'All chefs should know how to bake bread'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 29th February 2020

It is thought that bread dates back to 8000 BC, when the Egyptians first crushed grains to make chappati-like flatbreads.

Since then, waves of innovation have succeeded one another, from the 1600s when baking white breads was a symbol of status, with the coarser, darker breads using rye and bran left for the poor to eat.

In the 20th century, what was first thought to be a great revolution in crop viability in the West combined with a new method separating endosperm, germ and bran revealed to be a bread-baking process which not only stripped it of its nutrients, but of its flavour too.

A cluster of researchers and dedicated bakers have slowly brought back the tradition of ‘real’ bread making, using biodiverse, minimal intervention wheat, natural fermentation processes and no preservatives – and high-quality bread has made a comeback.

But with any ‘proper’ method comes the need for specialised skill and expertise, begging the question – should chefs bake their own bread?

Even fine dining restaurants – ostensibly successful enough to have an in-house baker – like the infamous St John’s in London – used to outsource their breadmaking. The restaurant has since come full circle, and now runs two of its own retail bakeries, but this stands to the argument that Fergus Henderson, (and many other great chefs) believes it to be a specialist skill.

For chef and master baker Richard Bertinet, all chefs should know how to bake at least one type of bread well.

Although he agrees with the consensus - which is that, even as a high-end restaurant, if you're not a trained baker, your bread won't be of the same standard as a baker's, he says: "every restaurant can make at least one type of bread." 

"Chefs are scared of dough - a lot of them are." 

The master baker and author of three cookbooks - Dough, Crust and Crumb -  settled in the UK after having to look for a job because he ran out of money while on holiday. He worked as a chef for several years, but his heart was always in baking - leading him to work in food development and consultancy for big baking companies, with the dream of - as he puts it - "reinventing sliced bread." 

To his bakery succeeded a cookery school in Bath, where he teaches people who to bake bread. He particularly loves teaching chefs, however, because they have a different approach. 

"I love teaching chefs, because you change their approach. They're always rushing - but with bread, you can't rush. You have to respect it," he said.  

"The basics of baking are so fundamental - the respect for the rest will follow in the kitchen. It's about self-discipline, understanding how things work." 

"I say this to any young chef: you can be a great cook and a bad baker but if you're a good baker, you have what it takes to be a good cook." 

"If you're able to give the right level of respect to the dough, the rest will follow." 

This rule works both ways, he said: "If you don't respect the basics, you've got no chance after. If you learn the basics and respect them, you have self-discipline." 

But the allure of bread making is such that more and more young chefs consider it as a career option. 

"A lot of young chefs want to change careers and go into baking because they see a new skill - they're really addicted to it, they like to work with their hands and it's a very different environment."

"The skill of baking has made a comeback now. There are some very talented bakers out there - chefs who've moved on and opened bakeries." 

What do you think chefs? Do you bake your own bread? Do you think it's better and/or more cost-effective to buy bread from a bakery? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 29th February 2020

'All chefs should know how to bake bread'