Founder’s Note—January 1993
Newsletter Vol.1, No. 1 Reprint
Why The Bread Bakers Guild Was Formed
Early in 1992, I was being interviewed by a writer who was preparing an article on my bakery for a national trade publication. I mentioned to her that I was thinking about starting a newsletter for specialty bread bakers. I had met and talked to many bakers and bakery owners who were producing what we know by various names such as “rustic” or “country breads.” I found them interesting, knowledgeable, and dedicated individuals, and not only was it enjoyable to talk with them; I always learned something through our exchange of ideas and experiences. Although we were spread across the country, we all seemed to know the same people and to deal with the same suppliers. Joined by our love of good bread, we constituted or own unacknowledged society, and a newsletter could keep us in touch with each other.
“That’s a great idea! There’s really a need for something like that,” was the writer’s reaction. Encouraged, I discussed the newsletter with several other members of our small baking society, always with the same response.
Other currents were also running through my mind. Our bakery had just started making “rustic” breads, and the learning process had been long and difficult. There were very few educational resources and fewer available expert consultants. I wondered why baking always ended up depending upon individual trial and error. Other professions depend upon formal education and the exchange of information through organizations and publications. When would bread bakers make use of these enlightened methods?
Because of my background in both the baking and culinary worlds, I also started to think about the similarities between the emergence of an “American cuisine” twenty years ago and the rising popularity of breads today. American chefs did not just benefit from this phenomenon, they took control of it. They organized, educated themselves, promoted their unique skills and raised the status of their profession. What could bakers learn from the experience of their fellow food professionals? How could American bakers establish bread as more than just the food fad of the year?
These were the thoughts from which The Bread Bakers Guild was conceived, beginning with a newsletter but with broader expectations for its future. I believe that the need grows out of the powerful movement we have started across the United States. Working in bakeries or in restaurant kitchens, we have introduced America to the pleasures and benefits of basic good bread. The response has been spectacular. Sales of our products are up and the leaders of the movement have gained acclaim and an avid following. The movement is spreading and, in fact, gaining momentum.
But while our efforts thus far have been rewarding, our success has been as individuals, not as a group. We have made progress through our own intense efforts and through our own searches for knowledge and experience. We have individually repeated many of the same experiments and made the same discoveries. And because of our isolation from each other, our job has been more difficult than it needed to be.
Not only are we isolated from each other, we are isolated in many ways from another group which could benefit us greatly: our suppliers. We depend upon this group for most of our most basic needs like flour and yeast, mixers and ovens, and they can be an important source of assistance. But while many of our suppliers have been very helpful and supportive to our movement, they cannot devote substantial resources separately to each small bakery.
The Bread Bakers Guild has been formed to end this isolation. It can be a vehicle for building and sharing a cumulative body of knowledge and experience. It can be a mutually beneficial conduit for technical information and practical support from our suppliers. It can be a way to present our common interests in a stronger, unified manner to the public and to the media. Perhaps most important, it can help us maintain control over our movement, giving us pride and prosperity as it continues to grow.
There is some debate over the foundations of our movement. Some say that today’s craftsman bakers are reviving the traditions of the ethnic immigrants to this country a century ago. Others think that we are building a new American bread baking tradition out of the best knowledge and methods available today. Whatever our motivation, we all have a passion for our product. There is much to be gained by sharing and pursuing this passion together.
- Tom McMahon
The writer I referred to at the beginning of this article was Peggy Cullen. Not only did she offer early encouragement, she offered her help. I which to thank her and many others who are helping bring The Bread Bakers Guild into existence, especially Olivier Frot, Michel Suas, Hatsuo Takeuchi, and Professor Joseph Ponte.
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