Hide And Seek

I don’t understand the notion that the baker is a rare species that is almost extinct.

They’re grumpy and weird, crusty and nutty, white and pasty.

They don’t like to be exposed to the sun, nor do they like to expose their recipes. But how can this be true when bread aromas smell so good, bring a smile to people’s faces and make everyone feel warm and fuzzy in the tummy?

Is it not true that when you cook with love it is expressed in the product? So many European families have loaves of bread around the dining table that are shared with much love. When families are trying to sell a house they are advised to bake fresh bread because the aromas will help attract attention to the house.

I still have fond memories as a child of waking up to my Mum baking fresh bread every Sunday morning – her prover was the heater and the deck oven was the wood-fired oven outside. That smell travelled through the house straight to the bedrooms and kitchen, where we would gather for a family Sunday breakfast.

But if all these things are true, where are all the bakers when you need to hire one? It’s a game of hide and seek – I’ve looked and looked and they’re nowhere to be found. Facebook, internet recruitment, texting, calling… nothing! So far I’ve only had two candidates come through. One was a baker from Western Australia who came in for a job trial. Unfortunately he had no idea about moulding bread and looked slightly stoned (and worked at the pace of someone who might be). The other potential candidate decided to make brioche by throwing everything into the mixture and hoping for the best.

I always research potential candidates on Facebook before they come for an interview. Some may call this stalking; I call it researching or, better still, investigating. After all, I need to know what kind of person I’m getting. This is a good reason why everyone should have a personal and professional Facebook profiles – after all, a status update about a drunken night out isn’t what you want to appear on the newsfeed of a potential employer!

Anyway, my Facebook ‘investigating’ has yielded interesting results. One candidate had a profile picture that made him look like a serial killer. I was convinced I must’ve got the wrong profile, but no, he turned up to his job trial looking like Wolverine from the X-Men movie and even wore a butcher’s apron!

Serge is a top guy and says he never judges on appearance – and he didn’t with me, considering I have shaved pieces of hair missing and piercings everywhere! His advice to me was to allow Wolverine’s work to speak for him as mine does for me. (I got a little emotional with that comment and had to give him a cuddle.) Well, unfortunately Wolverine didn’t work out and time was running out. My baker had a week left before he was going to leave us and my sous chef had two weeks before heading off to Europe for a month’s holiday before returning on a part-time basis.

I wasn’t going to hire just anyone. I love where I work and wasn’t going to allow the standards drop. So I was going to do it myself. I’ve been at Bathers for four-and-half years and have always had great bakers who never needed to be micro-managed. But through delegating, you sometimes lose the skills required to create a product – and you can’t delegate if you can’t create.

When I realised good bakers were so hard to find, I decided I was going to restructure the team and train every staff member on it. So, my chef de parti and I were the first ones up, My deem had already started her training a month ago. I was going to put my sous chef part-timer in the bakery to train and develop the team, and I was going to hire a sous chef for the pastry kitchen.

After a week of bakery I had seen my ciabatta made to slush, my croissants overpriced, my Danish dough binned, foccacia flat and my rye bread as well as my honey linseed bread missing its yeast. Total disaster. How was I ever going to get my head around this? But after a little more training, some YouTubing, advice from the master (Brett Noy) and reading books, we all knew bits and pieces, and helped achieve the desired product.

One of the hardest parts of baking is adjusting your body to a bakery shift. I tend to start 12am to 1am and finish around 10.30am – sometimes later on weekdays and on weekends I start around 10pm. I get home, nap for three hours, do things around the house and go back to bed at 8pm and then back to work I go. I actually love it; it’s nice not to be able to pump the music up without hearing ‘Chef, how do I do this?’ every five minutes. Yep, it’s heaven. I’m creating beautiful Danishes and breads and the smell is so good. I certainly can’t claim to be a master baker yet but I definitely have improved. I learn from everyone – and from my silly mistakes – along the way.

I now know from experience that you can’t blame bakers for the odd grumpy moment when you consider the anti-social hours they work and how tired they must be all the time. And as for holding onto recipes… well, why just give away something that you have worked so hard for? Bakers might be hard to find but more than anything their skill is highly respected and recognised in my eyes after doing it myself. It is vital that we train and develop our skills to better the future of our industry before the art of baking is lost forever.


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