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Trader Profile: Cristina, La Colmena

Specialising in mouth-watering Spanish pastries, we sat down with owner of La Colmena, Cristina Jiménez to find out more about her first store in Harvest Hall and how she got into pastry making.



What was your previous job before opening La Colmena?

I worked at Firbank Grammar School as the International Group Coordinator, helping out expat and international families with their transition into the school and their new adopted city. It was a great role that I enjoyed immensely.


Did you have a previous career before pastry making?

Yes, I did. I am a computing engineer and I worked in IT for two decades on both public and private industries. Later on, I have realised that my technical background is very helpful indeed for the precise and exact science of pastry making. 


Why did you get into pastry making?

I have always loved cooking and have been baking for as long as I can remember. I come from a family with a long tradition in the hospitality industry. My father was head chef of several hotels in Mallorca and Menorca back in the 1960s and 1970s, my brother, uncles and cousins are also chefs and have their own restaurants. Plus, my mother and grandmother are some of the best pastry chefs I have ever met, so gastronomy is at the heart of my family. Cooking is one of my passions and during the pandemic, I made the most of that period of isolation to stop and reflect on what I really wanted to do. I decided to train at Le Cordon Bleu Melbourne as a treat to further explore one of my hobbies and as a therapy to escape from the reality we were living in, as a way to cope with the nostalgia of not being able to visit my family in Spain due to the closed borders. I was always curious about old cookbooks and studied a lot during that time, I wanted to deeply understand Spanish pastry-making to do it justice. And then I just couldn’t stop, one thing led to another and my love for baking only grew and grew. I used all this knowledge from my studies and training to research, develop and perfect Spanish pastry recipes and thus La Colmena was born, from my love for Spanish gastronomy, because ultimately La Colmena is a celebration of Spain, its cuisine, its history and its heritage right here in Melbourne.


What is something people may not know about you or La Colmena?

The meaning of the name of our Pasteleria and all the connotations that define not only what La Colmena is about, but also the process of how I ended up here. La Colmena literally translates into English as The Hive and is a nod to the first artisans, the bees, producers of the most ancient natural sweetener. A hive also refers to a bustling place where people are very busy, such as the hive of activity that is an “obrador” (the artisan workshop where pastries are made). 

On another hand, La Colmena is the title of a masterpiece novel by the Spanish Nobel Prize winner Camilo Jose Cela, in which post-war Spanish society is portrayed. I conceptualized and developed La Colmena back in 2020 and 2021, just when a global pandemic occurred that shook us all and, for the first time, I was able to truly understand what my grandparents used to explain about the time of the Spanish Civil War and the collective trauma: not being able to see family for years, isolation, fear, uncertainty, lack of freedom, etc. Saving the distance, the analogy between those transition periods after a time of isolation, was an inspiration to call it La Colmena. I always thought of La Colmena as a place of reunion for the post-pandemic.


Why did you choose Prahran Market to open your first store?

I love Prahran Market. I have been a customer myself since I moved to Melbourne back in 2009. La Colmena believes in honouring tradition and we like everything old and full of history. Prahran Market is the oldest market in Melbourne and in terms of aesthetics, it is the one that reminds me most of Europe and the Spanish markets I used to visit with my mum when I grew up. I love the ceiling structure and the charm of its size. I also have a personal anecdote with Prahran Market: back in 2014, when the market celebrated its 150th anniversary with a photographic competition, I submitted an image called “Tasty memories” that I took at Pino’s fruit & veg shop while doing my groceries, and I won the second prize with that photo! I think it is those experiences that bond us to places. 


How does your day start, times activities etc?

My day starts very early – as it does for any baker! I have my routine of walking first thing in the morning and watching the sunrise. Then a cup of coffee and off I go. It is very busy at the moment, and when you run a Pasteleria, the timing and activities go around the fermentation, resting periods of the pastries in the making so I have my full operations plan that I need to follow to be able to deliver, it is a matter of organization and planning. I wish the day had 40 hours so I could fit in everything I love to do! 


What is the most involved pastry that you make? Give us the details!

All our pastries have their levels of complexity but the most laborious is undoubtedly the Ensaimada. It takes two days to make and there is no machine involved in the process, as stretching, rolling, shaping, formatting, and filling can only be done manually, so it is extremely time consuming and technically quite complex, especially the stretching process which is made one by one instead of in block and again manually, no dough sheeter here! It takes a lot of experience to master the handcraft. That being said, for me, kneading and working the dough for an Ensaimada is one of the most satisfying experiences as a baker, since it also has a very strong emotional component to be making it so far away from Spain.


What is your favourite Spanish pastry to make and why?

My favourite pastry to make is the Glaseado because it is one of the most unique pastries and because of its origin being the southern city of Almeria, the region where my maternal family is from. I still vividly remember when I was a little girl, around 5 or 6 years old, my mum took me to an historic Pasteleria in Almeria and told me: “Listen sweetie, now you are going to try one of the most exquisite things that exists,” and we shared a Glaseado. I have never forgotten it! Glaseado is my mother’s favourite pastry and that is why I have a soft spot for it. It is like a tribute to my mother every time I bake it.  


Which Spanish pastry would you recommend customers try first if they have never had one before?

I get that question a lot from our lovely customers because everything is new to them, and so they very often look for a recommendation. It is really hard to answer because it is really a matter of personal taste. Every pastry is unique and conveys a different texture, flavour and aroma. For instance, if you like sourdough, you have to try Ensaimadas. But chocolate lovers should go for Doblegats or Miguelitos Chocolate. And if you really have a sweet tooth, then you should try Piononos or Glaseados. The thing is that you need to try them all to discover which one is your favourite! 


Are the products you make from one area of Spain or from all across the country? Give us details

It depends on the product. For instance, Ensaimadas are originally from the Balearic Islands but are popular in all of Spain because of their uniqueness. It is a similar thing with Tocino de Cielo or Crema Catalana, originally from Andalucia and Calalonia, but popular in the rest of Spain. Roscon de Reyes is equally popular in all the regions of Spain, but we traditionally only have it during Christmas. However, some other pastries are very local, like Piononos or Glaseados, from cities in the South of Spain, and we have Spanish customers from Barcelona, Madrid or the northern regions who have never tried them before! Miguelitos are quite popular in central Spain and have grown its popularity too. However, Doblegats originate from the Balearic Islands but are very local and not well known in the Peninsula. The beauty of Spanish pastries is that every region has its own characteristic flavours and the diversity is worthy of admiration. 


What is your favourite Spanish pastry to eat?

All of them! For me, it really depends on the moment of the day and for every occasion I have my favourite. For instance, for breakfast time I will always go for Ensaimadas. For dessert after dinner, I will always go for Glaseado. For morning tea to accompany a good coffee, I would have a Pionono cause it is a small bite, and a Miguelito would be my favourite for “la merienda” (afternoon tea time in Spain). 


What is your favourite part of your job?

I love baking, it is like meditation for me. When I am in the process nothing else exists, I am so in the moment that I immensely enjoy it. I also love the technical side of baking, its precision, and with each batch you can discover something new if you are observant. But after opening La Colmena, I have discovered that what I enjoy the most is interacting with our lovely customers, building those connections, seeing our regulars and meeting new clients, just having a genuine interaction with each one of them, engaging and sharing moments and stories, that is truly rewarding, really gratifying. 


What is your earliest food memory (tell us about it)?

Eating paella by the beach with my family, my parents and siblings by the Mediterranean Sea. Those Summer holiday lunches by the sea are my earliest food memory always. 


What do you love most about being at Prahran Market?

The atmosphere, the people, the customers, the neighbour traders, and the really good quality groceries that I can get to take home. I particularly love everything you can learn about a city by just observing a market. The market says so much about the neighbourhood, its demographic, its lifestyle, its trends, etc. You can really learn a lot if you pay attention and, as I spend so many hours at the Prahran Market, is very stimulating to my curious mind!


What do you love to do on your day off?

Sharing time with my family is what I enjoy the most, going out for dinner with them or just taking a walk by the beach. I try to see my friends on my free time to catch up! But what I enjoy the most is being outdoors with my family.  


If there is anything else you would like us to know, feel free to add.

I studied photography back in 2016 and graduated from Open Colleges and all the images on my website and Instagram are mine. Reading is also another of my greatest passions and three years ago I created a Book Club with expat families which is one of the loveliest things I have done. Above all, my favourite thing to do has always been travelling and discovering the world. 


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