By Larry Blagg
On a daily basis, members of the baking community recognize that commercial producers and their suppliers are on a never-ending path toward entrepreneurship and production efficiencies, which in and off itself, is a worthwhile task. In fact, seeking ways to more efficiently produce large quantities of good-quality bakery products at a reasonable cost in a tight economy should even be viewed as a noble effort.
For those of us who are regular visitors to the American Institute of Baking International in Manhattan, Kan., we see a “Hall of Fame” display of engravings-dedicated to the pioneers of the commercial baking world-who are credited with the innovation, entrepreneurship and the production efficiencies that have taken place on a grand scale. It is indeed rewarding to see those folks deservedly honored for their contributions.
Yet interestingly, there is no “Hall of Fame” for the pioneers of the craft or artisan baking industry in the United States, perhaps because its governing organization, The Bread Bakers Guild of America (The Guild), is but a mere 17 years old.
The Guild was formed in 1993 by now-retired Tom McMahon and others in response to a real need. That same year, Craig Ponsford opened his first bakery in Sonoma, Calif., and quickly rose to a leadership position. However, it was a challenge. At that time, artisan bakers didn’t have an organization that afforded an opportunity for them to learn baking-from-scratch methods from U.S. masters. There weren’t any opportunities for artisan bakers to experience hands-on demonstrations of artisan skills or any assistance in learning how to bake from scratch or even how to source the best ingredients. There wasn’t a place to learn about innovative packaging or how to find equipment to be used in making handcrafted products.
Today, through the efforts of The Guild, U.S. artisan bakers participated with six teams and 18 master bakers in the World Cup of Baking in Paris, France, and even won gold medals. Since The Guild’s goal was to improve U.S. bakers’ knowledge and skills to be able to stand side by side with other talented bakers, you could say that The Guild has attained its’ goal.
This past fall at the IBIE show in Las Vegas, The Guild, the Retail Bakers Association (RBA), The American Baking Association (ABA) and the Bakery Equipment Manufacturers Association (BEMA) formed a show in which commercial and artisan bakers could share the stage and put on a spectacular event. Not only did these bakers, both large and small, showcase their skills, but also the leadership of these organizations displayed the synergistic effects of joining together in a program whose sum effect was much larger than the individual parts.
A new annual trade event, All Things Baking, was born as a direct result, and now a more complete industry showcase will allow all members to participate on relatively equal footing. Much of the credit for bringing The Bread Bakers Guild of America into the fold goes to its’ long-serving chairman Ponsford, who witnessed and encouraged the growth from a few interested parties into a 1,400-member organization. For The Guild, its growth came from the selfless dedication of talented bakers like Ponsford, who are willing to share the skills learned in their shops and in competitions. These talented bakers opened their shops to other craftsmen and interested amateurs via Guildhall activities and Camp Bread events, which drew sold-out crowds.
Last month, Ponsford stepped down as the chairman of The Guild after an eight-year run, and will now focus his attention on creating his newest bakery, Ponsford’s Place, an artistic and commercial success. This seems like the perfect time to create a Guild “Hall of Fame” and elect Ponsford, along with a few of his fellow pioneers, into the Inaugural Class.
Hats off to Ponsford for a job well done, and to The Guild, which is now able to be sustained by others of equal dedication.
Editor’s Note: Larry Blagg is senior vice president of marketing for Fresno, Calif.-based California Raisin Marketing Board, which sponsors America’s Best Raisin Bread Contest. Go to www.loveyourraisins.com to learn more about California raisins.
*Photo of Craig Ponsford, courtesy of the California Raisin Marketing Board.