This topic was going to be just two posts, but we have one more thought to transmit about the Kneading Conference. The main focus, which we have slighted in our earlier posts, was about bread. Home bakers and professionals stood together to learn and practice various baking techniques taught by professional bakers. Baking truly is a sharing profession and they all love to talk about what they are doing.
One of the premier examples of this generosity was Jeffrey Hamelman, a rock star of the artisan bread world and Saturday’s keynote speaker. He is an employee-owner of the King Arthur Flour Company in Vermont and Director of the King Arthur bakery. He has baked and taught in North America, Europe, Asia, South America and Africa. He has written several books, including Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes.
You could hear a pin drop in the room, as this quiet, unassuming man told his life story. He dropped out of college when he was 20, then wandered the world working at about 40 jobs, all involving manual labor, before he began his life work as a baker. He worked with Polish farmers, then began to do his own organic farming.
A key moment in his life was when he met his mentor – a German woman baker. She employed a French baker, who left the U.S. once a year to return to France for a month. Hamelman was charged with taking over his tasks.
“Jeffrey, you must learn to see with your fingers,” the wise Frenchman told the young, budding baker, as Hamelman peppered him with questions about how dough should behave and how to bake bread.
Hamelman also quoted a book about making furniture, which he said also applies to the craft of making bread as well as growing wheat, named “The Nature and Art of Workmanship” by David Pye. Pye distinguishes between the “workmanship of risk” and the “workmanship of certainty.”This risk-taking should be celebrated, he said. In this work, one’s products are different each time.
“Bakers are performing the fundamental work of society,” Hamelman concluded, adding that farmers are doing the same.
Hamelman also quoted Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Here is the entire paragraph:
“I have often maintained that the best poet is he who prepares our daily bread: the nearest baker who does not imagine himself to be a god. He does his majestic and unpretentious work of kneading the dough, consigning it to the oven, baking it in golden colors and handing us our daily bread as a duty of fellowship.
And, if the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind’s products: bread, truth, wine, dreams.”