The only way is ethics: teaching children to bake

Categories: Behind the stalls

Chris Malec of Bread Ahead on why their schools programme teaches children more than how to make bread

“It came about when we opened the current Bread Ahead bakery on this site,” says Chris Malec. “We are always very busy early in the mornings, of course, and the activity would catch the eye of teachers coming past on their way to school.” Though he is now co-director of Bread Ahead, at that time Chris manned the front desk—so when teachers came in and asked if they did anything with schools, he was their first port of call.

“It seemed a win-win situation. We got the chance to give back to the community, and the kids got an introduction to quality food and an insight into baking”—two areas which, since the demise of home economics, are rarely touched upon in schools. There are no cookery classes. Few schools have the facilities, and information on where food comes from and what’s in it is thin on the ground. “I think schools need help in this area. There is no expertise regarding bakery, and many students struggle with nutrition,” says Chris. “Bringing them to a bakery is beneficial on many levels—even if it is just giving them some good bread to eat.”

They’ve come to Borough Market—“our larder,” Chris enthuses—and smelt the aroma of fresh bread and pastries. They’ve seen the enormous pats of butter, and sacks of flour from Shipton Mill. “This is not just following a recipe in a classroom. It’s making something, in a bakery, in a market, and thinking about the ingredients you are using. It’s doing something with your hands,” he continues. “I’m not a professional baker, but when I observe the lessons, I see something very cathartic and earthy in the act of getting your hands in the dough and creating.”

Connecting to food and people
As Chris sees it, kneading is distinct from chopping, stirring or rolling because “there is no instrument there. There’s nothing between you and your food.” At a time when the level of disconnect between food and people has never been greater, the significance of this for children cannot be underestimated. “Anything you can do to improve what people are putting in their mouths and their knowledge of it has got to be a fantastic thing.”

Of course, Bread Ahead has thought carefully about tying their courses into the curriculum—the weights and measures tie into maths, the chemical reactions tie into science and so on—but it is “the bigger picture; being connected to food, and to people through food” that the teachers seem to most value and that matters most to Bread Ahead.

One of the most successful ways in which Bread Ahead works with children is through School Food Matters, a charity that is working with Borough Market to promote food education in schools. “We show them how to make ciabatta, then they are shown how to make soup. A few weeks later, they come back to sell their own soup and some bread at the Market, so they can experience the commerce side of things.” The advantage of this set up, Chris continues, is that it’s end-to-end. “They get to make it, sell it and share it. It’s bigger than baking. It’s a platform for all sorts of positive things.”

Make, shape and bake
At the moment, Bread Ahead offers four different courses for kids: a pizza workshop, a soda bread workshop, a scone workshop, a ‘make, shape and bake’ workshop, and a ‘what is sourdough?’ course for slightly older children. Make, shape and bake was Chris’ idea: “It combines the bread-making process with the imagination, and I love that. They can make all sorts of different things.” Going forward, Chris hopes to introduce some sort of follow up programme for teachers, so the schools can take the knowledge from the course forward. “We’d like to train teachers too, so they can deliver it in the schools themselves. I also think we could do more to visit schools generally, because it’s not much fun taking a group of 30 kids on the tube.”

Does he think Bread Ahead has helped to create one or two next-generation bakers? “I hope so. We’ve had a lot of children through here and I hope we have influenced some of them. There is something life-affirming about creating that kind of environment and the whole experience is so positive—magical, even.”