At noon on September 27, 2016, I stood in the main hall of the Puratos Centre for Bread Flavour, eyeing the surroundings. The Quest for Sourdough event was about to start. After an early morning flight from Helsinki to Brussels followed by a two-hour taxi ride to St. Vith, an idyllic town in Southern Belgium, I was a little dizzy, but eager to meet the other participants.
I noticed a baker I knew well from social media but had yet to meet in person. Slightly below average height, with brown skin and the bulky appearance of a weightlifter, Beesham Soogrim vibrated a friendly, approachable energy. As our eyes locked, he made his way to me. He grabbed my hand, put his other hand on my shoulder, and greeted me with a broad grin, “Jarkko, finally we meet!”
In the past few years, Beesham has become an ambassador for sourdough bread, inspiring professional and home bakers to adopt the traditional method of fermentation. He is a traveling teacher who leads workshops around Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and whose international retreats in Sweden attract people from as far away as the United States and Mexico.
Beesham’s artistic sourdough loaves and naturally fermented pastries are a common sight on the Facebook group Perfect Sourdough and on his Instagram profile. They are the types of products you would normally find only at the finest of artisanal bakeries. But Beesham has never worked at one. When not teaching, he cooks vegetarian food for Emiliaskolan, a Waldorf school in Höör, a small town in Sweden’s southernmost province, Skåne. The school children are the ones who get to enjoy his creations!
The Long Journey to Natural Fermentation
Beesham was born in St. Pierre, on Mauritius Island, the “jewel of the Indian Ocean.” It is an island with a breathtaking seascape–Beesham is an avid diver himself–but no home-baking culture. People buy their French-style baguettes from bakeries; most homes don’t even have an oven.
In his early twenties, Beesham left the island for a journey of self-discovery that led him to India and South Africa, before he settled in Scandinavia in 1987. In India, he lived in temples where, in exchange for his upkeep, he cooked vegetarian food (as well as traditional Indian bread such as puri, chapati, and naan) that was given freely to those in need. This experience, and seeing the vast gap between the rich and the poor, taught Beesham respect for life and to see the world from many perspectives. What he didn’t realize at the time was that by learning to cook, he was also taking his first steps towards bread making!
Ever since those early experiences, Beesham has worked in the realm of vegetarian food, helping set up and run vegetarian restaurants in Sweden and Norway. It is also in this setting that Beesham learned to bake bread. He sees himself as a self-taught home baker–but one who has always worked in large quantities, mixing fifteen to twenty kilos of dough every day.
“I didn’t go to baking school,” Beesham says, “What I’ve learned, I’ve learned by myself because I’m very interested in it.”