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Women Who Launch: Kate Reid

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By Lucy Cocoran on 5th January 2024

From engineering F1 cars To baking world-class croissants, Kate Reid's career is proof that life can be far from linear.

When Kate Reid answers my call, she’s sitting in her Melbourne living room while the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix flashes across her television.

To anyone who isn’t familiar with Reid’s story, this detail may feel fairly innocuous, but for fans of her work, it’s a reminder that some passions aren’t always destined to fade into obscurity.

While she may be viewing from the comfort of her couch tonight, a few decades ago, Reid was closer to the F1 action than most racing aficionados could ever hope to be. 

Growing up, her only goal was to one day become a Formula 1 engineer — a dream born in childhood while watching the races every Sunday night with her father. 

“It was this really special time together,” Reid recalls. 

“It's hard not to get excited about the electric environment that surrounds F1. A lot of people have watched Drive To Survive and they understand the high drama and competition between the teams — plus, it's all played out in some of the most glamorous dramatic locations in the world.” 

Few would deny the allure of F1, with the sport’s popularity having multiplied tenfold in recent years. Each race sees best-in-class athletes navigate some of the world’s most high-tech and complex machinery. To be a spectator is to experience a level of second-hand exhilaration you can’t replicate elsewhere. It’s addictive, but as Reid would later discover, loving the sport personally and loving it professionally are two very different things. 

At age 13, Reid would witness her first race trackside, and decided that from there on, every decision would be directed towards one life goal — becoming an F1 engineer. In just ten years, she realised this dream, graduating from Australia’s RMIT University with a degree in aerospace engineering, before being offered full-time employment as an aerodynamicist with the Williams Racing team.

This job offer saw her relocate from Australia to London, but it was only a matter of weeks before she realised that her dream job wasn’t her dream after all.

“I really struggle to draw memories from that experience,” Reid says. “It's so dark for me that my brain has blocked out that period of time in my life. I don't remember my first day, I don't remember my colleagues names, the only thing I remember is staring at this wall.” 

A far cry from the collaborative environment she so craved, Reid found herself stuck behind a computer for hours on end with little to no human interaction. 

“I assumed an F1  team would be highly collaborative with exciting conversations about pushing the boundaries of technology, but it just never happened. I felt this real lack of creativity, motivation and inspiration,” she muses.  

Coming to terms with her almost immediate job dissatisfaction proved difficult, because so much of her personal identity was wrapped up in her career. A life without F1 was not a life Reid knew. 

“I didn't know what my purpose was,” she recalls. “Formula 1 had defined me for as long as I could remember, and I became really lost.”  

After persisting for three years, the burden became too much to bear, and she returned to Australia, having developed both an eating disorder and mental illness. Feeling bewildered and drained, a life change was critical, but at this point, it was equally unclear. 

Seeking a much-needed change of pace, Reid began working as a waitress at a local bakery, where she found herself enjoying the simple act of making baked goods. It wasn’t long before she found herself stifled by the simplicity of cakes and cookies and increasingly more enamoured with the art of French pastry. This intrigue ultimately led her to Paris, where she began a three-month unpaid internship at Du Pain et des Idées — a highly regarded boulangerie in the 10th arrondissement. 

She describes this time as one of the “freest, happiest moments” in her life — a far cry from the confinements of her F1 career.  

It was here that Reid learned how to make and manipulate croissant dough. This is a process she describes as “highly technical,” requiring dozens of steps and taking three days to complete. The challenges might have caused some to run, but for Reid, it was the combination of creativity and technicality she had been yearning for. 

Sadly, no matter how liberating, an unpaid internship in Paris was not a financially sustainable life plan. And, when a friend back in Melbourne sought Reid’s help with a cafe expansion, she decided to return home. 

“I set about trying to find a bakery in Melbourne that was doing something close to what I'd learned in Paris, and it just didn't exist.” Reid remembered. “Croissants in Melbourne in 2010 were abominable.”  

Funnily enough, 2013 would prove to be a game-changing year in the world of pastry, with Dominique Ansel debuting the cronut and Reid herself inventing the cruffin, but her initial disenchantment is what lead to her eventual, buttery enlightenment. 

Rather than admit defeat, Reid began ideating ways to transfer what she’d learned in Paris to her home soil. As the age old saying suggests, ‘if you can’t find a way, make one.’ Upon investing in a few commercial baking essentials including a dough mixer, laminator and prover, she was ready to begin making magic. It was only when she tipped the dough out onto a bench that she realised she had absolutely no idea what to do with it. 

“The only thing I’d learned in Paris was how to make the dough, I had no idea what to do from there.” 

This is where Reid recalls her lightbulb moment — she needed to apply her engineering brain to the pastry. She needed to reverse engineer the croissant. 

From memory, there were parts of the Parisian process she would have altered, but interfering with a decades-old recipe was not the done thing in France. Back in Melbourne, however, she was free to experiment. 

Trial by trial, each time changing just one small variable, Reid spent months fine tuning  the weight, taste, texture and aesthetics, until finally, she had something she could take to market. 

Lune Croissainterie was born in 2012 and with it, a new industry baking standard. The logo, a clever combination of both croissant and rocket, could not have been more apt, given the brand’s almost immediate skyrocketing to cult classic. 

In just three years, Lune graduated from its hole-in-the-wall origins in Elwood to a large warehouse in St Kilda. Designed by Studio Esteta, the interiors feature exposed brick, concrete counters and of course, the brand’s iconic climate-controlled glass cube,  allowing customers to draw back the curtain on Lunes’ magic. 

Reid could never have predicted the reception her pastries would receive. In 2016, a food critic from The New York Times declared Lune croissants as “the finest you will find anywhere in the world”, while Yotam Ottolenghi hailed them as the “croissants that should act as the prototype for all others”, in 2019. 

These words still ring in Reid’s ears, but global recognition and high praise caused temptation to rest on her laurels. In fact, Lune’s staff are actively encouraged to offer improvements to the croissant making process, and, if the proposed method proves better, it becomes the new norm. 

“Nothing we do on the planet, whether it's baking, engineering or anything, is the best that it's going to be,” she explains. “Everything has the opportunity to be better, and approaching every single part of the process with that attitude offers endless improvement.” 

This methodology ensures that Lune will always be at the forefront, with Reid explaining that in 30 years time, their croissants will be 30 years worth of evolution better than they are now. 

“I’ve essentially created a Formula One team which makes croissants instead of F1 cars,” she mused. 

The bakery’s rotating flavour menu already speaks to this innovation, creatively inciting  nostalgia when developing new varieties . Whether it’s a sweet take on the pavlova with meringue shards and whipped cream, or a savoury take on the margarita pizza with Napoli sauce and scamorza, the ingeniousness is undeniable. 

Now, at any one of the six Australian outposts, you can find people queuing for hours, waiting to sink their teeth into one of Lune’s croissants and experience that perfect, buttery texture . 

Reid’s success speaks not only to her determination, but to her capability within male dominated industries. With over 70% of Lune’s leadership team identifying as female, this business has paved  the way for a new generation of female bakers.  

“We're really trying to be groundbreaking in offering women a supportive work environment where they can thrive professionally, as well as have children,” Reid said.

Lune’s female employees are offered eight weeks extra paid maternity leave with superannuation, and subsidised psychology sessions for any staff who have suffered a miscarriage. The business also has a negative gender pay gap. 

“I hope it gives people confidence that we actually care about their mental and physical health, showing you can have everything you want in life as well as a fulfilling career,” Reid said. 

Outside of the glass cube, Reid spends her time making public appearances and selling copies of her first book, Lune: Croissants All Day, All Night. Released in 2022, its creation saw her take on yet another challenging testing experience — bringing the croissant to the home baker. 

“I've seen the most incredible looking croissants coming out of home kitchens and it's such a privilege to see that people are actually buying the book and trying it,” she beams . 

As the Lune-iverse continues to expand at an exponential rate, talks of an international outpost are already on the cards, with Reid noting that East Asia seems a likely landing spot, given Lune’s already established following. 

To those whose heads spin at the sheer amount of movement, it’s important to remember that the desire to live a fast paced life is in Reid’s blood. After all, it’s what attracted her to F1 in the first place. 

“I love the idea of my life coming full circle in some way,” she mused at the end of our conversation, having rehashed her career to date. 

“I don't think I've been a bigger F1 fan than I am right now, and it’s a real love this time, because I understand how many people are working so hard behind the scenes to bring this incredible spectacle to life.”

Life in the fast lane isn’t for everyone, but for Reid, switching gears is the thrill of a lifetime. 

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