Written by Hussina Raja
It’s week three and we’re on our first Just Bread outing to Paul Rhodes Bakery across the river in Greenwich.
Despite the biting cold, we all turn up to the e5 Bakehouse for yet another wonderful day. We huddle around the table clutching our cups of steaming hot tea and coffee while filling our bellies with e5’s Hackney Wild loaf, spreading laborious amounts of jam, that is all made in-house, across our spongey slices.
Jean and Elsa, (one of the Just Bread alumni) are rhythmically rolling dough for the weekly flat-bread order. It’s lovely for the others to see Elsa now working at e5 putting her skills into action.
I wander over to the chefs’ area to get some ingredients for the sandwiches we’ll be taking along with us on our day trip. Nacho enthusiastically hands me a range of ingredients: we have mozzarella, slices of pumpkin, home-made mayonnaise dressing, onion salsa and tomato salsa to get creative. We take one side of the large bench and each begins with a canvas of e5’s sliced Stockholm loaf, peppering our sandwiches with what’s on offer.
We quickly dart through the pouring rain and head for South London. On our arrival to Paul Rhodes Bakery, we are warmly welcomed by Isabelle, Harley and Anush, all of whom explain the different roles they undertake at the bakery while plying us with magical tarts filled with pecans, lemon, chocolate and indulgent flourless brownies. What a great way to start the afternoon!
We’re given an introduction to the history and beginnings of the Paul Rhodes Bakery by Isabelle. Anush and Rosie discuss employment opportunities that are available. Harley then takes us through the health and safety protocol in preparation for our descent into the production area of the bakery ‘where the magic happens’.
We all put on our protective gear accompanied with attractive blue hair nets and shoe socks, we’re quite the sight.
Paul Rhodes pops in to give us the grand tour of the space himself. As he takes us through the offices and down the stairs into what is the bakery, we notice immediately that Paul runs a very tight ship. Each area is efficiently fitted with the best equipment to get the job done. Once in the production area, it’s like being in a food bazaar in Marrakech. The aroma of baked goods envelopes us as lots of people swiftly move around us with large trolleys carrying some of the delicious tarts we ate earlier. We watch bread being shovelled in and out the rows of ovens. The bakery is a massive operation in comparison to what now seems like the quaint and cosy e5 Bakehouse. The atmosphere is jovial and everyone is pleased to meet us.
We are told by Paul that it is the busiest period of the year, and production is in full throttle. The bakery is the supplier to a diverse range of high-end clients including Chelsea Football Club! Despite the limited time we have, Paul has arranged for us to meet Greer, the head pastry chef who takes us through the process of making croissants and tart bases. We all excitedly take our places at two tables and learn how to roll the triangular cut layers of buttered dough into croissants, and skillfully tuck sheets of dough into tart rings ready for the Michelin star restaurants they’ll be sent to. Although brief, it’s been valuable learning from Greer, who clearly is a talented chef passionate about his craft.
Back in the office, we take the opportunity to ask Paul questions about his success. Usman inquisitively asks how he got started and tells him about his own experience with bread. Paul is a self-made businessman who didn’t go to University but started out working in his parent’s hotel in an English coastal town, leaving for London and working in restaurants under renowned chefs. He was lucky enough to be trained by one of the best bakers to make bread for hotels – a niche at the time – making up a large number of his clients today. ‘It all went from there’, he explains. Paul maintains 100% of his company and is focused on an ethos of ‘quality rather than quantity’. Before he leaves, Paul relays to us the significance of ‘just trying things’. Usman shares how important it is for the group to hear his story and take inspiration from it for themselves. A pleasant moment we embrace.
As we prepare for our departure, forms are passed around to those interested in working for the company. Usman is the first to jump at the opportunity. He wants to learn all that is on offer, even offering to volunteer if he has to!
The Just Bread project is approaching the halfway mark and we’ve already made so much progress. A perfect ending to a rainy Tuesday…we leave with our pockets full of sweet treats and friendly goodbyes.