David Powell, Master of the Worshipful Company of Bakers
I am often told that in this industry ’the day you stop learning, is the day you go stale in heaven!’ I have no desire to put this to the test, but so far I have found this to be correct. I’ve also found that the rate at which we learn, and the source of the information, changes over the years.
For those of us not lucky enough to be born into the trade, often the first major source of learning is when we enrol at one of the colleges with a bakery course.
I was fortunate enough to go to the National Bakery School (NBS) on London’s South Bank for two years and after finishing as top student I was presented with the freedom of the Worshipful Company of Bakers’, hence why I have the honour of being Master today.
College gives one an invaluable source of learning but hands on production experience is still vital. Without banging on about ’in my day it never did me any harm’, like a crusty old man in a fur-lined cloak and big chain, I have noticed that many of the students that apply to us for bursaries do not combine getting work experience with their time at college.
Now, ’in my day’ apart from attending the NBS full time I worked as a jobber on Friday and Sunday nights at Fred Ayres’ wonderful bakery. Working a full night shift immediately before or after a full day at college was not easy, but apart from the money, the experience was invaluable and the blend of practical and theory made me what I am today. It also means you learn very quickly.
My manager at Fred’s made sure that as the jobber I got all the ’best’ jobs, which the ’skilled’ guys did not like doing, anything from traying up to frying doughnuts.
He was rather taken aback when, some 15 years later, I walked into the bakery he was managing and introduced myself as the new owner! To be fair, his opening remark was: "Oh it’s you! I suppose I had better make the tea!" This trade is too small to upset people as you never know when you will meet them again and often in different circumstances.
The baking industry has allowed me to achieve my dreams and to travel all over the world learning at exhibitions, demonstrations and visiting bakeries.
I write this article on Prince Edward Island off the East Coast of Canada, having discovered Mary’s Bakehouse in a tiny Canadian town called Cornwall, where I have learnt who makes THE best cinnamon swirl ever. What will I learn tomorrow?