Siliguri, Singapore, Sydney: A Bengali baker’s journey

Article by Indranil Halder

Christmas was just seven days away. Said goodbye to friends at Sydney international airport.Visited the Breadfern Bakery in Redfern. Purchased sourdough, meringue and cheese ham croissant. They were delicious.

Breadfern Bakery : 

The bakery is right opposite Redfern Art Gallery (corner of Redfern and Chalmers Street). According to Man of Many website , it is one of the top 23 Best Bakery Shops in Sydney. Has a wide selection of croissants, Danishes and pies. A Christmas log with chocolate, salted caramel Chantilly and granulated hazelnut poster was stuck to the ceiling high glass window. The bakery also offers varieties of breads which includes sourdough, stolen bread  and fruit or olive loaves. I learnt that the delicious breads on the shelves were baked by a Bengali. It made me very proud. His name is Anthan.

Anthan, the Baker: 

Anthan Barman is a Bengali who  hails from Siliguri district  in the Indian state of West Bengal. After his schooling in India, he was a Culinary Arts student at the Dimension International College, Singapore. He also attended  pastry baking at the Shatec International College, Singapore. Now an Australian permanent resident,  baking as Breadfern Bakery head baker for the last five years.

Anthan’s favourites : 

Anthan has few favourites  include exploring new places, tasting food and baking.

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In his home town of Siliguri, he used to regularly  visit a tiny local stationary store for regular supply of  pencils and note books. Another reason for his visit was the poster on the  wall. It caught his attention. A poster that  raised intense curiosity and established an emotional connection for Anthan. It made him determined to move out of his home town and travel out of India even though lack  of intergovernmental agreements, never let him enjoy the benefits of Working Holiday Visa. The poster implanted Australia’s Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge in Anthan’s mind.

Before moving to Australia, he learnt the art of Western style pastry making in Singapore. He also loved travelling to neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia and enjoying their local cuisines. His favourite was Indonesian dish Nasi Goreng with a mixture of rice, egg and prawns( all three are Bengali favourites). His other favourite was Indian Roti Tarak. He loved the flavoured Tadka with spices and Indian oil or ghee and a mixture of Mung beans, lentils and pigeon peas served with Indian whole-wheat flour bread or Roti. He also loved to share his favourite home bake cheese cake with friends in Singapore.

In Sydney, he makes use of his spare time riding his Ducati bike. Sometime, he rides down South Coast tasting the best pies in Berry, Berrima and Bowral. Other time, he rides to Melbourne, only to enjoyed the local pastries. He regularly ride over the Harbour Bridge to enjoy his morning coffee and the view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge from the north. Just like the way he used to enjoy the poster of Sydney landmarks in the  tiny Siliguri stationary shop.

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From Siliguri to Sydney, through his life, Anthan kept developing the art of Western style baking. He loves baking. It reminded me watching the 2018 Bengali movie “Rosogolla”, which highlighted, local sweet-maker Nobin Chandra Das’s love for making the famous Bengali sweet. I cannot think of any Sydney Bengalis Anthan who loves and mastered  the art of Western style professional baking.

In the West, men  have been baking for centuries. Who can forget the legendary story of Ottoman siege on the Austrian capital and a group of Vienna bakers helping authorities to expel the Ottomans. In 1863, this heroic deed of bakers became the history behind  today’s croissant. In recent times, idea of men baking is been supported across the globe. In 2004, a baking book was published by Paul John Hollywood, an English celebrity chef and television presenter. He was also a judge on The Great British Bake Off.  In 2012, The Great British Bake Off final was contested  by three men. In USA,  The Huffington Post reported on Man Candy and Cupcakes(MCC), featuring “mouth-watering cupcakes brought to you by the world’s sexiest bakers.” While baking-specialist writers,  Andrew Whitley , Dan Lepard and Richard Bertinet from The Guardian’s kept supporting the idea of men can bake through media publications. For Anthan, his biggest supporter is his friend JoJo Biswas ( from West Bengal and lives in Sydney). JoJo always says, “Anthan is an amazing baker.”

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There is no doubt about it.

During our 2021 Christmas gathering at The Governor Hotel, Macquarie Park, Anthan gifted us with mouth watering Christmas log, mango coconut lamington and sourdough from Breadfern Bakery. We also got to hear his stories of  intense baking preparations for sourdoughs and how he  loves the use of different ingredients such as dark rye, olive or dry  fruits in the dough. We cannot wait to see Anthan creating varieties of  mouth watering breads and  pastries for Sydney siders and  as American journalist Tom Junod would say, “You don’t have to love cooking to cook, but you have to do more than love baking to bake. You have to bake out of love.”