I attended a four day trade fair in Sydney. The ICTF (International
Catering and Trade Fair) is held once every two years. In 2006 it was
at the Sydney Olympic Pavilion. The fair has a large area dedicated to
bakery equipment, and a display bakery where apprentices and bakers
participate in baking competitions. Feeling
mildly provocative, I decided to register for the fair under my trading
name, which is simply "Artisan Baker". At the fair's entrance, I
was presented with a large name badge identifying me as "Graham
Prichard, Artisan Baker". Pinned to my shirt, I entered the cauldron
of industry representatives and trade qualified bakers.
For the first two days I felt like any other attendant, striking up some worthy conversations with bakers and equipment suppliers. On those days I was accompanied by one of the best bakers in Sydney, Chris Brown from Fuel. On day three Chris had to work, so I attended on my own. The first sign of trouble came from a salesman, who looked at my badge and asked "So Then! What exactly is an Artisan Baker!" His tone was dismissive, and surprised me after two days of positive contact with other fair goers. "Well", I replied, "An artisan baker actually gives a damn about the people they are baking bread for". Or that's what I should have said. Remove "actually gives a damn about" and insert "considers" and you have a better of idea of what I said.
It was a gentler reply though still not the one expected by the rep. The expectation is that you will start ranting on about sole baking, hand molding, sourdough, organics, etc. Such qualities might be a way of showing that you give a damn, however there is no point being too prescriptive about what makes an artisan. What counts is how a baker makes decisions about process.
Sitting in my car preparing to leave the fair, I noticed that there was a voice message waiting on my phone. I love voice messages! (Graham listens to message) Oh. That's odd. This is not a message of love. It is two industry rep's making fun of me behind my back. It would be funny except that only ten minutes ago these people were treating me like a good friend. Play Sound, "He's not a Real Baker", gloats the WP Reedy rep, who also states proudly on his card that he is a Master Baker. True. My baking qualification is a "Craft Baker". This means that I worked under qualified bakers for several years before applying to an industry body to have my skills and experience recognised. I worked for a further 3 years running my own wood-fired organic sourdough bakery, but never attended a day of formal training.
To be a real baker, you had to go to "Real Baker" school and learn the art of industry sponsored, chemically-assisted bread manufacturing. The key art of baking, fermentation was treated as a problem to be controlled by industry additives purchased from your friendly industry rep. The damage to the craft of bread making and the motivation of bakers was huge.
I did enroll in the trade course once, aiming to complete the trade by correspondence. My first assignment was to describe my bakery to the instructor "Master" baker. The paper came back with red pen scrawled all over it (Chembake? Was that you?). The pride I had in using simple methods was dismissed as being old and unsophisticated. A real bakery without commercial yeast or bread improvers? Impossible! A wood fired oven? You mill your own flour? Absurd!
At that time bakeries in my part of the world were expected to be operated by a qualified baker. Bakers applied for "Craft" certification partly to ensure that their business was legitimate. You did not want to take the chance that at some point in the future there would be trouble because you didn't have a "ticket" to make bread.
It is such a relief to facilitate this web site in an age where un-ticketed Artisan Bakers make the best bread available. One of the first things I was asked (by my Dutch landlord) when setting up my own bakery was "Are you a Master Baker, or a Masturbator?". Actually, I don't think the two are mutually exclusive.
Apologies in advance to all the real bakers who do give a damn and consider themselves artisans. If you are a baker and do not consider yourself to be an artisan, then why are you baking at all?Graham Prichard