OIL and water may not mix. but flour and water certainly do, as couple Tessa Doevenspeck, from the Netherlands and Janette Valente, from Dublin, found out when they sought a fresh start and opened a fabulous new artisanal bakery.
They called it Flour And Water and it operates on Bridge Street, Skibbereen.
“Janette is the master baker,” says Tessa, who after leaving the Netherlands at age six, grew up in the Middle East and Cyprus.
Janette had a natural flair for baking.
“She is a self-taught baker,” says Tessa, 50. “I learned my baking skills from her.”
Janette has many skills.
“When she was a food importer, Foot and Mouth hit,” says Tessa. “Then foodstuffs like cheeses and salamis couldn’t be imported from Europe.
"Seeing a gap in the market for traditional bakers, Janette concentrated on her baking. And it progressed from there. She has many years experience being a baker.”
Tessa must have experienced many food cultures growing up living in different countries?
“Yes, I did,” says Tessa, who is now smitten with the West Cork town of Skibbereen, where Flour And Water is sandwiched neatly beside the famous Clerkes of Skibb store on Bridge Street.
“I think my older sisters were more aware and more conscious of living in, and experiencing, different countries when we younger when our parents moved around a lot.”
But Tessa did become aware of cooking with a wide-range of ingredients.
“Yes, I am a cook,” says Tessa.
“I worked in catering and in digital marketing. And living in Dublin, I loved helping out at farmers’ markets. The buzz and the sociability of local food markets is a lovely atmosphere.”
It was in Dublin that the ladies noticed how an artesian bakery, good coffee and a delicious deli made good ingredients for a good business.
“We lived near an old fashioned deli in Dublin 8 that sold old fashioned pastries,” says Tessa, 49. “It was an old-fashioned corner shop that sold delicious pastries and it did great business.”
The ladies like to be beside the sea-side.
“We had only previously left Dublin for Waterford 18 months before lockdown.”
Janette, who is part Italian, had been a baker for over 25 years and Tessa had worked in large-scale catering before joining Janette to set up together.
They owned the deli Marlowe near them in Dungarvan and sold it on.
“I knew people there,” says Tessa. “And I liked it. Dungarvan is a lovely, lively town.”
Nothing stayed the same after Covid-19 struck around the globe.
“With all the uncertainty that the pandemic brought, we needed to make a decision and we decided to go back to the drawing board and up sticks,” says Tessa.
“Like so many other businesses in Ireland we found ourselves in the same situation; opening and closing our doors again and again due to the restrictions of the pandemic.”
West Cork beckoned.
“We had a think, we looked at Bantry, which is lovely too, but we took a chance on Skibbereen.”
They closed up shop in Dungarvan.
“We closed the café/bakery and relocated to West Cork.”
Where did the name Flour and Water come from?
“Dough is at the very core of what we do,” says Tessa. “Be it bread or pastries. And the two main ingredients for them are flour and water.”
They found a sweet spot in Skibbereen, three months before the pandemic hit.
“We rent a very large building, using it as an in-house bakery, and we live there too.”
There must be wonderful scents of vanilla, chocolate and sugar frosting wafting up the stairs?
“There is, for sure!” says Tessa laughing. “It is what we wake up to each morning!”
They wake up early too.
“We are up at 4am and at work by 5am,” says Tessa, who works front of house and does the administration for the business.
With full steam ahead, and their traditional sourdough, breads, baps, buns, cinnamon rolls, chocolate croissants, custard tarts and other sumptuous sweet treats flying out the door since opening up on April 1, there’s no regrets. After all, they are in good company.
“We were blown away by the talent of the local producers here and the award-winning restaurants in the area,” says Tessa.
“It’s incredible to witness the diversity of products that can be found here. It is absolutely amazing.”
The support is amazing.
“We have repeat customers who are regular customers and we operate a click and collect option.
And there was a welcome on the mat for Tessa and Janette as well as their beloved Labrador Retrieverg.
“We have received such a great welcome from the local community,” says Tessa.
“We are really thrilled to be here. Skibbereen was the right move for us; even though Waterford is lovely.”
And the couple had a hunger for success, courageously opening Flour And Water in the midst of a pandemic.
“We have a huge variety of breads and pastries,” says Tessa.
“The breads we bake are in the traditional style using no additives or preservatives. The majority of breads are sourdough, which is healthy bread by the way. We also have focaccias, ciabattas and other breads containing yeasts.”
Tessa and Janette practice sustainability.
“We are very much into sustainability and primarily use organic ingredients,” says Tessa.
“We us non-organic rarely; only when sustainability supersedes the organic status. We wouldn’t get an organic version of fruit or vegetable from New Zealand or South America, for example, if there is a version closer to home.”
What about the sweeties?
“Our laminated pastries are best-sellers.”
For the uninitiated baker like me, what is a laminated pastry?
“It is where layers of dough are separated by butter produced by rolling and folding; a lot of that is involved.”
There are many calories involved too, I take it? Tessa laughs.
“Didn’t I tell you? We have special calories. They don’t count!”
The pastries at Flour And Water, produced by sifting, stirring, whipping up butter and sugar into golden mixtures, flouring, folding and frosting from 5am daily, have a taste of the exotic.
“There is a bit of French and Italian influence and flavours thrown in,” says Tessa.
“We are very influenced by our heritage; where we grew up, and also where we travelled.
“There is some Asian influence in the mix too.”
And some good Irish ingredients.
“Ah yes. Janette is Irish of Italian descent. Irish and locally produced ingredients for our breads, scones and our pastries are top-class. The flavours of the Middle East and Cyprus which I grew up with, also show in my baking too.”
Is Tessa a master baker now like her partner?
“I’ve learned so much about baking from Janette,” says Tessa.
With sourdough and banana bread on most house-hold menus in lockdown, can she give us some expert tips?
“Patience!” says Tessa. “Sourdough bread is not fast. It takes time to activate, maybe three of four days from beginning to end, depending on the grains. Bread can never be rushed.”
Are they in a rush to make more dough and expand?
“We’re hoping to expand our range of goods and to introduce allergen-based bakes suitable for people who are gluten intolerant. We’ll need to be certified, which takes time, and we’ll need a new unit for that.”
“Enjoying our work is a great bonus,” says Tessa.
“Moving to Skibbereen for us means living the dream.”
Flour and Water is open Wednesday to Saturday, 8.30am-3pm. Sunday 9am-2pm. They don't operate click and collect.