A well-spoken lady recently called into my shop, aghast at the range of "artisan" products we produce. After considerable conversation with my team, she enquired how we managed to make such light and fluffy meringues without the aid of a whisk? A little confused, I said we do use a whisk and an electric mixer and fold in the final icing sugar by hand. She then responded, "So, they are not artisan!" This begs the question, "What is artisan?"
Originally the word artisan came from the Italian "artigiano", meaning a skilled worker who makes decorative items using artisan hand tools. When we first considered calling our bakery ’More? The Artisan Bakery’, one of my best friends strongly advised against it. "No don’t call it that, no-one knows what artisan means. You will fail!" I value my friend’s honesty, but I did not take his advice.
The public’s general perception of a word is not necessarily correct or agreed. When answering the lady in my shop, I gave her the option of letting me know if she thought a potter was an artisan, to which she replied, "Yes". I reminded her that the wheel on which the clay is formed is part of the tools of his trade and is now often electrically powered like the mixer.
We did have an industrial revolution and we do live in the age of technology. We have a great piece of kit called BaPS a computerised bakery and production system, which we simply could not live without, not to mention electric lighting, ventilation and wait for it the telephone!
In my bakery world, the word artisan is an expression of passion and skill often handmade or moulded, but also embracing modern technology to produce a superior product. So why not use an Artofex mixer to knead the dough, temperature control and retarder provers to assist the products’ even fermentation? These methods save time and labour costs, allow the baker to reduce his price to the customer and give him more time to consider many other aspects of running a business.
We are now scaling up production of one of our award-winning hero products the More? Muddee a decadent take on a chocolate brownie. But how do you produce a product that’s identical to the original without compromising, especially if you’re producing them in many thousands? We’ve been through the development stages and we’re looking to invest in technology such as ultrasonic cutters and flow-wrappers. Our simple philosophy is, if technology can assist without the need to change our products into something unethical, why shouldn’t we use it?
The main reason I entered a career in the food industry was the pleasure my food brought to people. Would it be wrong to offer that pleasure to a wider audience? After all, if product quality is maintained, what is the difference if we make one or 10,000? And what if we later decide to par-bake and freeze our breads to deliver them to a wider audience, would this be considered wrong? Comments welcome!