By Barbara Lauer
By Barbara Lauer
An e-mail from reader Kyla Eaglesham, who runs a dessert shop and boutique in Toronto’s trendy Annex neighbourhood, set me to thinking about what our industry provides its customers — beyond bread for their tables, I mean. Her passion led her to change careers and take the plunge into a new business, new industry, four years ago — and she’s still floored by how many of her customers don’t know the first thing about baking from scratch.
If you picture the aisles of your supermarket, especially the produce and chilled sections, you shouldn’t be surprised. Not just salads are bagged, ready to eat, but green beans, broccoli and cauliflower. Mushrooms are pre-sliced, making them easier to add to dinner menus when the cook is pressed for time. And if those of you who are Boomers think of the generation behind you — most were latchkey kids … who had mothers who worked, and often didn’t have the time to prepare home-baked goodies, or share the knowledge of scratch baking with their children.
That doesn’t mean these consumers have grown up unknowledgeable about good food or what to expect from a perfect baguette or sourdough roll. Your customers read, travel, dine in restaurants and come to you expecting the same, or higher, quality they’d expect if they’d baked it themselves. Should they have the time — or inclination to spend hours in their high-tech, designer kitchens.
Even if their mother didn’t bake from scratch, they’ve probably known someone, or certainly read a celebrity food writer’s account of growing up in a kitchen, and yearn for a similar nostalgia. As any chef will admit, it’s easy to throw together a stew — you can mess with the ingredients, the proportions, even the length of time it simmers on top of the stove or in the oven — and it usually turns out edible. However, baking is not just an art, it’s a science. Many chefs avoid it because of the precision it requires. So, as commercial bakers, we are today’s dream weavers for consumers who yearn for the experience and (false) memories of home baking.
Oddly enough, I’ve been to homes where it doesn’t even require finishing a pre-baked loaf in the oven. Many hosts consider themselves generators of true nostalgic experiences if they simply can find the best whole grain loaf before their neighbour or friend does. Serving it with a flourish, with fresh, unsalted butter establishes a foodie memory that in today’s culture, becomes a reminiscence worthy of future exchanges around another dinner table.
We are more fortunate than farmers — consumers still know that bread comes from bakeries, and often buy it directly from the individuals whose hands shaped the loaves and pulled them hot from the ovens. The next time you’re selling one of your baked goods, remember that the passion you put into it, is somehow — I believe — communicated to our customers in its goodness. And, even though they no longer choose to bake from scratch, they catch the passion from you, and celebrate it with their friends and family, feeding more than their stomachs.
This issue is all about “Tools of the Trade” in its broadest sense … and if nothing else, you should recognize yourselves and your underlying passion, as the drivers behind the success of this industry. I hope you find some innovations in equipment, ideas or ingredients to make 2007 profitable. Good luck in the year ahead.