More Honey! Less Vinegar!

Three weeks ago I stumbled across a new initiative from the conventional baking industry, The Australian Artisan Baking Cup.

At that time I was quite shocked that craft artisan bakers were not consulted about the artisan cup. I wrote an article (below, Artisan Cracks Mainstream) and spent 48 hours in self administered ego-reduction therapy. The Artisan Cracks article was on the front page of www.sourdough.com.au for about 9 hours. Jeremy saw it and sent me an email of support (thanks Jeremy).

With reduced ego, I contacted Leading Edge Journal (organisers) and Leon Baily (Head bakery teacher at Regency College, South Australia, and a key organiser of the cup). I expressed my concern that the bakers that had created the artisan genre in Australia were not consulted: The twelve bakers contacted (as potential competitors) were trade (technical college) bakers or had a distinct affiliation with Leon and/or the conventional baking industry.

Leon pointed out that the type of sponsorship for this event required a particular type of baker represent artisan at the cup. We had quite a long discussion about the supposed difference between 'trade' bakers and 'craft' bakers...I said I found the distinction offensive because if you are baking for a living, then it is a trade no matter where you learnt to bake. Leon offered a degree of support for this point, which was comforting. He said that craft bakers would be invited to compete next year.

Leon and Jo (from Leading Edge) suggested that the ABA (the newly formed Artisan Baker Association) nominate a judge for the competition. I said thanks, but suggested that it was a bit bizarre having a craft artisan judge a competition without craft artisans.

The Twelfth Baker

Two days later, I received a phone call from Jo at Leading Edge Journal. It looked like at least one of the original 12 bakers would not be able to attend. Jo had an offer: ABA would be allowed to nominate a craft baker for the cup.

This was looking good. My ego swallowing had paid off. I had learnt the art of diplomacy and we would have a craft artisan benefit from being involved in what was potentially a lead up to the 2011 Coup du Monde de lu Boulengerie, Bakery World Cup.

Jo tried to make it easy for me. He even suggested a particular craft baker who might be a good choice! (that particular baker turned out not to be interested). There wasn't much time to find someone...a deadline of two weeks to find a baker that thought the cup was a good idea and could find the time for training and competing.

Eventually I did find someone who had the courage to seriously consider being a representative for craft artisans. This was a largely self-trained baker, who had spent some time with other master craft bakers, but really was just brilliant due to their own natural abilities and the knack of picking up skills as their bakery progressed. The baker concerned is a fairly modest person, so there's no point naming them at this time.

The Sickly Sweet Reality

It was all looking too good. On behalf of ABA, I asked for permission to take photos and film of the cup, including our own baker at work. The request was flatly refused, apparently due to pressure from the major sponsors of the cup, and Jo from Leading Edge, who had collectively thrown in hundreds and thousands of dollars in preparation for the cup.

Well, thanks very much big sponsors. I guess if you put dollars into a promotional opportunity, you want it to be conveyed to the public in a way that is very favourable to whatever it is you are selling. Jo explained it in clear terms; this was an investment and I needed to respect his investment.

After consideration, the potential artisan competitor and I agreed that the cup was a completely one-sided event. There was no initial consultation with the existing broader artisan baking industry. None of our member bakeries knew about the cup, or were approached to provide competitors for the cup.

The addition of a craft-artisan at the last minute has to be treated with scepticism. The refusal of any opportunity to record the event or even our own representative in the cup, had the effect of undermining days of diplomacy and ego reduction therapy.

So today I contacted Jo to politely explain the situation. "Well, we did ask you to attend, but you have turned us down", was Jo's response. I did my best to explain that I did not consider a last minute invitation, brought on by my own insistence, to be a valid invite. There was no attempt to consult with the existing broader Australian artisan baking community.

Jo was quite upset when I withdraw our endorsement. In retrospect, I can see that it would have looked good have a full-time practising artisan baker in the Artisan Baking Cup.

(full-time practising artisan baker in the sense that that is all they do in their baking practice: A holistic artisan philosophy, an uncompromising interest in the needs of the people they are baking for, no synthetic additives as substitutes for artisan skill and know-how, etc.)

At one point in my conversation with Jo, he referred to the sourdough.com.au site and offered some well-meaning advice (apparently conveyed to him by some other industry stalwarts); Our site, he sugested, should be "More honey, and less vinegar".

Give me sour every time!

Graham

Artisan Cracks Mainstream

26 January 2007 - Graham Prichard

New Baking Competition

It appears that we have been extremely successful in promoting artisan bread in Australia. Perhaps a little too successful.

The conventional baking society, The Australian Society of Baking, has finally felt the pressure and decided to collaborate on a new artisan baking competition and new website to ‘raise the bar’ of baking in Australia. See Journal

They have the sponsors and the funds to put on an elaborate show.

The new competition, the Australian Artisan Baking Cup, is for "trade bakers, 25 to 55 years old". Yes, the focus is on trade bakers. It is a bit odd considering that many Australian bakeries feature excellent bakers that are under 25, over 55, or have learnt their trade outside of official trade schools.

The competition will be held in conjunction with the Food Service inFocus Expo, in Melbourne 25-27 June, 2007. The Australian competition aims to prepare Australian trade bakers for the real thing, the 2011 Coup du Monde de lu Boulengerie, Bakery World Cup.

There are seriously talented people that compete at this level. I wish our team the very best of luck. The trade bakers will be supported by gifted baker and teacher Leon Baily. Leon has a reputation for being an all-round nice guy. If anyone can get a team up to Coup du Monde standards, it is Leon.

A new industry website will be launched soon, "BakeryAustralia.com.au". The "new" concept includes a platform for "Home Bakers". The industry must be congratulated on their thorough research of successful online bread communities like ours.

For the past 12 months I have been talking with die-hard industry types and telling them the honest truth about the industry's weak dialogue in regards to artisan baking. So it is a little disappointing that we have received no recognition for our influence on the industry's new focus on artisan skill.

In Australia, our official industry institutes and societies failed to meaningfully acknowledge artisan for 30 years. The most interest they had shown was to ship over San Francisco Sourdough culture, and try to develop the San Francisco brand here. I'm sorry, but that is pathetic considering the plethora of amazing Australian artisans developing home-grown cultures and artisan breads during that period.

Bread eaters are now choosing to walk away from the luke warm artisan attempts of the conventional baking industry. Keep in mind that it is often not the bakers who are to blame, but the business owners and managers who wanted to dress up $1.50 stodge and sell it as $5.00 artisan. Some of the Franchises are still clearly doing this, as are the big supermarket bakeries.

And why is it that trade organisations insist on being so damn prescriptive about what it takes to be a superior member of the baking trade? Your are an artisan baker if you can do X, Y and Z. Bakers that do X, Y and L do not qualify. The industry award shows that you are an artisan based on the industry's definition.

What can we expect from the Australian Artisan Baking Cup? Is it more than a silver phallus? Is it a golden phallus? As the promo for the competition says, "The end result will be a fantastic marketing tool for bakeries that achieve success in the competition."

The genuine artisan bakers of Australia and the world are simply making what they think their customers deserve: breads crafted with passion from simple, clean ingredients. None of these creations are designed to win a pink teaspoon.

My advice for people looking for the best bread in town? Think twice about bakeries that have to shout loud to prove their worth.

Please see the Gallery and the Forum for bakers and breads that are the most lovingly produced works of art in the world....but do not qualify for competition promotions such as the Australian Artisan Baking Cup.

(This is actually a blog and will be moved to the blog pages as soon as my ego is under control. Maedi, my wonderful teenage son, please don't take this down. I can control my own ego).

Graham

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