INTERVIEW WITH KATE GOODEN, BUSINESS WOMAN AND ARTFUL BAKER
Read that word again; Murrumdidgee.
Now say it in an Australian accent and see if it’s any easier to pronounce. These mouth watering cakes were named after the vast, muddy river that meanders though Wagga Wagga, the Australian town that captured baker, Kate Gooden’s heart for six years.
“I was born in Panama, raised on the Isle of Wight and studied English Literature at Cambridge College of Arts in the UK,” Kate tells me. “After my degree was finished I took off to Australia to do a TEFL course in Sydney. I met my partner Simon and we went to live in Wagga-Wagga. The name means Place of Many Crows. We decided to come back to the UK when I fell pregnant as I wanted to be nearby to my family.”
Back then Kate had never dreamt she would one day become a baker.
“When we arrived home we really weren’t sure what to do,” she explains, pouring real tea into two vintage tea cups. She leads me out to sit on the veranda where we bask in the morning rays. “I was eight months pregnant and Simon’s visa hadn’t yet been cleared so we were in a tricky situation work-wise. We’d sold our house in Aus, so we decided to start up a business. I was really passionate about creating a green nappy service and that’s what we decided to do.”
A big grin spreads across Kate’s face as she recalls hiring a unit in Bembridge, then purchasing two enormous washing machines and a dryer.
“We got ourselves a van which we jazzed up by spraying on a big washing line. We used to go all over the island doing our runs. The customers were lovely. They were all people who were into eco living and we made some really good friends. Because we had such massive machines people would bring in duvets, horse blankets, hotel linen, all sorts! Before we knew it we were snowed under. It was a very successful business.”
Kate continued to run the eco laundry business for six years before selling up to buy the Bembridge Bakery. “At the time it was very run down,” she explains, “and we felt out of our depth, but decided to give it a go.”
When I asked if she had any experience of catering, Kate shakes her head. “The outgoing baker showed me some basic things such as how to weigh out the flour to make large quantities of bread, and from then on I improvised. For example, I’d get an old well-loved rock cake recipe and then blow that up 15 times and hoped for the best.” She laughs, “some of it was very trial and error but it turned out well in the end.”
Kate tells me about how she used to get up very early in the morning and walk through the village to the bakery. She’d unlock the doors and warm up the ovens, then begin preparing the dough. Her mother would arrive an hour later and get started on the weighing.
By the time they opened the bakery at 8.00am they would have enough bread for the village, as well as pizzas, quiches, little samosas for people’s lunches and French pastries. “We decided to start making croissants,” Kate grins. “This wasn’t common, but we had no idea what bakers did. We would just have an idea and then go for it.”
The bakery continued to thrive in this fashion, until one day a mysterious man came through the door.
Kate relays the tale; “One of the girls who worked behind the counter came through to the back and said, “there is a man here who is a baker and he wants to come and see you.” It turned out that this gentleman had a dream to open his own bakery one day. He was very passionate about baking and just wanted to do some, so he had come to ask whether he could help out one day a week. He then left and we didn’t give it another thought, until the following Saturday when we were preparing the dough at 2.00am and we suddenly heard the door of the cafe opening. Mum and I looked at each other, both wondering “who the heck is that?” Then in came our mysterious baker. He hung up his coat and dusted off his hands and said, “now then girls, what are you doing here?”
The mysterious baker was a man called Tony Eldridge. What he bought to the Bembridge Bakery was a brand new, “professional baker” approach, as well as phrases like, “You don’t do it like that! This is how you do it!”
“Eventually we found a middle ground,” Kate smiles. “He taught us lots and we taught him bakery from a different angle too.” When I ask whether Tony helped lift the bakery to another level, Kate agrees wholeheartedly. “Most certainly, yes. He really beat it into shape and it was a huge success. However, six years down the line we decided to sell and that was really because of my mother. It was a guilt thing. I realised that I’d been getting my mum up at 2.00am, six days a week to start baking and her poor knees were hurting! So that was that. We put it on the market.”
The Bembridge Bakery sold and Kate’s family moved to their beautiful home in Niton Undercliff.
Kate takes a sip of her tea. “When we moved I had no intention of starting another bakery. I had this idea that I wanted to do one of those lovely places where you pop in and paint a pot and then the lady puts it into the kiln and posts it to you. I thought that sounded wonderful. That didn’t work out though. I took a few jobs here and there, but eventually the idea hatched that I could use the outhouse in the garden for a new bakery. The hardest bit of the process was explaining to my husband that I needed the outhouse more than he did, so he’d have to relocate his band practise elsewhere!”
Following this tricksy conversation, Kate set about preparing the new bakery and ordering the equipment and now, seven or eight months on, the Undercliff Bakery is thriving. Kate’s delicious breads, cakes and biscuits are available in the butchers in Ventnor, IOW, the post office in St Lawrence, Chale Green Stores and the Real island Food Company. I asked Kate if she was happy to be baking again. She smiles and nods, “Yes. Yes I am. Very happy.”
But not as happy as I am to be her neighbour. A few days after our chat Kate’s husband dropped off six gloriously sticky Not Cross Buns (something had gone a bit wrong with the crosses). Yum. She also happens to be a talented maker of home-brew. Finally, all else aside, Kate is a warm, sparkling woman of gorgeousness, a truly inspirational business woman, mother, storyteller and creator of deliciousness in every way. So after six years in Wagga Wagga, six years in eco-laundry and six years in Bembridge Bakery, I’m hoping with all my heart that the Undercliff Bakery is where Kate, her lovely nature and humorous tales (and Murrumdidgee Mud Cakes) will settle. For good.