Paul Rhodes, CEO and founder, Paul Rhodes Bakery, on how the business took a back-to-basics approach to ingredients for its new Mastercrafted breads.
Having worked as a chef, the importance of great ingredients was drilled into me early in my career. When I set up my bakery, I always focused on getting the best ingredients that I could – and this has remained at the core of what we do for more than 15 years. However, as the business grew, I realised we were losing some of that true chef connection with the suppliers of our most vital ingredient, flour, and that I couldn’t point to a single farm that we used.
With the help of consultant Isabel Kelly, we set about digging deeper into our flour supply chain. Where did the grain come from and where was it grown? How was it processed? What else was in there? Large-scale food production has driven demand for standardised flours, with consistency and protein contents being the main discussion points, not flavour and provenance.
We set about changing this for our business and spent 12-18 months on a journey of discovery, focusing on the flavour potential in cereal varieties, especially those grown outside of modern monoculture methods. We spent time talking to farmers and millers across the UK, learning what they did and why. We tasted and collaborated with others in the baking industry through various events such as PX+ Festival and UK Grain Lab, along with travels to Europe and the US, connecting with wider baking communities.
With more transparency of the supply chain and having identified our favourite – and most flavoursome – grains, we set about developing our new Mastercrafted bread range. We had to make some investments in the bakery too. We upskilled our bakers to learn how to adjust to the likely batch variances when using grains grown outside the modern milling systems. We also got a stone mill for the bakery. This was so useful in development and really engaged our team. Initially, there was some trial and error, but we are now bucking the trend and proving that great-tasting, honest, handcrafted bread – made with sustainably grown British grains – can be done at scale.
Increasing our levels of engagement with core ingredients is now integral to evolving improvements and enhancing transparency.
Going back-to-basics has been humbling and is driving a new determination for perfection throughout the business. And for me, a defining moment was the look on our bakers’ faces when they visited wheat fields and, like chefs, truly connected with the grains they would go on to use in the bakery.