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Photo by Nathan Wind.

Together with his wife Jo, Richard Bertinet runs The Bertinet Kitchen, a cookery school in the historic city of Bath, England where his bread making classes are fully booked for months in advance — thanks to his best-selling books, Dough and Crust which have been translated into many languages.

Richard has been a big inspiration for my baking, so I was honored to interview him for our first issue. We talked about bread, baking, and a bit about going from home baker to doing it for a living.

This is a free preview of an article published in BREAD Magazine Issue 1.

Buy the issue to read the full article!

Jarkko: In your book, Dough, you say that you have been crazy for bread ever since you were a child. Can you share a bit of the story of how you became a baker?

Richard: I think it started with going to the bakery every day. Today, we see bread as a kind of pleasure, but on those days when I was young, you could never sit down at the table in my house without a piece of bread. So, I used to go to the bakery every morning, on the way back from school.

Richard Bertinet. Photo by Jean Cazals, from Crust by Richard Bertinet (Kyle Books).

The back door was slightly open, and I could see the young bakers work. There was something fascinating about that. The T-shirts covered with flour, and that pride in their eyes. Every time they looked through the door, they saw customers looking at them, and you could see that kind of a gleam in their eyes — the pride of being a baker.

And one day, I found myself behind that door, working there.

That’s when I understood what it meant. When I put my foot through that door, it was too late; I could never come back. I was about thirteen-fourteen, and I knew school wasn’t for me. I had to do something with my hands. So I started working — this was before apprenticeship. I did two weeks at school, and then two weeks at work, but I also worked after school and every weekend.

In the early age, you learn very quickly to behave yourself and to respect — and to work hard. By the time I did my apprenticeship, I knew the job. I was running the oven by myself when I was fifteen-sixteen.

Jarkko: That’s impressive! You were a real baker already at that age.

Richard: I knew the basics. When a new person is starting, he tries to show off anyway, working harder and harder. It’s a psychological war: you can never tell anybody that you don’t know your job, so you work harder to prove that you can do it.

Jarkko: How about today, do you think a route like this to becoming a baker would still be possible in France?

Richard: I think the bakery industry is much more regulated now; you can’t work the hours you used to do twenty, thirty years ago. But there are some small bakeries where they still work the old style, so if you are young and ambitious, and you want to work hard, I’m sure it’s possible.

When you grow up, you always think that when you were in your days, everything was better. When I was young, I remember the old people saying “well in my days it was better.” (laughs)

So, I think it’s evolution, you know. We do things in different ways, we adapt. Everything changes.

The skill of the baker is still quite primitive and something you work with your hands. You get to create something from nothing, and that is — with all the machines in the world — the real skill of a baker.

But I think the thing with bread is that it’s still three or four ingredients. The skill of the baker is still quite primitive and something you work with your hands. You get to create something from nothing, and that is — with all the machines in the world — the real skill of a baker.
It’s something you practice; it’s something you refine with years. The more I teach, the more I learn about the dough: the way it feels, the way it behaves. I always describe it a bit like making pottery. If you get some clay to make a nice pottery, in the beginning, you will be a disaster. The more you work with it, the more you understand the material you’re working with, and the better you become. Same as painting. The experience of a craftsman develops over years and years and years.

You can give a kilo of flour to ten different bakers, and they will make something unique, each one of them. And that’s the beauty of the job.

This is a free preview of an article published in BREAD Magazine Issue 1.

Buy the issue to read the full article!

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