For years I worked at a desk and I was like a caged animal, luckily I smashed my way out of the confines of the office and was set loose on the streets of Exeter to terrorise the public with my offensive language, average baking skills and a severe dose of arrogance. Somehow the lovely people of Exeter have nurtured and tamed the beast inside me to some level of maturity, like a fine wine I’m developing with age, the acidity is mellowing and I’m becoming a little more rounded. So raise your glass for it is my birthday. Well the Bakery’s birthday. Cheers.

Music to Bake to

Smashing out tunes whist baking really gets the workflow at full speed. So here is a link to some of the albums which have helped us reach such a high degree of professionalism over the last few months. Enjoy.

You may need to update your iTunes to enjoy this link. Perhaps you could use a Spotify version if you you’re an Apple hater -

The Beer Train

As I catch the 18:22 Great Western train to Totnes for a boozy night out, I play a game of catch up, as I assume my friends have been in the pub for a while now. So I stride to the buffet carriage and order a pint of St Austell’s Tribute for a cool £3.40. I sip my refreshing beer from the plastic pint glass and gaze out of the window of the moving carriage and suddenly it dawns on me; this could be the best bar in the world.

Ok, there are a lot of bad points about this bar, such as the plastic glasses, the poor selection of low quality alcohol (although Tribute is great), there’s nowhere to sit down and the actual bar where I rest my pint is a pathetic Formica mantle. But on further investigation, this bar has a very unique quality and that being; it’s the only public bar in the country with a permanent alcohol license on a moving vehicle. This unique license gives the bar a certain vulnerability, and I’m sure it won’t be long before they call time on Great Western’s Express Café Bar and probably a ban on consuming alcohol on all public transport (Buses and the Tube already have the ban).

It’s simply the view from the window that makes this bar so special, not much else. On my particular journey, which happens to be one of the most beautiful sections of track in the country, I choose to peer through the window on the left hand side between Exeter and Newton Abbot. This small window is not much bigger than a TV screen, but manages to yield sights such as pervert Herrons wading in the Exe estuary looking for dinner or groups of Cockle pickers raking the sandy mud for the buried bivalve molluscs. The view on the right hand side gives you the chance to spot a sly Fox in a field on the hunt to destroy some poor farmer’s roosting hens and you’re guaranteed to see the Deer at Powderham Castle, which I’m now a little bored of to tell the truth, so I stick to the left side.

So as I clutch my flimsy plastic pint and compose myself as the train rocks from side to side I get a spectacular view of the vast ocean as we pass Dawlish Warren, on occasion you’ll get waves delivering their ocean spray against the train windows, but this evening I get the view of a calm, flat sea. My view is disturbed as we enter Brunel’s tunnels, carved through the red cliffs 170 years ago, my diminished pint and I make haste towards Teignmouth and my 34 minute journey has reached the halfway point. Time for another swift pint? I ask myself this question, but I already know the answer as I reach into my back pocket to dig out another £3.40.

As I fill my flimsy plastic vessel and clutch it’s waist, it bends like Isambard’s tracks and begins to overflow, so take a big slurp. At this point I choose to switch windows and gawk on the right hand side of the train and get a glimpse of Dartmoor, but Newton Abbot Race Course dominates the view. A brief stop at the town itself and then the final leg to Totnes. Because the views are a little less spectacular I entertain myself by sticking my head out of the window of the train door, dodging overgrown trees and plants I get a roller coaster of a ride, this stupidity is obviously caused by my traveling companion cheering me on. His head has disappeared, but intend to keep mine! So I quickly stop before decapitation occurs and before long the train pulls up to the platform in Totnes, my home town and gateway to the South Hams. And how better to arrive than on a moving pub with the magnificent views that Devon delivers so well. Perhaps not the best bar in the world, but certainly one not to take for granted, so grab that squeezy pint while you can.

Guilty Pleasures & Dirty Secrets

I’m a fraud and this is my confession. I love some really unspeakable, filthy, and questionable bits of food. The whole process from acquiring the products to consuming them is shameful. For my sins, I’ll probably go to hell, but you’re probably all coming with me, because everyone is guilty of this crime.

I hate to use the term ‘Food Trend’, but we are undoubtedly going through a trend for all things healthy in our current instagramable lives. And this purge is probably a reaction to the previous trend (which we’re still experiencing), for the love of gourmet junk food, i.e. the BBQ/ Burger/ Craft Beer fiasco. So whist everyone is projecting the image of their #meatFreeMondays or Chia seeds and avocado for breakfast, they are also loosing touch with some of the wonderful pleasures in life, like the St John Eccles cake consumed with Mrs Kirkham’s finest Lancashire cheese, which is one of the most wonderful flavour combinations on earth and everyone should experience it once.

But forgive me as I have a standard shameful act, that occurs when I’m hung over and this is my cure. I actually prefer this combo to a Full English. It’s a MacDonald’s Cheeseburger, or two, with a can of coke, or two. And I stress a can, not those plastic bottles or a diluted icy MacDonald’s coke, it must be a can. So when I take my hangover out for breakfast I buy him, or her, a can of coke from a newsagent or somewhere (because I’m classy) and I like to hold the chilled drink on my forehead for a few minutes and roll it from side to side, this helps with my headache and is is why the can is a must. With that phase completed, I can enter the golden arches to make the transaction of 99p for a soft, sweet, salty representation of a cheeseburger. It just puts me right and I always manage to stomach one, or two. The soft brioche and fat soaks up the remaining booze in my stomach and all that other junk in the burger sorts out my salt and sugar levels, which seem to be deficient with a hang over, almost as if they have been working on what makes people want something for when the body is craving it. Even the texture works for me and that shitty processed cheese slice which looks like plastic. This cheese represents so much about this Botox burger and how it doesn’t age with all that plastic surgery or shall I say MacDonald’s mummification, as apparently they will keep preserved for a millennia. But despite all the bad stuff, it does me good, it restores balance to my messed up world and calms the turmoil from the night before.

Back to the cheese. I personally think cheese slices work best in a burger and a 2-year-old Cheddar over powers the sandwich. I once had a conversation with Mary Quicke (Devon’s Queen of artisan cheese making) and told her how much I love shitty cheap cheese on a burger. She just politely smiled at me. I then went on to tell her how I am also partial to an instant coffee with loads of milk & sugar, it’s a completely different drink to me, almost like having a Horlicks. We buy Quickes cheese for the bakery though, so I hope she understands that I also love quality and my lapses are rare and guilt ridden. Maybe I’ll send this blog post to Mary to help her understand that I’m not a total prick and that my point is coming from somewhere.

But now I’m going to go more low brow and discuss or should I say confess my deepest, darkest food secret. The Greggs Vanilla Custard Slice. It’s a whore, and I’m a pervert willing to pay good money for what she has to on offer. This chilled rubbery excuse for a cake has probably never even heard of real vanilla, never mind being made of the stuff. But how I love them. I love them for who they are, a cheap, sugary, poorly made slice of confectionary, which cost 95p and is readily available in nearly every town. I’m not trying to pardon Greggs and the rest of the stuff it produces, I’m not even trying to pardon it’s vanilla slice, it’s low end stuff and could be dramatically improved on so many levels. But it’s my love affair and I’m gonna continue, even when I get caught in the act. Every couple of months there is a moment where I get the urge and it’s simply a case of circumstance, I find myself near a Greggs or simply see a Greggs out of the corner of my eye, that delicious blue and magnolia branding. It can happen to anyone. You’re in an unfamiliar place, on your own, less likely to see someone you know, the risk of embarrassment is lowered considerably and the door is open, with a very appealing invitation to mouth fuck the shit out of a Gregg’s Vanilla Slice! Just don’t tell the wife.

Transparency – Saving the World from Mediocre Businesses

Election Day is upon us. Time to vote. The nation makes a very big decision, but a very difficult one. Probably like me, you can’t see the wood for the trees. As the media is pummelling us with facts and information, it makes it harder to distinguish what’s true and what’s not. So to avoid media manipulation, I went direct to each party and read their manifestos, without the refraction of the media’s skew. But it’s so hard to trust what is being said, because these political parties have a severe reputation for not keeping their word, distorting facts and basically lying. I just wish everyone could see a true representation of each party without all the hidden bullshit. I suppose it’s best to go with your gut feeling. It almost reminds me of choosing a tariff with your mobile phone contact, it’s never perfect for what you want, but you have to choose something.

For a while I’ve been pondering with the thought of Transparency. I’m really into the idea of honesty, integrity and complete exposure in business. Balls out; unlike our cowardly politicians, who only expose their genitals when prostitutes and cocaine are involved.

Perhaps to many business owners transparency is a scary thought, but to me it’s exciting and I hope it excites and inspires other people. But the main goal is trust. If a customer trusts a business, then their experience is heightened in a positive way. They will ultimately form a better relationship with the company, with their loyalty and return custom.  This is particularly important in the food industry as it has a shady reputation for large profit margins, up selling, loss leaders, questionable hygiene standards and exploited staff that are over worked and under paid.

Transparency helps customers understand our industry and our pricing structure. This can be done on a basic level, for example a break down of a cup of coffee. I’m more than happy to tell people how much our coffee cost and our profit margin on the cup.

To be really transparent and open, I’d say Transparency is a form of marketing, similar to informing customers to what ingredients you use; it is a promotion of the product. But it’s also a double-edged sword, and certainly wouldn’t work for every company, although even

McDonald’s are using this form of marketing, albeit best taken it with a pinch of salt.

But I honestly believe this transparent marketing could be used to the advantage of many businesses; for example, High St coffee chains could release information about their extortionate rent and rates and this could help customers understand their pricing and why they can’t use expensive, high-grade coffee.

Things are definitely moving in the right direction. It was only 10 years ago that restaurants started revealing the source of their ingredients with information about food miles etc. Soon they may reveal how much the ingredients cost and the margins they make on each dish. Would you choose differently if this information was presented to you?