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A Bakery Story

I just updated my website with an article about 2005 (under Baking Consultant), my second private session outside my place in Makati. Going on site is a blast, you get to see a different place other than your own but it could be a hassle as well. Here in the US, such arrangement is compounded by the fact that you have to travel by air (which i totally 100 % hate), not because you have to ride the plane itself, (taking off is exhilarating) but the whole business of taking one's shoes, checking bags, lining up, waiting and more waiting.

I am used to just telling our driver, "Manong, i am going to this and that" and done. Here, you have to make travel arrangements, pack your bags and everything else possibly annoying. But, the allure of being able to teach, and see a different place of course, since it is my job makes it all worth it. I just wish that with all these computer geeks running amuck hacking computers of big time banks even the Pentagon, they can invent a TRAVELLING MACHINE. Hello? Please. That way, i can just press a button and i will be in Chicago or Los Angeles. Which reminds me, i never liked travelling at all, even when i was in college or working in Greenhills.

Anyway, being gone for such a long time (in my dictionary it is long), away from my country, you can't help but reminisce the past and i just thought of rendering some anecdotes to this blog for once, i promise it is about baking still.

I got a call for a meet up in UP Diliman April 2005, my teacher from OB Montessori asked me to come and hear out a friend of hers who was having some problems with their Pandesal. I arrived with a couple of bags of Pandesal for her (like i always did) and Ding Mercado (New Minstrels) came with his. Without tasting it, i knew something was off. The rolls were wrinkled, and when i opened one to taste, it was full of air. You know it was over proofed. Deliciously creamy and really more yellowish in color compared to mine. Hmmm. I think i know why. Lips sealed. No need to be tactless.

Midway through the meeting, we agreed on a schedule. Private classes in their commissary and so on. Apparently it was not just the bread that drove him to take the classes, it was the attitude of the bakers. Threatening your bosses to boycott production just because he missed signing one of your overtime slips is appalling, especially when you are treated like the Kings of Pastry. Free clogs, free meal, free bunk beds so you can sleep if you are tired, hello? I have never seen a bakery commissary with a sleeping quarter. And oh, i have to mention this, their salary were enormously like in dollars. Not in dollars per se, but really if your kitchen helper/assistant gets ten thousand a month how much more do you give the other two senior bakers? That is how generous Dona Isabella Suntay and Ding were to their bakers and you throw a tantrum on a production day?

Please. As if your bread is flawless. Now,how can three fresh off Le Coeur young bakers commit such an error. You have your combi ovens with a proofing rack built in thermostat. How can you miss it? I never did get a chance to talk to the bakers, both owners did not tell them why they were baking night shift, but i can pretty much guess why.

The whole reasoning behind attaching a built in proofer in these combi ovens is for the baker to control the proofing dough. No way you can squiggle out of this mess. I proof with none of this, and my Pandesal never for once looked like theirs. It makes me laugh to come up with a silly analogy that THEY WERE CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT, coming up with an overproof, (oh dear) batch of Pandesal day after day. It was hilarious and at the same time maddeningly irritating. If i were the owner, and you show up with two batches of wrinkled, (like when you sat in a pool for hours and your fingers looked like prunes) Pandesal, you will most likely get a pink slip.

Another day of this and i will give you your last pay check. You obviously do not know how to bake. Surprisingly, when i was there, orders still come in, by the hundreds. I turned into my hawk eye mode and inspected the corners, and under the you know what storage (only chefs know) i discovered ANCHOR BUTTER AND EVAPORATED MILK. Lesson number 1. Do your food costing before you even put your breads in the market.

So not only where these Pandesals overproofed, they were under priced. For P2.75 each, at 29 grams, with Anchor butter, and evaporated milk (no wonder Chiz Escudero's mother told me it tasted better than the one i brought in UP) they looked like they were losing money. Oh my word. I can still remember their faces when i told them this. Ding does not have the recipe. Nobody else does except the bakers. This is how they do it, it's like part of their fraternity's by laws, nobody is giving the owners the recipes. It was not only in this case, but i have heard this from bakery owners who attend my sessions. No recipe, no food costing. No food costing, no profit in sight. No profit, no bakery.

It was a memorable bit of my tiny world ( being i am really so tiny) because i also learned a lot from this experience. Because they were held at gun point, literally by the neck they could not do anything. Once Ding learned though, he became confident enough to challenge the master baker's request to take a leave. Too bad because he was never allowed to come back. Excuse me, threatening the nicest people on earth to boycott production for a late signature on your overnight slip is not an excuse to misbehave. Not if you have a sleeping quarters tucked inside the commissary so you can lie down when you are tired. Great job.

When i met up with Ding and Mrs Suntay weeks after, problem solved, there was a new Master Baker, his name was Ding of course, new bakers, less pay with better attitude. I told him to go for it, not worth putting up with bad attitudes and a wrinkled Pandesal. They added more products, and judging from his voice over the phone months after, i knew he was happy + er.

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