Kees Docter was born in a bakery. Well, more specifically, above a
bakery – in Elburg, a small town in the Netherlands. Long hours and
constant travel with Lallemand caught up with Kees Docter, and he
decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. After marrying a Canadian
in 2006, they moved to the mural-dotted town of Chemainus, on Vancouver
Island, to open a bakery. Along with the European baking he grew up
eating, they will also serve organic and probiotic products.
Kees Docter was born in a bakery. Well, more specifically, above a bakery – in Elburg, a small town in the Netherlands.
Long hours and constant travel with Lallemand caught up with Kees Docter, and he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. After marrying a Canadian in 2006, they moved to the mural-dotted town of Chemainus, on Vancouver Island, to open a bakery. Along with the European baking he grew up eating, they will also serve organic and probiotic products.
How did you become interested in baking?
I grew up in Elburg, a very small town in the Netherlands that’s a thousand years old. My dad was a baker, as was his dad, and his dad’s dad. My family history is full of bakers.
Describe your father’s baking process.
He used a big stone oven, heated with an oil burner that made so much noise. On weekends, he baked rye, completely filling the huge oven with loaves, and leaving it overnight to bake for 20 hours or so.
During the Second World War, I remember my dad telling me that he helped out with the Resistance. After the war, he received one of the country’s highest medals for helping out Jews during the war. However, this didn’t add up to much money, and my dad worked day and night. He delivered bread from door to door in our town, and baked into the night – everything from dark rye to white bread. I remember waking him up to go to church on Sundays, after he’d worked late into Saturday night.
What kind of bread did he bake?
It contained flour, salt, yeast, water, shortening and a little bit of sugar – maybe one or two per cent. Compare this with hamburger buns here that are approximately 18 per cent sugar!
My dad sold a lot of rye and whole wheat bread. In the Netherlands, 80 per cent of bread consumed is whole wheat or whole grain, and everyone eats it. The total amount of bread consumed per capita is almost 60 kilograms, compared to about 30 pounds in the U.S. – only a quarter as much. I was amazed that in the U.S. the benefits of whole wheat have only recently been extolled.
When did you move to North America?
I moved to the U.S. 18 years ago, while working for a biotechnology firm. The company bought three yeast plants, with the aim of introducing improved bread formulations. In the past, many U.S. bakeries were only interested in yields, outputs and results – they didn’t care about health.
I remember when I first saw the long labels on bread produced in the U.S. It was incredible! I gained 40 pounds after moving there, no kidding. One of my friends lived 17 years in the U.S. and, after moving back to the Netherlands, because of the different eating habits, lost 40 pounds over eight or nine months.
Is that situation improving?
My opinion is we’re now slowly seeing a trend towards more health-conscious products when it comes to bread, perhaps because there’s money to be made. In my opinion, big corporations are too much focused on financial results.
What did you do at the company?
I worked for Lallemand for 15 years as a product developer and technical representative. While there, I worked on developing a liquefied, stabilized, cream yeast that would save manufacturers from buying expensive agitation equipment. I also worked on emulsifiers, and on enzyme products, to replace the dangerous chemical, potassium bromate.
I remember presenting a paper suggesting enzymes as a replacement in the early ’90s, and people were very skeptical. American bakeries had such bad experiences with enzymes that they said they would rather use chemicals. Ten years later, the situation has completely reversed – the industry is completely supportive of enzyme use.
Why decide to open your own bakery?
Growing up, I hated baking. I worked in my dad’s bakery until I was drafted in the army, and after the draft, told my dad I was never coming back. My older brother took over the business; and I trained to teach baking and cooking in high school, and then did post-graduate studies in food sciences.
Working at Lallemand, I travelled so much – 200 nights and 250,000 miles a year – I burned out. I needed a change, and looked to my heritage for inspiration. I started my own bakery in California six years ago, and love it.
Why decide to open a bakery in B.C.?
Last year, I married a Canadian woman, and we decided to move to Chemainus, on Vancouver Island. She’s from Sointula, in Northern Vancouver Island. On a trip there three years ago, we stopped in Chemainus, and I fell in love with the town.
The new bakery will focus on healthy products – why that?
I’ve always had an interest in health food. I’m a bit of a preacher – I say everyone should eat healthier food, not that I’m eating healthy myself. I think of running a healthy, European-style bakery as giving something back to the community. While I hope to concentrate on selling organic bread in my new bakery, it depends on whether the products take off – right now, I have zero dollars in sales.
Your new bakery will sell some products that include probiotics – what pushed you to use them?
Lallemand has given me opportunities to play with them. Jim Kopp, the vice-president of their probiotic project, is a friend. He game me the opportunity to try out probiotics in my bakery. I’ll put them in as long as I keep getting them, and as long as my customers are buying the products!
How will you incorporate probiotics into your products?
They aren’t heat-stable, and so I need to experiment with ways to include them in baked goods. I’m going to try using them in icing or chocolate toppings. For example, I might put them in a chocolate spread that’s applied to bread – chocolate is a very good stabilizer for probiotics – or maybe in peanut butter cookies or icing for cinnamon buns.
Where do you see the future of probiotics?
It’s hard to say – it’s a completely new world. Last week I was in Chicago, at the ASB wholesale baking and food show, and probiotics were very high on the agenda. I have no idea what percentage of my sales will go into probiotics. My bakery won’t be 100 per cent probiotic or organic baking.
In Europe, probiotics in yogurt are very common. As a kid, I always had yogurt for dessert, seven days a week. With probiotics, it’s important they are eaten on a regular basis. They serve a daily need – once a week is not enough.
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