Meet Derby's Own Sourdough Baker

One of Derby’s best kept secrets is that a sourdough-making bloke by the name of Luke Clarke now calls the ex-mining town home. Luke and his wife Catherine Irving made the move from… er… let’s just say elsewhere, from busier, more bustling places, to put down roots where the pace is slower. Because over Luke’s 28 years as a chef, he has lived and worked in seven countries, not to mention Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

The pair was restless. They’d lived in places like Byron Bay, Noosa and Port Douglas. Resoundingly beautiful spots, but overrun with tourists. “We wanted to move someplace different; the Margaret River or Bright of ten years ago,” Luke says. “We kept hearing about Derby, so we jumped on a plane, rode bikes and looked at real estate for a day and I knew we’d move here by the time we were back at the airport.”

And they did. Luke and Catherine made the move in their ute with a tent and very little else. They didn’t know anyone. But they did know that Derby presented the lifestyle change they’d been looking for. “We have a great little property, 800-metres from the main hub but you wouldn’t even know the township exists until you go down the driveway.”

And then there’s the sourdough.

Luke started making sourdough about ten years ago, on and off amongst his cheffing jobs through Europe, Canada, South Africa, Laos, Fiji and New Zealand. He said it felt right to pick it up with greater gusto when they made the move to Tassie two and a half years ago, through his business the Derby Bread Shed.

“I just really love the process, it’s unique and has a lot of soul. It’s not something you can manipulate or hurry up, each loaf has its own character, and there are the health benefits too.”

Luke bakes and sells his sourdough loaves and other sourdough products (think scrolls, focaccias, Turkish breads and pastries) in small batches in a wood-fired oven. Covid dealt his business a fair blow, but he’s slowly ramping things up as the weather warms and the borders open. Derby locals and visitors alike are gobbling up the sourdough goodness quicker than he can bake it.

But Luke won’t be rushed. His approach will always be artisan, taking delight in the nuances of the process, making adjustments for everything from weather and seasons to the activity of the starter and oven temperature, which varies based on the type of wood burnt.

“When I was younger I worked in places like Austria and Scandinavia, and I liked the darker sourdoughs there,” Luke says. “It’s nice and easy to make white sourdough bread, but not as nourishing, not as substantial. My main loaf is a combination of three different flours: rye, white and stoneground wholemeal, juggling percentages for a loaf that’s a great all-rounder.”

Luke’s other passion is the garden, but mainly because of how it broadens the scope of his baking.

“We have a great variety of fruit that we try and incorporate into our sweet treats when they are in season. When the apples are ready I make strudel; berries and cherries go into crostatas or flans; and some fruit also finds its way into scrolls.”

Luke talks about his sourdough like it is a child or a lover, someone to be treated with tenderness, and with the kind of love that overlooks or even admires the idiosyncrasies of their character.

“When you work in kitchens, everything’s repetition. Sourdough’s not like that. It’s very hard to get bored with it. It keeps me on my toes and my lifestyle works around what the bread’s doing.”

Hopefully your mouth is watering by now, and you have a burning desire to try one of Luke’s sourdough creations. Well, it’s an exclusive kind of opportunity friends! The Derby Bread Shed has no shop front. If you’re planning a visit, send Luke a message via Facebook, or give him a call with at least a few days notice and he’ll deliver it during your stay.

Derby Bread Shed

0499 823 907