OK it’s not a Monday morning teaser or one of those mind-melting puzzles that have no answer, just a simple question, what is a baker? What amazing powers have been bequeathed from above, or bestowed on that personage, ‘The Baker’?

At a recent gathering someone uttered to me that he was “of course a real baker”, because he got his hands dirty every day. After some thought, I pronounced that as absolute clap-trap and said he should have been keel-hauled from the nearest yard arm, if there are still such things.

Does a true baker have to have served a certain amount of time? If so, how many years count? And does it matter who they have served time with, and were they equally bestowed with the seal of approval from the powers that be, to be able to train their skills.

Are they formally qualified? So that they can shake their bits of paper all over the place to prove they are, ‘A Baker’. This is all very well if you are from my generation, but today, bakery colleges are a little thin on the ground, and a full-time bakery course is little over 18 hours a week, assuming of course that you can attract a suitable calibre of student.

Or maybe it’s a mixture of both? But if so, does the size of the business where they work or which they own have any merit?

It’s quite fundamental really, does a time-served, qualified baker, working or owning a one-shop business, have any more kudos than a time-served, equally qualified baker working or owning a multi-shop business?

Personally – and I agree I’m somewhat biased for obvious reasons – multi-shop businesses bring with them a whole bunch of extra problems that have to be handled, both technical and managerial: technical, because the problems associated with baking happen whether you are in a small or large business, and they tend to be much bigger in a larger business.

If you are making 100 loaves in a small business, try making 50,000 to the same degree of skill and acceptance… only then you will understand and not until. Then, try managing that level of production and still trying to progress your business, especially with all the constraints of today. Give me a craft-orientated multi-shop business any day… and yes, we are bakers and damn good ones as well!

David Smart