BACK TO BASICS FOR THE NEW YEAR
January 2018 marks the beginning of my 15th year running Paul Rhodes Bakery. It hardly seems like yesterday that I was starting out, making and delivering my first orders to those few early clients, many of whom were chef friends and contacts from my own days working in restaurant kitchens. Creating great bread and pastries for busy chefs has always been at the core of our business and we continue to try and keep as close to our customers as possible, to understand their needs – even now with a sizeable bakery to manage.
I’ve caught up with quite a few chefs over the past month or two and our conversations have really made me think about why I started the business and what I want it to be in the future. Being independent has always been key – I want to answer to customers, rather than financiers or a big corporation – and meeting the day-to-day needs of chefs has, as stated, always been paramount. Great ingredients are also vitally important and this was something I learnt from my time in some of London’s best kitchens. Getting the best possible raw ingredients for each dish was essential and this ethos is also at the heart of the best bakeries.
I think we have great relationships with our key ingredients suppliers but in this anniversary year I’m keen to go back to basics and get to know some of the producers as well…after all, these are the ‘real deal’ when it comes to provenance. In my restaurant kitchen days I often knew the farmer who supplied our meat and not just the butchers. Now, I’m keen to bring the farmers who grow our grains much closer to what we do in the bakery on a daily basis – in the same way we have with chefs and customer teams.
Bread is such a simple product in many ways but the way to elevate a basic loaf to the next level and make it as nutritious and tasty as possible is to start with the right grains. So much of modern wheat is crossbred and very refined and this can mean less flavour and fewer nutrients – and significantly for farmers, a crop that is more susceptible to disease.
Flavour is a crucial element to a successful bakery business so I have been spending some time trying out some different wheat varieties recently – and what I have tasted has been outstanding. Last month I went to a grain gathering in Nottingham. The host, a local baker, had invited a small group of farmers, millers and other bakers to meet and talk about the industry and to look at ways in which we could work together and support each other in a more holistic fashion. Not only was it a great event, but also an impressive initiative and I learnt a lot about growing great tasting, nutritious grains that help farmers and actually make the whole industry more robust.
While there, I sampled a new wholegrain wheat that has been developed thanks to a collaboration between scientists, farmers, millers and bakers. It is a brilliant cross breed of landrace grains (ancient pre-hybrid varieties) that tastes great, is robust and significantly – is sustainable for the farming, milling and baking industries.
I’ve since met with a couple of other farmers and we are setting up meetings with more into the New Year, including a further tasting of landrace wheat varieties. I’m loving being connected to farmers in this way and having a better insight to their world. This has got me really excited and has started to seed (no pun intended) lots of ideas for new ways to use some of these grains for delicious and nutritious naturally leavened loaves with different flavours, crusts and variations in crumb.
With our 15th anniversary ahead, 2018 is a big year for Paul Rhodes Bakery and I’m determined to make it one that counts. We will be pursuing more flavour, more back-to-basics relationships and an even greater level of real responsibility to all those who we touch with our business. Watch this space!