ARTISAN baker Dee Rettali has been honing her craft for many years.
The Cork native, who hails from Castletownroche, co-owns and runs the hugely popular Fortitude Bakehouse in London’s Bloomsbury with her partner Jorge Fernandez.
The pair opened the bakery in 2018 and it has gone from strength to strength ever since, attracting a steady trade from both locals and visitors to the area, with its delicious baked goods.
But the Irishwoman has been baking for far longer than five years and admits the choice to pursue a career in the trade – which has seen her develop groundbreaking techniques that include using sourdough in cake-making and fermenting cake batters to achieve an incredible depth of flavour - was largely inspired by her mother and grandmother.
“I would have to say my mother and grandmother have had the most influence on my career, they were very good bakers and crafters,” Rettali admits.
She left her West Cork home in 1988 to move to England, as she “wanted to see a bit of the world”, and started baking professionally in 1992, as a student of Justin de Blank.
“I had wonderful training and it has been my life and my living since,” she admits.
“I have worked with many great companies and am now on my third bakery, having opened my first baking business at 27.”
When Rettali founded Fortitude it was with the vision of bringing a new offering to the bakery scene.
“The business was founded by my partner, Jorge Fernandez and I in 2018,” she explains.
“We both have a long background in food and development and the bakery was set up to develop new ideas within the cafe and bakery space.
“We didn’t want to make croissant or the usual pastry suspects.
“And the name Fortitude was branded by Jorge for many reasons - provenance, craft baking, ingredients, goodness and stamina, which you have to have plenty of in this trade.”
Rettali, who lives in west London, employs 22 people at the bakery, including a head baker Doireann, who is from Co. Clare.
There are five more bakers on the team as well as trained baristas, a general manager and a kitchen assistant team, which the entrepreneur describes as “fantastic”.
It is also a family business as Rettali’s three children all have roles within it.
But what sets the bakery apart from others?
“We are very unique,” Rettali says.
“I think our product development is the key to this.
“We use ingredients in an unusual way. We ferment cake batters, which is very unusual.
“We are very progressive.”
And on the secret to their success so far, Rettali claims its “100% hard work”.
It hasn’t been plain sailing either for the relatively new firm.
Like so many others in the food and drink industry, it was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Other than the usual set-up hiccups, the hardest challenge to overcome since founding the bakery has to be Covid,” the baker admits.
“Central London was like a ghost town for two years and we really struggled during that time.
“Thankfully the business has bounced back incredibly well.”
Now, the firm is optimistically eyeing up the future, and hopes to expand.
“We are currently looking for a bigger space so that will be fantastic for the team,” Rettali confirms.
“It is our aim to open further branches, but we are taking our time as we want to find the right space.”
In the meantime, the Irishwoman is happy to keep doing what she loves best.
“I think the creativity of baking is very good for my head space,” she says.
“My favourite thing to bake is brioche-based products,” she adds, “I’m not a huge fan of bread baking, bar soda bread, which we make at the bakery.”
And with tasty bakes and delicious soda bread something found in Irish households across the globe, Rettali admits that the Irish do have something of a flair for baking.
“I think we are so good at it because we are so hospitable,” she says.
“We love feeding people and we love to offer guests and family freshly baked cakes and scones.
“We are also a nation of phenomenal crafters and baking really is a craft.”
Dee Rettali is the co-founder of the Fortitude Bakehouse and the author of Baking With Fortitude, published by Bloomsbury. www.fortitudebakehouse.com