David Powell is Deputy Master of the Worshipful Company of Bakers
Before writing these articles, I often ask the British Baker editorial team if they have anything particular in mind as a topic. This time they came back with the perennial old chestnut of who should be allowed to call themselves a Master Baker.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a respected credible system that could grant this or a similar sign of quality, achievement, training and passion that would elevate the standing of a baker in the community?
In British Baker’s 3 December 2010 edition, pg 5, there was an article titled ’Bakers could be hit by defrosted labelling laws’, and this initially appeared to highlight part of the problem. I should add that I am not against freezing bakery products at all in fact I worked closely with Piero Scacco as he pioneered par-baked frozen breads in the 1980s.
I think all in this trade have been infuriated by retailers claiming to be bakers and prominently using the word "fresh" while selling a range of often poorly baked-off par-baked frozen breads and some defrosted cakes and pastries. Yet many of the very best retail bakers, who all agree are ’Masters’, increasingly bake-off par-baked baguettes and panini for their ever-increasing lunchtime trade and display lovely savoury ranges that have been baked in-store from frozen.
Last year, while visiting the world-renowned Richemont School in Switzerland, I was very interested to see that they now teach the par-baking of breads as a sensible and efficient way for bakers to operate and no one would question their credentials. The use of frozen products does not, in itself, define whether a baker warrants the title of ’Master’.
Equally, in my view, the use of some premixes, concentrates and ready-prepared ingredients, which has often been mentioned in this context, does not constitute a make-or-break sign of ’Mastership’.
So how can we move this forward? I believe that I know a business/person that warrants the accolade when I see one, but the problem I would have is setting down cast iron criteria. I believe, however, that it would be possible for, say, the British Confectioners’ Association (BCA) to set some criteria after all, many of their members would be top of the list to receive the accolade. Once the criteria are set, I wonder whether the Worshipful Company of Bakers could revert to its historical role of policing baking it did ’control’ the industry until the 19th century.
More importantly, having awarded the accolade, how do we increase the standing of the recipients and what they do? It is only when this is achieved that the title will really mean something.