local good things with steve from merchant & makerBACK TO FUN STUFF
LOCAL GOOD THINGS, WITH MERCHANT & MAKER
This is the first piece in our #localgoodthings series, by photographer Ryan Murphy & Writer Tim Hawken. We share share & document stories of creatives who love living in our beautiful backyard of South West Western Australia
Steve Momsen is extra special. As the co-owner of Merchant & Maker General Store in Dunsborough, he not only makes amazing food himself, but stocks produce from growers and makers around the region as well.
According to Steve, his journey stems from a passion for food, family and taking pride in what you do…
Born in Perth to Danish parents, Steve grew up in the city where he eventually completed his chef apprenticeship at the esteemed Jackson’s Restaurant. He then decided to take a year to travel to Denmark in Scandinavia for some more cooking experience and to get in touch with his family heritage. What was meant to be twelve months, turned into 14 years.
“I fell in love with how serious they take their trades over there,” explains Steve. “If you work doing something, you’re passionate about it. It’s more than just about making money. You take ownership of it.”
Despite not being able to speak any Danish, Steve quickly learned the ropes (and the language) under the fiery tutelage of Copenhagen’s answer to Gordon Ramsey. While being yelled at among gas cookers and grease traps was intimidating, Steve respected the approach of his mentor and understood why he was so serious about what he did.
“It almost physically scarred him to see someone not take pride in what they were doing.”
Over that time, Steve learned a lot about cooking and how to question the traditional way he’d been taught to do things.
“Working over there really opened my eyes for tasting and how to use everything. Instead of just doing things because that’s how it’s always been done, you question that and taste it first before you throw it out. Like with cauliflower, you taste the stalk and realise it’s really sweet, so it goes in the meal. There’s a lot less waste that way.”
Integrating this newfound approach to his craft, Steve went from success to success in his career in Copenhagen. He worked as a private chef for the Australian Ambassador to Denmark, and also started two catering businesses. One of those, called Wooden Spoon, made healthy meals and preserved them naturally in glass jars.
“We did things the old fashioned way, where without any preservatives you hot fill the jar with the meal, seal the lid and then steam it further to create a vacuum. That makes everything sterile and lets you keep it for up to three months in the fridge. When you need a meal, you unseal it, heat it up and serve with some rice or pasta and salad. Everything is healthy and ready in about ten minutes.”
The Danish approach to food wasn’t the only thing that Steve fell in love with during his time in Copenhagen. He met Anna, now his wife, and had three beautiful kids along the way. The growing family spurred Steve and Anna to think about moving back to Australia, so they could be closer to Steve’s brother and kids.
“We really wanted for the cousins to grow up together, so decided to take a risk and move back. It’s funny, because everything was going really well over there, but we thought let’s sell everything, pack a container and give it a go.”
So, without a job or a place to live, Steve, Anna and the kids packed up their lives and moved to Dunsborough. For the first six months, they lived at Steve’s brother’s – two families crammed under one roof. The close quarters helped the Momsen kids learn English from their cousins before starting school. The time also brought an opportunity from family friends, who were the original owners of Merchant and Maker.
“They were ready to move on, so we crunched the numbers and came up with a plan. We went in there with the thought that we wouldn’t stock any brands you could get in Coles, but would instead focus on local and sustainable options.”
The plan breathed new life into an already respected local business. On top of making the best coffee in town (using Margaret River Roasting Co beans), they also installed a full kitchen to make fresh food for people to come in and enjoy. They even added the Wooden Spoon meal jars concept to the fridge, offering freshly preserved curries and soups for families who need a quick, yet healthy option at home.
One of the coolest things about the store is that Merchant & Maker use the produce on the shelves in their own kitchen too. Instead of going the economic route and choosing cheaper options, they stick to their ethics of great local quality in everything they do.
“There’s nothing worse than you connecting with the love story that someone uses all the veggies in the garden yet they actually buy raspberries from Serbia or something. We really wanted to be transparent with that. We have this beautiful Manjimup smoked ham which goes into our sandwiches, with local chutney from Crunch Preserves as well. We want to make sure our products are made from ingredients that people can recognise.”
It doesn’t stop at sandwiches either. Steve even uses Eagle Bay Brewing Co’s Cacao Stout to make his freshly baked rye bread.
“With the bread, it was really hard to source good malt, so I thought, well, there’s malt in beer, I’ll use local beer instead. The great thing about rye is that it’s super nutritious, but also makes really good bread crisps if you dry it out after it gets older. That means less waste again, which is part of what we’re all about.”
If you haven’t guessed by now, a lot of thought and passion goes into everything they do at Merchant & Maker. They work hard to find people who are just as passionate about what they do too, so every staff member is on the same level – from barista Matt who competes in national coffee-making competitions, to their French pastry chef who works in the kitchen, to Steve’s sister in law Sharlee who is incredible with customer service and more.
If you’re in town, go in and see what we mean. Coffee, breakfast, lunch, or just emergency eggs and toilet paper first thing in the morning – they’ve got you covered. Eat locally. Smile widely. Enjoy.
As a bonus, Steve has kindly given us his Cacao Stout Rye Bread recipe for you to try at home. Just make sure that the beer goes into the baking and not just in your mouth…
Danish Rye Bread with Eagle Bay Cacao Stout
150ml Eagle Bay Cacao Stout
200g Rye Sourdough (free starters from Merchant & Maker)
20g fresh yeast or 10g dry
Mix the above in a mixer with a paddle for approx 2 mins.
450g Eden Valley Organic Rye flour
150g Eden Valley Organic Bakers flour
100g Mixed seeds, e.g pumpkin, sunflower, linseed
100g Rolled oats
Add the remaining ingredients to the mixer.
Mix for approx 10 mins on a slow speed.
Place the Rye bread mix in 1 large bread tin or 2 small tins.
The dough is meant to be very wet. The seeds and grains will absorb the water over time.
Dip your hands in water to shape the dough flat into the moulds.
Dont be afraid if you have some excess water on top.
Sprinkle with some seeds of your choice.
Either prove on the bench until doubled in size (approx 3 hours)
Place in the fridge over night and bake the next day.
Bake @ 170° for 45 mins. Check center with a thermometer. Must be min 98°
The Rye bread will be tricky to slice straight away, so let it cool for a bit.
Store the bread out of the fridge.
Rye bread holds well and will keep fresh for a couple of days.
You can also slice and freeze for later use.
Enjoy 🙂 written by Tim Hawken / images by Ryan Murphy / cheers Steve from Merchant & Maker