The Master Baker
October 27, 2013
I told people that I would be out of town this week taking a baking class. Nearly everyone to whom I said that heard me say, “teaching a baking class.” That amused me.
Some people choose their professions early in life and grow into them. Doctors, it’s always seemed to me, are comfortable in their identities and exude their professionalism, always confident, sometimes too much so. But they have behind them all that schooling and practice and the example of their mentors, those older doctors strolling purposefully with stethoscopes wrapped around their necks.
But people like me who change careers often don’t have role models or training; and frequently we feel like frauds.
People introduce me sometimes as “a master baker.” I am not a master baker. I am still a learner.
When I opened Marvelous Market in 1990, I didn’t know how to bake professionally. I knew only how to make the breads of the then-new Los Angeles bakery, La Brea to which I had apprenticed myself. By 1995 when I was invited to teach at the new west coast Culinary Institute of America, I had worked for short periods at Acme in Berkeley and at several bakeries in Paris. But I didn’t know much at all.
I learned a lot more about baking by teaching it to people who, luckily, knew less than I did.
Now I am a senior citizen in the American baking community but that doesn’t mean I feel confident about my knowledge.
I flew across the country again to take a course at the San Francisco Baking Institute mentioned in an earlier letter. (See “Up in the Air”). A young instructor, Mac McConnell who enjoys learning as much as possible about grains and breads has been working a lot with ancient grains like quinoa, amaranth, and spelt that when baked in bread add amazing flavors.
Those grains are hard to work with as they behave differently from the rye and wheat flours we’re all accustomed to. But Mac has experimented with them a great deal; and baking with him will be a short cut for me to start learning what I must know to do my own experimentation with those flavorful ingredients.
So here I am, a student again. But as people have making bread for 6,000 years and I have been making it for 23, I am not embarrassed at all to be a learner.