bread and butter puddings, which are completely unlike any others I’ve ever had.
Jenny: They’re made with croissant pastry and vanilla custard with pure vanilla extract.
Michael: I imagine bakery hours are long and unusual?
Jenny: As we have 14 to 16 staff, shift hours vary enormously, but generally Brent controls overnight and I control from 6am to 6pm.
Michael: How did you decide on your range? I’ve noticed over the past 15 years it is pretty settled.
Jenny: We’re still concentrating on genuine sourdough, plus other foods we ourselves like to eat. All lines are made with the same basic rule, that everything must be fresh, real and whole, from stewed apple to slow-cooked grass-fed beef, to using butter - not margarine - and free-range eggs. Everything is done very slowly. For example, croissants are a three-day process.
Michael: What have you learned since you started Hominy?
Jenny: Since doing this work, we have learned that people love genuine products and good food and will go out of their way to buy foods made authentically with wholesome ingredients and skill. Our customers are loyal and support our endeavours with steadfast patronage. No need to advertise!
Michael: Has Katoomba changed much in 24 Years?
Jenny: Not a great deal, in my opinion. It is still a diverse, creative mix of a wonderful range of people, with a strong sense of community.
Michael: What do you like most about living here?
Jenny: Probably the switched-on community and the sublime wilderness. And the cool climate.
Michael: Favourite place outside home and work?
Jenny: For me an equal first to Mount Hay and the Icara Peninsula at Mount Victoria. For Brent, Leura Forest.
Hominy is at 185 Katoomba Street, where parking can be impossible. As an alternative, try parking under Woolworths and walk down the delightful Hapenny Lane. Hominy is open 6.00am to 3.00pm Tuesday to Saturday.