04
Apr 13

Hands on Food

Baker kneading dough

Baker kneading dough © 2012 Roger Overall

Making food requires skill. Watching a butcher make sausages or a baker knead dough is mesmerising – to me, at least. Their hands move faster than it seems possible for their brain to control. And when they are done, they have crafted something that I can’t. They’ve also produced something that I really want.

It’s a shame, then, that proper butchering and baking skills seem to be dying out. A high-end butcher friend of mine laments the demise of his craft. He is keeping the flame burning, but worries about the next generation. He once told me of a prediction made at a meat conference in the US: “Soon the only two cuts of meat available will be steak and mince.”

Partly that’s because it’s what the consumer wants. And what the consumer wants, the consumer gets. They barely know any different, because the number of skilled butchers who can show them different is declining. So they stick to what is familiar. It’s a vicious circle.

Some say it’s too late for the tide to turn. Society has progressed too far down the track away from artisan food production, they counsel.

So we should enjoy watching skilled food producers at work while we still can.

Maybe in doing so we can contribute to the slowing, if perhaps not the halt, of society’s dash towards the embrace of ever more industrialised food production.


01
Mar 13

Bread from the Baker – Talking to Igor of Ruben’s Bakehouse

When I left the UK almost 10 years ago, I don’t remember seeing a proper baker’s shop where I lived (Richmond and Twickenham). Maybe I never really looked. I recall there was a chain bakery. Mostly we got our bread from the supermarket.

That’s in stark contrast to Holland, where you don’t have to wander far to find a genuine baker. I remember half a dozen or so in the village where I grew up.

I’ve come to love bread, (sourdough in particular), so it was a treat to come across a genuine baker’s shop in Twickenham while I was in London for an annual report shoot in January. I bought some bread for friends and had a conversation with the owner, Igor Occhiali.