With all its playfulness and whimsy it can be easy to dismiss baking as somewhat superficial, frivolous even. But that would be a mistake, for it is so much more than that. It is a not only a means of bringing joyous wonder into everyday life, but an artisanal skill that can be learnt, attained and applied by nearly everyone, regardless of status or circumstance. Its concepts, techniques and processes are absolutely achievable at home and one baker represents this perspective more for me than nearly any other, Richard Bertinet.
Richard is an award winning baker, author and food champion. He is a master, with over 25 years experience and both his bakery and books rightfully receive near universal acclaim. However he is also a teacher, passionate about sharing his knowledge and enabling others to realise their own aspirations and become better cooks, from amateur enthusiasts to professional chefs. His recipes, knowledge and enthusiasm are a frequent source of inspiration, so it was with great pleasure that I recently took the opportunity to ask him a few questions…
How would you describe your philosophy on food?
Simple and plenty. I love to serve food piled high on a platter. The joy comes in sharing with family and friends.
I was drawn to the local bakery as a child. I used to peer over or round the counter and was always fascinated by what the bakers were doing.
What inspired you to become a baker and what continues to inspire and motivate you?
As above I always loved the smell, warmth and atmosphere as a child and it stayed with me. Later on I became inspired by the likes of Lionel Poilane whose book I still pick up from time to time. In terms of on-going motivation, I love teaching people to bake. It is hard not to love what you do when you see the satisfaction on someone's face when they taste great bread they have made themselves.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Publishing my first book Dough was a great personal milestone. It was wonderful to see my recipes in a book form and to be able to share them with a wider audience. And then more recently winning the BBC Food Champion award was a fantastic honour particularly as it is voted for by the public. It was a complete shock and I was thrilled that customers felt motivated to write about their experiences at our cookery school.
What is your favourite thing to bake and why?
I think it has to be our signature sourdough loaf. The crusts sing as they come out of the oven and cool and it never ceases to excite me.
What do you see as the next big thing in food?
I think we will all be talking about the issue of Trust for the next few years. The horsemeat scandal has really shaken people's faith in our food producers and we need to win it back. We need to engage customers in a dialogue and ensure we can show the provenence of our products.
What are your plans for the future?
Well I am just starting work on my next book so that will take up a bit of time over the next few months and hopefully will come out next year. The cookery school has an amazing programme lined up for the autumn with Angela Hartnett, Nathan Outlaw, William Curley and Mat Follas all coming to teach guest chef classes so that will keep me busy too. And we have a rolling programme of development of new products for the bakery so do make sure you are signed up to our newsletter for all the latest announcements.
Aside from your own bakeries (of course!) what is your current favourite shop, café or restaurant?
I love Mitch Tonk's SeaHorse reastaurant down on the south coast - I am trying to find a free weekend to take Jo and the kids down to take them there but things are a bit busy at the moment so I think it will have to wait until later in the year. We also ate at the River Cafe a week or two ago - the food was wonderful - its such a classic but doing great things. Locally I have had great meals recently at both the Pony & Trap in Chew Magna (south of Bristol) and the Pumphouse in Bristol.
What piece of kitchen equipment could you not do without?
My dough scraper. Brilliant for bread. Brilliant for cleaning a frosty car winscreen!!
What are the most common mistakes people make when baking?
Not putting enough water in the dough or compromising the recipe by adding flour or oil to the table when working the dough.
What single thing should everyone learn to bake?
A basic white dough is the place to start - turning it into a fougasse for instant gratification and a white tin loaf as it is the bread that most people use more than anything else.
What tip would you give to aspiring home bakers?
Practice makes perfect and remember to show the dough who is boss!
To find out more about the Bertinet Bakery and Cookery School, including information on booking classes, please visit http://www.bertinet.com/