Yes, I helped Laurel Robertson put together a brick oven to test a bread for her new book The Laurels Kitchen Bread Book, still in print since 1985.
This was one of the first truly naturally fermented breads to appear on the scene, Desem, from Belgium developed by the Gavert family after the war there.
Laurel was trying to bake it in a gas oven for years and it never came out too good. Once it was subjected to the intense heat of the brick oven it was dramatically transformed, me with it, and this gave me the inspiration to learn to bake and to build suitable ovens for baking it in.
Is it an "Alan Scott?” is now the standard way of asking a baker about their oven. How did this come about in Australia?
I learnt a lot about ovens in Australia at the time I was developing my designs, especially the Semi Scotch brick ovens and all the folklore that went with those days of small village bakeries throughout Australia.
Paul Merry of St Andrews in VIc built one from scratch and helped me a lot with technique and his practical insights. However I took off on my own path and began to bake in my own ovens for a living, so the designs reflect not only amateur masonry skills but a deeper understanding of baking too.
It was just a matter of time before all this interest in sourdough reached Australia and took off at a run.
So there are a rapidly growing number of bakeries springing up throughout Australia like the ring of them around the greater Melbourne metropolitan area each located out of the high rent retail areas but near enough to service the city thorough farmers markets or delivery to specialty shops.
My oven list on the web site has most of them there and the total to date is about 15 with more already in the planning stages.
The same development is happening in South Africa, New Zealand and all throughout North America with some interest in Japan and now China.
You are well known as a promoter of small artisan bakeries over large commercial practices. As artisans grow and become more profitable, how can they remain true to their roots?
The only way to remain true to the roots of this "small and beautiful" movement is to first understand these roots and then use a little discipline to hold fast to them in the face of all that this industrialized society tried to seduce on into.
I always advise to replicate rather than expand into bigness. Many small "studio" bakeries do so much more to elevate the consciousness and the skills of baking and the community in general than one huge factory that employes machines run by a few low paid morons.
Full employment in other words doing valuable work that is satisfying and promotes personal and community growth of the best sort.
There is room for thousands of these type of food producers; the world cannot any longer afford the industrial model of Kraft, Kellogh and McDonalds that is wrecking our personal health and the very fabric of our communities, rural and suburban alike.
We must find alternatives like it or not.
What overseas experiences come to mind as successful models for Australian bakers? What can Australian bakers show the broader baking community?
I think that Australian bakers can present a very pure version of what these micro bakeries are about since the environment in which they must operate is so relatively restricted compared to the USA for example; fewer people, close communications between people here, higher costs so to be successful there is less room for mistakes so everything must work.
I often say that if a micro bakery is successful in say a small Tasmanian town then it would survive anywhere. In fact I am working on setting one up there to see what this reality is.
Are there any innovative breadmaking techniques that you would enjoy seeing more of?
There is an English lady here in California who has done the research and is re developing an old way to make bread that works well with some of the older wheat varieties.
It is a process forgotten of recent years and makes the most impressive bread, especially if you have the right oven of course!
I want to get a handle on this technique and bring it out with me next trip.