As I write this, I’m chewing on a pecorino and olive breadstick. It is probably the best breadstick I have ever eaten. Not because it’s fresh, although that’s part of the appeal; not because it doesn’t contain any chemical nasties – anyone for mono- and diacetyle tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids?? really…no takers?; mainly because I made it myself and it is a thing of (rugged) beauty. Not to mention delicious.
I spent today at the Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School, learning to bake bread with the man himself, Richard Bertinet. I have wanted to go on this course for YEARS. Now I wonder what took me so long. To say it was inspiring would be an understatement. I learnt so much today about quality food – not just bread, but the divine marriage of prunes and dark rum – that it doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that I will never look back.
A better and more entertaining teacher than Richard would be hard to find. His passion for his craft is infectious, and his warm humour soon turned a room full of strangers into jovial companions* as we tried to replicate his unique method of working the dough. (At least, it will seem unique if you have ever read a baking book that advises vigorous kneading and ‘knocking back’.)
The group learned to ‘give birth’ to the dough, to dance with it and use the power of our whole bodies as we scooped, swung, slapped and stretched. It was the most physical cookery class I have ever attended, and definitely the most fun. The movements made perfect sense given what we were trying to achieve – to get as much air into the dough as possible – but they were so alien to our uptight notions of bread making, especially when combined with a dough that clung to our hands, that it took several attempts before we started to relax. Then it all came together. Literally.
I don’t want to spoil the surprises of the day too much for anyone who is lucky enough to attend (the introductory courses with Richard get booked up months in advance), but suffice to say, you will learn, you will laugh, you will do a full body workout, you will eat and drink incredibly well. And you will swear NEVER to consume another bland sliced loaf IN YOUR LIFE. The sense of pride when you leave at the end of the day with a big bag of bread to take home is immense, and the future dinner party bragging rights palpable.
My baking skills will, I imagine, take a lifetime to perfect. They say it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in a field. I can’t wait to get started.
* Over lunch at the end of the course, Richard explained to us that the word “companion” comes from the Latin com “with” and panis “bread”, literally “with whom one eats bread”. One of the main functions of food, often overlooked in our quick-cook, quick-eat culture: fuel for relationships.