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August 17, 2023

Veteran baker hangs up apron but wants sourdough passion to rise

Described by his daughter, Renew Adelaide CEO Gianna Murphy, as a rockstar of Adelaide’s baking scene, the kitchen veteran with a bent towards artisanal sourdough explains what’s next after the closure of his latest venture, Murphy's Cafe Bakery.

  • Pictured: Alan Murphy and his daughter Gianna
  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • Photos: Supplied

The thing that Alan Murphy loves most about baking is the chatter. “I like letting people know what we do and how it’s done,” the former business owner tells CityMag.

The 67-year-old is so ardently passionate about sharing his fondness for sourdough — bread with a tarty flavour, fermented by lactic acid bacteria and yeast — that he wants to go into kitchens in the postcode 5000 to impart his wisdom on the lost art of baking to up-and-coming bakers.

“I think there has been a loss of passion within the baking industry in Australia,” Alan says.

“There are no bakers, especially in Adelaide, and we have to find bakers that have passion and love and want to do things properly, and it’s not so much the old-fashioned way. It’s just the right way.”

Tres Bon Cafe Bakery in Cairns, QLD in 1993

After 50 years and multiple bakeries, Alan is calling it quits on the commercial side of baking. He opened his most recent bakery, Murphy’s Cafe Bakery in North Haven Shopping Centre, in 2017 and closed it in July.

Now, he wants to use his free time to share his knowledge about flatbreads with other carb aficionados, and visit local bakeries to tinker away at new recipes.


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“I want to go the little bakeries and take my mother dough there and show them how to make proper sourdough, not the bastardised sourdough, where they add vinegar or yogurts or things like that to make it taste like sour,” Alan says.

“I want to get the right mixing and tell them that there’s more to baking sourdough than just mixing it and baking it. There’s all these other things that come in now: it’s summertime, the weather changes, the water changes, everything changes.”

The baker is both “relieved and sad” by the closure of his shop. He says on the last day of trade there were about 30 to 40 customers who popped by with gifts and tears.

“We had people coming in crying and hugging me and bringing presents,” Alan says.

“I talk to them and there is nothing better than walking into a shop and you go ‘I know the butcher’ or ‘I know the baker’. It fills that importance in that in your life.”

Bread has been a constant in Alan’s life.

Alan’s dad first put the fire in his baking belly by making scones in the Mildura family home, with his son showing a shared interest. This interest took Alan from Victoria to South Australia as a young apprentice behind the rolling pin, and eventually to Italy in 2007 for his 50th birthday. (Alan’s wife is Italian).

“I went there and just caught up with some Italian bakers and helped them out and spoke to them in broken Italian. It was just really good fun,” he says.

In the same year, Alan got serious about sourdough. His wife participated in a baking course at TAFE SA and Alan met legendary baker Leon Bailey, “the guru of sourdough bread and authentic bread”.

Leon gave Alan a piece of his mother dough – fermented dough filled with natural, wild yeast and a bacteria called lactobacilli – and Alan says that DNA testing revealed it to be 200 years old. He has relied on this centuries-old fermented elixir of life throughout his career and has even shared pieces of it with lucky customers and apprentices.

Regardless of whether the kitchen hand has the right starter dough or not, Alan says if they do not love baking, the bread will never rise to the occasion.

“I’ve given my mother dough to a guy and he still can’t make the sourdough that I’m making. I’ve been down there to try it, he’s got no passion,” Alan says.

This is why Alan believes the most important thing for him to do now is to impart his wisdom and love of quality bread and the industry to others.

Alan’s daughter, Renew Adelaide CEO Gianna Murphy, is another baking kindred spirit. She started her own company in 2020 called Motherdough, but as her career at the not-for-profit tasked with activating vacant city spaces with unique businesses scaled up, she left the world of baking behind.

What she is left with is gratitude for small businesses, sweet pastries and impassioned bakers like her father.

“Dad is a really generous spirit because he so strongly believes in pushing that industry and maintaining that trade into the future,” Gianna says.

The Semaphore Bakehouse, Semaphore in 2002

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