In this week’s blog, Gerhard Jenne discusses how the increasing popularity of British food has Continental bakers beating a path to our doors.
At the tender age of 13 I went on my first school exchange to France. Unlike at home, my fellow French pupils were given a school meal. Being a conservatively brought up German teenager, I was trained to empty my plate at meal times. When they served us artichokes, a vegetable I had never ever seen, I dutifully tried to eat the whole leaf. It caused much sniggering, but luckily it didn’t put me off foreign food, as that very same day I also discovered the delights of cream-filled choux buns in the local café.
I wonder if our first round of French interns, arriving next week at Konditor & Cook, will have similar experiences? Mind you, mince pies are now off the baking menu, as I find they usually pose the biggest challenge to those Continental taste buds. No doubt they will also find their choux bun equivalent as they explore London in their spare time.
It is amazing, only a generation ago, Britain/London was frowned upon as a destination for food and baking. Fish ‘n’ chips, or white sliced cucumber sandwiches didn’t exactly compete with sophisticated delicacies then being created by French chefs, such as Paul Bocuse and Gaston Lenotre.
How times have changed! From Russia to France, these days we get a steady stream of young professionals who beat their way to our doors and want to learn about our baking, our customer service and the way we do business in Britain.
Only last week, a German colleague, who runs an organic bakery (www.baeckerei-wegener.de/) employing about 60 staff, accompanied one of his third-year retail apprentices, to start a three-week internship with us. His sons, destined to take over the family bakery, did so last year and were gushing with excitement upon their return; British Food Weeks are now being planned.
Herr Wegener got EU funding through the Leonardo da Vinci programme, which enables his trainee to spend time in London. The sum is large enough to pay for travel and accommodation. Incidentally, the same organisation is funding the French interns due next week. This programme has now been replaced by the new Erasmus+ programme (http://www.erasmusplus.org.uk/).
And it is not a one-way street; British bakers can also apply to either get funding for their trainees, or to provide training opportunities for incoming students.
Incidentally, Herr Wegener is the Obermeister, or head of the local baker’s guild (a voluntary post). It is not just a representational role, but an important position when it comes to attracting young people into the industry and furthering craft baking in general. He said he has found internships for his trainees to be a fantastic motivational tool.
At the same time, I can see there is also a bit of old-fashioned industrial espionage going on. I suspect ‘British Weeks’ in Hameln might well include some Konditor & Cook brownies, cream cheese frosting and muffins. I’m not worried - it’s one thing copying the recipe, but another to wean the Germans off their appetite for Schneckenudeln (cinnamon rolls) and Dinkelfrühstücksbrötchen (spelt breakfast rolls).