Sitting down to chat with Adam Robinson, owner and head baker of the popular neighbourhood gem, The Glenwood Bakery, one can feel the intense passion and dedication that goes into the running of this thriving business.
Opening its doors in January 2013, the Glenwood Bakery has been providing artisanal baked goods to the local community for almost three years. Experiencing consistently growing demand from both local residents and trade customers, their output has been steadily increasing. Often you’ll see people queuing up to make sure they don’t miss the speciality loaf of the day. The day we chose to visit – a Friday – Adam informed us the Loaf of the Day was a Corn Sourdough, made with 30% organic maize meal and sweet corn.
A man of great dedication, Adam rises early to be at his bakery by 2:45 am five days a week! " I love it and I love the silence of the early morning, alone in the bakery." He does, however, admit to needing to take a few naps in the afternoon to keep going. " I’ve become very wedded to my afternoon siesta," he laughs.
Growing up in England, his family often went on camping trips all across Europe, including France and Austria, where he was exposed to a variety of cross-cultural culinary influences. During these excursions, Adam was never shy to try new dishes or even shock his parents by what he’d be willing to eat. " Bring on the snails," he’d say. This willingness to experiment and try new things shows through in his many unique and delicious bread, such as the Sprouting Rye and Triticale Sourdough or the Potato and Rosemary loaves.
Adam has the tremendous culinary experience, having trained under some of the top French chefs in London and also working in France in the early ‘80’s. He describes the atmosphere in the kitchens back then as "very militaristic with very little kindness". There’s nothing like a baptism of fire to hone your skills from a young age. We wonder if this may have rubbed off on him, having heard rumours of a " despotic ruler in the kitchen". Adam chuckles and blithely recalls how they just had to instil a few ground rules at the outset. "We were a bit overwhelmed with the demand, to begin with, so we introduced a few rules as to what customers could and couldn’t do. We were tired of being treated like a Woolies. People weren’t used to the way this sort of operation functioned and wanted convenience over quality." He chuckles again when he muses that perhaps this is why he briefly garnered the reputation as the ‘Fascist Baker’. " But things have evened out a bit now," he says. " I think it just took a little while for people to get used to an operation like this; where we don’t actually want bread leftover."
Adam has run many restaurants over the years, but this is his first standalone bakery. It came about as a decision after the locals frequenting his last restaurant in Howick didn’t seem to want to eat what he wanted to cook. " I got a little bored of what I had to cook, so I started concentrating more on bread," he says. This part of the business steadily grew and he started supplying other shops and restaurants in Howick. This, he says, kept his creative juices flowing and his spirit alive. " I just love the bread thing. It’s fascinating. I mean you’ve got flour, water and salt but it’s just so complicated." Despite an array of delicious croissants, pain au raisin and grissini, to name a few of the baked delights, bread is still the core of the business. " The bread is still the beating heart of this place. My love. My passion. Sourdough bread specifically. The flavours you can coax out of fermentation are quite remarkable," he says. He compares the process to wine-making where, on a good day, he can even evoke flavours of banana, berry and lemon, depending on the fermentation.
Speaking more about fermentation, he goes on to explain that, " Our health is largely dependent on our microbiotics and the bacteria that we consume. Health problems and obesity can be linked to microbiotics, and the processed, artificial foods we eat upset this. So there is a growing movement to more natural and organic foods." So is all this fermentation stuff quite an exact science, we wonder. Adam laments, " I wish it was science! Most of the studies are about industrial production and storage, very few concentrates on the actual bacterial fermentation. So you have to do a lot of it by feel, by the seat of your pants really. It should be much more rigorous and a lot more scientific."
In trying to reduce the number of variables in producing a rich and flavoursome loaf, he says he looks for consistency and high quality in his ingredients, "Hydration and protein content are difficult variables to be dealing with when making more delicate bread like ours. It’s not like just sticking a pre-mix in the oven and closing your eyes." His search he says led him to Millstone. " There don’t seem to be that many mills who particularly care much about the slower process of grinding flour and inducing less heat. But Millstone is definitely one of the few who does." Adam loves that Millstone produces flour using a more traditional and organic manner. " There’s nothing bucolic about Millstone," he says. " They’ve got a really nice product that is not overly refined and is consistent. They make huge efforts to be consistent." Adam continues, " They bring the rigour that you need for industrial processing and apply it to stone grinding; the continual testing and high level of exactitude in every batch. I find that really inspiring. If I could apply that kind of consistency to my bakery, I’d be very pleased."
When asked about the role of modern-day artisans he harkens back to the French example: " The markets in France are extraordinary. There’s a wonderful food culture there which we covet and want here. But it takes the whole community to buy in and value it for it to grow. I’m not a nutritionist, but there’s no question that processed foods are causing huge health issues, so people are going to look for the less processed and more natural foods. And that’s what we’re doing here. And it’s happening, where people are coming to a realisation about what they’re putting into their bodies and it’s in the organic and artisanal where people are going to find solace."
Looking ahead, Adam says that they are always trying out new and tasty ideas. They’ve recently introduced " pizza nights" three times a week, where you can also get handmade burgers, pasta and flatbreads. They also provide a limited but delightful sit-down menu, locally-sourced coffee and handmade ice cream. There are plans to include an element of charcuterie from a local supplier, where they are going to incorporate an Italian boiling sausage to make what Adam calls a " posh sausage roll". Mmm, we can’t wait. See you at The Glenwood Bakery!
Log on to The Glenwood Bakery website at www.glenwoodbakery.co.za or check out their Facebook page to learn more about them. And if you can’t make it to the Bakery at 398 Esther Roberts Rd, you can also find their wonderful wares at the Morning Trade market every Sunday in Station Road.