By Larry Blagg
As I travel around the United States and speak to consumers, I find it a bit disheartening on occasion when I hear that they really don’t think much about the bread they eat, or the baker who painstakingly created it. Across the nation, there are any number of amazingly talented bakers, retail shops and baking companies who produce great products.
Like Rodney Dangerfield, bakers are not getting the respect they deserve.
The same is not true in other countries where top-class bakers and their employers can reach celebrity status. Take, for example, the United Kingdom, where a banquet is held each November in London for the Worshipful Company of (UK) Bakers at the prestigious Mansion House. Virtually every UK bakery is represented at the banquet, from multiple chains to modest craft shops. Attendance is by special formal invitation and is presided over by the Lord Mayor of London. At the banquet, a new “Master” is elected and begins his or her tenure directly after the banquet.
The Worshipful Company of Bakers (WCB) dates back more than 850 years to the reign of King Henry II. The company is the oldest Company of all London Liveries (guilds and/or associations).
David Powell is the current Master of the Worshipful Company of Bakers. After studying at the National Bakery School, he spent seven years with Puratos and four more years working across the globe as technical director with Pierro Scacco, employing a 1,200 staff with annual sales of about $120 million and providing specialty breads to the Marks and Spencers and Waitrose supermarket chains.
In 1991, he founded David Powell Bakeries, creating specialty products, and in 1997, a major coffee shop chain asked him to develop a range of muffins. The first order of 500 muffins soon became a regular 500,000 cakes per week with annual sales up to $16 million. Powell is currently working for Buffalo, N.Y.-based Rich Products, where he is developing new bakery products, as well as coaching, consulting and supporting the company’s R&D teams around the world.
By his lifelong body of work, David Powell has become an industry icon.
Halfway around the world, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a Japanese transplant by the name of Yukichi Matsubara was invited five years ago by a former prime minister to open an upscale bakery called The Loaf, which has been featured on TV in Malaysia. Today, Yukichi enjoys the same consumer celebrity as the best culinary chefs in Asia.
Tokyo TV has made bakers and pastry chefs in Japan cult heroes via their own version of the Iron Chef competitions, and consumers line up outside the shops of the winning bakers such as K.Yokoyama to purchase their prize-winning breads and pastries.
Such successes in the United States are still too rare, and most of our bakers labor away in relative obscurity.
Let all of us involved in baking turn our customers from Rodney Dangerfield’s into the food industry heroes they deserve to be.
Editor’s Note: Larry Blagg is senior vice president of marketing for the California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, Calif. Visit www.loveyourraisins.com for more information.