One of my favourite bakery books is called 'The Village Baker' by Joe Ortiz. His wife, Ruth, was actually the village baker where they lived in Canada. So Joe, being the baker's husband, set off to meet and write about some of the great village bakers and bakeries in Europe - inspired as he was by the whole idea of a village baker in these modern times.
And he found them, worked with them in the wee small hours of the morning, comparing their methods to the ones of other bakers in different villages he had also worked alongside. He took into account the various regional differences, and at the same time, observed the similarities between them - their methods, pieces of equipment, the flours they used, how old their starter was and so on.
He saw how these little bakehouses were part of the fabric of life for the locals, not just because of the bread and pastries and cakes they produced, but because of the pride and respect these same locals had for their local bakery. And how the baker, in turn, understood his customers - their favourite things, and the new things he wanted them to try. Many bakers make special loaves for special customers. I know I have. I want to please them - and in doing so, I get the same amount of pleasure.
SourdoughBaker Cafe was your village bakehouse. We kept a tab for any customer who needed it. We saved your loaf for you if it wasn't ready when you dropped in. We knew your bread, and your coffee. We loved it when you loved it. If we got it wrong, which we sometimes did, we'd give you another one, to ensure closure. We weren't about great bread, we were about happy customers. The great bread was a bi product of happiness.
So this led me to an idea.
While supplying happiness via great bread, there has been a monetary transaction. An agreed price, which is implied by the act of purchasing the bread. But what if that transaction was broadened to include a SUPPLY of great bread, as opposed to a LOAF of great bread? What if your bread supply was purchased, rather than loaf by loaf?
The thing is, the bread I've been making all these years isn't ordinary. If it was ordinary, why do people travel great distances to buy it? And why do I put myself through the trials and tribulations that I do in order to make it? There are easier ways to make a living, and I for one have discovered some of them. But still I return to do THIS thing. It's big, and it's not just about bread. It's about finding better ways to do things better.
So my question is:
What does it take to keep making something special? Is it money?
I'll ask another question:
What is a loaf of bread worth?
So I have my 21 year old starter called Papa. I have a bakery worth of equipment, including an oven called Bertha which weighs over a tonne. I have some dedicated and very special people who will help me make more great bread. And I have all of you people who want this community enterprise-come- bakery thing to happen. Oh, and I have a kitchen space to set up in. And a knowledge base as big as is required to sustain change - that being you, who reads this.
So here's another Mad Idea. Could a bakery be sustained if its customers signed up for bread supply, and paid for it in regular instalments? In the age of online retail, could these customers come to expect some sort of convenience for this outlay - say delivery to their local area, if not to their door? And, should these customers be expected to engage in some way with their bakehouse - say, by helping with deliveries, or by simply attending a baking workshop?
What say I (as defined by the above list of resources, including other people) put my hand up to become the Village Sourdough Baker for Newcastle village? Would you support this enterprise by paying for this resource bank by the month, quarter or year? Or, would you be interested to help in making it happen, no matter what skill set you possess? Could we not leverage your particular skill to make this thing work sustainably? And how could you benefit from applying your money and/or skillset to this enterprise?
These are serious questions for me, yet I'm reasonably sure they will be quite trivial to most of you. But if they are a tad above trivial to you, then I'd love to hear what you think about my new Mad Idea.
Until next time..