Alice Cooke caught up with Dominic Salter, owner of The Sandwich Box, who was named Baker of the Year at the Baking Industry Awards 2016 after being shortlisted twice before

Dominic Salter still seems shell-shocked about his big win at the BIAs, six months down the line: “I’ll never forget the moment I was named Baker of the Year. I was waiting for someone else to be announced as the winner – it was such a lovely shock.”

The award is acknowledgement of the toil that goes into what can be a pretty solitary pursuit. “A baker’s life consists of quality time spent with varying doughs; the only live or living thing other than oneself is a bubbling, mute sourdough. Sometimes you feel your efforts go unnoticed – well let me tell you, this award makes the difference.”

Self-taught baker Salter started on his path to BIA glory by attending a course at Shipton Mill in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, and a day at E4 Bakehouse in East London. Armed with the knowledge he acquired there – and through books and YouTube videos – he was off the starting blocks.

“I was hooked – baking bread for The Sandwich Box in a small pizza oven every day, that was the start of it all.”

Salter says just to find out he was in the running for the award was so surreal it felt almost other-worldly: “Being nominated for Baker of the Year is like an out-of-body experience and a perfect loaf all in one.

“I could be modest and say I didn’t expect it, but when you embark on these things, you always hope you might be in with a chance.”

Salter’s excitement was palpable as he took to social media in the run-up to the night itself. He tweeted: “Can’t believe I’m up for Baker of the Year again. Third time lucky?!”

For in both 2014 and 2015, he had been shortlisted for the award without taking home the win. “It just goes to show,” he says, “that you should never, ever give up – keep trying, enter again. If I can do it, other bakers definitely can too.”

The man who came runner-up to Salter in 2016, Lee Smith of Bexhill Farm Kitchen, was gracious in defeat, saying: “It was an honour to come runner-up to probably the nicest baker I have met.”

And these were sentiments echoed on the night and in the aftermath of Salter’s win – the industry is genuinely delighted for him.

Of the night itself he describes it as “glitzy and exciting”. “The sponsors can’t do enough for you, and it really makes you feel that hard work pays off.”

Another boon was the media attention Salter received after winning the award, including local papers, industry coverage, and BBC Gloucestershire and BBC Points West, which picked it up on TV. “Forgive the bakery pun,” says Salter, “but who wouldn’t want a slice of that?”

Meanwhile, he has seen business increase so much in the past year that he has had to open a new bakery to keep up with demand. He still makes quiches and cakes at The Sandwich Box in Cheltenham, but has switched bread production for wholesale and retail to his new, bigger bakery, Salt Bakehouse, in nearby Stonehouse.

Winning the award has also made a big difference personally, says Salter. “To have top judges critique your products and say they are good is better than any advertising campaign – let alone the difference it makes to your self-esteem!”

The win was all the more poignant as Salter had recently lost his father, who he describes as “my soulmate”, and to whom he dedicated the win.

His mother and business partner Annette, whom he works with alongside his sister Annalise, says: “The loss of my husband could have spelt the end of the business as we were obviously devastated, but it just spurred Dominic on even more. I am extremely proud of his achievement.”

When his father retired Salter was going to set up Salt Bakehouse with him, “but this was not to be”. However he says winning the BIA feels like fate, because he was then able to go ahead with his plans, alongside his sister and mother.

“Winning this award means so much to me and the business,” he says, adding that the Baking Industry Awards also help to raise the bar across the industry.

“When there is a goal you promote competition, and this raises standards – these awards are so important to the industry.”

Sponsor’s comments

“In 2016 Dominic Salter was a very worthy winner, having entered the competition on two previous occasions.

“In his winning year Dominic really demonstrated how he had advanced and developed as both a baker and businessman. Having recently opened a successful new wholesale bakery alongside the existing family sandwich shop business, Dominic has gone on to prove he can transfer his skills and grow in many ways. His products are fantastic and deliver an exceptional flavour and taste.

“[He is] an extremely passionate and dedicated individual and a true asset to the British baking industry.”

Ann Wells, Brook Foods