The story of Baker Tom isn’t unlike a comforting nursery rhyme. After a gap year in India, Tom came back to the UK and started working in a farm shop. One day, this little farm shop couldn’t find a bread supplier. Tom went home, baked four loaves, and biked the bread back to the farm shop. The bread sold out, Tom got on his bike and baked more, the bread sold out again and again and the farm shop, Tom, his bike and his bread all lived happily ever after. Until, that is, the bread got too big for Tom. It grew and it grew but it didn’t blow this man down. He biked the bread to not one, but two farm shops and got his own kitchen. Then one day, disaster struck: Tom was run over. But he picked himself up, blood wounds and all and still delivered his bread.
He saved up and he bought a van and moved into his own bakery, the size of a garage. But the bread, it grew and it grew and Tom moved to another bakery with a shop and the customers they came by word of mouth and loyalty to the magic of his kneading hands. Like a beanstalk on yeast it grew still and Tom made a final move to Pool, near Redruth, opening bakeries in Truro and Falmouth.
Our floury legend celebrates three years of baking delectable bread this December, serving customers such as Fifteen Cornwall Watergate Bay Hotel, Riverford and Trevaskis Farm. According to him, “it just happened.” His dad is a chef and Tom has always baked. As he sits down to chat in a café above his bakery in Lemon St Market, Truro, a discerning palette is evident:
“Do you want apple juice? I’ll get a sour one, there’s nothing worse than sweet apple juice.”
He accepts that he has always been “quite a foodie at heart” as he sips his coffee, remarking that it’s bitter. But despite the sophisticated palette that is responsible for the variety of breads in his bakeries, from sweet potato and roasted pumpkin seeds to carrot, mustard and thyme, he admits to a few foodie weaknesses: cheap fried bread and occasional “dirty” chicken from the supermarket. But for me, such weaknesses make us all better tasters, less hypocritical and more open-minded.
The buzz of bread making for Tom is “putting it into the oven. You don’t know what it’ll do.” If the loaf is slightly charred, all the better, he explains, as “it gives character, feeling and personality.” And in these days of mass-produced breads that collapse into a soggy mass at the slightest hint of personality thanks to the infamous Chorleywood Bread Process of 1961, personality and character is what lifts Baker Tom’s bread up, up and away above any supermarket counterfeit.
Fluffy white floury clouds aside, he makes it clear that “we’re here to serve the customers” and Tom’s next mission is to take on the supermarkets by developing a non-organic, everyday white loaf, which will use oils to keep it moist and non-organic Shipton Mill flour to bring the price down. In a time of belt-tightening and re-assessment of organic foodstuffs, he is certainly tapping into customer needs and current trends. “There’s no fancying around, we produce good, wholesome food, done properly, not covered in icing with a cherry on top, which gripes me.”
His down-to-earth pragmatism and love of bread drives the business like the best sourdough starter culture and it is hard not to be infected by his enthusiasm. After cooking with him at the Bedruthan Steps Hotel bread-making course, he kept reiterating that ‘it’s impossible to go wrong with bread’ and inspired us all to make foccacia, ciabatta, bagels, sourdough and more to such a high standard that it was hard to believe I’d never done it before. The apprentices from Fifteen Cornwall are placed in his capable hands as part of their training and he aims to train up everyone who sells his bread in the art of bread-making so that they can talk about each product with expertise.
The moment is now to get in on the bread revolution: make some bread with Tom or simply buy some from one of his bakeries to understand just what Michel Roux was on about the other night on the telly in the Great British Food Revival. Let’s get back to basics and experience the true fairytale magic of yeast, flour, water and salt. It’ll end happily, I promise.