By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
A renowned Melbourne pastry chef has left the city behind to bring ice cream and sorbet to the Macedon Ranges.
Andrea Reiss, known as Dre – a Woodend resident and founder of Chez Dre, Bibelot and Q Le Baker in Melbourne – says her two Macedon Ranges businesses, Woodend Ice Cream Co and Gisborne Ice Cream Co, are booming, even in winter and despite the pandemic and lack of tourism.
She attributed their success to overwhelmingly strong community support.
“What people have said is that we were that one bit of respite in the day [during lockdowns] where they could go out, have their exercise, come and have an ice cream and head home,” she said.
“We do ice cream cakes and takeaway ice cream in tubs and people would drop it off at friends’ doorsteps or send gift vouchers … the community really got behind us.”
Ms Reiss cut her teeth with renowned Melbourne chefs, including Jacques Reymond, in the early 2000s before moving to Europe to work in several top Michelin-starred restaurants in London and Paris – one of which headhunted her.
When she returned, infatuated with pastry, she opened patisserie, boulangerie and cafe Chez Dre near South Melbourne Market in 2011, followed by Bibelot patisserie and Q Le Baker bakery.
After she sold Chez Dre and Bibelot in 2018, she couldn’t get ice cream out of her head.
“We also had ice cream in Bibelot and it was a really, really popular part of the business and quite achievable, so coming out to the Macedon Ranges after selling Bibelot and Chez Dre, I was just laying low, waiting for what was going to happen [with] no expectations, and then the shop came up in Woodend on the High Street and I thought what a perfect place to have an ice cream shop,” she said.
Ms Reiss recalled a gelato-maker friend in Italy telling her that regional towns were the perfect places for ice cream shops.
“[I thought] well that makes sense. People always go out on day trips, and they come and have ice cream in the afternoon,” she said.
“Ice cream is that perfect happy treat that everyone can enjoy.”
She flung the doors open in December 2019 to ‘overwhelmingly unbelievable’ demand from school children, families and Melburnians travelling to the Macedon Ranges for the day.
At the Woodend shop – her ice cream HQ – everything is made in house, from the sauces and cookie crumbs folded into the ice creams to the cinnamon buns, confectionary and cruller doughnuts on sale. The team even mills its own wholegrain wheat for flour.
Ms Reiss said she was fortunate to have an abundance of beautiful local produce on her doorstep, including citrus, apples and seasonal fruits from across the Macedon Ranges Shire, and spirits from Gisborne’s Mountain Gin, which she occasionally used for gin sorbet.
She said lemon meringue pie was their best-selling ice cream flavour, along with cookies and cream and coffee with honey caramelised walnuts.
“The dark chocolate sorbet is my personal favourite. If you want that chocolate hit it is so delicious and paring that with any of the other flavours is really exciting for me,” Ms Reiss said.
Moving from large, dynamic and multi-faceted businesses in the inner-city to a small community has given Ms Reiss time to experiment and perfect her craft, and a lot of joy.
“From a business perspective it’s actually more joyful,” she said.
“Woodend is very established as a town but there are so many artisans moving up to this area and really focussing on a certain craft.
“We’re so fortunate that we’re able to stay open and that the community is really supporting us. People are saying, ‘hey, we want to come and buy a tub of vanilla ice cream because we’d rather buy it from you guys than go to Coles.’ That’s really humbling and so generous in spirit in this small community.”