There’s no doubting that Justin Gellatly knows his dough. After working with Fergus Henderson at St John restaurant for 13 years as Head Baker and Pastry Chef, he teamed up with Matthew Jones to open the highly acclaimed bakery and school, Bread Ahead, in Borough Market. Here, he shares his top tips for getting into the industry and his predictions for the next big trends in baking…
How did you start out in the food industry?
To be honest I fell into it! I starting washing dishes in a small restaurant called Crowthers in East Sheen, London, during the summer holidays when I was 15. The chef started to show me how to chop, cook and do prep and I loved it. Before I knew it I was helping with service but the baking came later whilst I was working at St John restaurant in their in-house bakery.
Tell us about Bread Ahead. What do you think has contributed to its huge success?
Bread Ahead has been very hard work over the last three years but I’ve loved every minute of it. We have kept things quite select, focusing on a fairly small range of products so that we can keep the quality high – plus it helps that my doughnuts have been an absolutely huge success. We also have a bakery school open seven days a week, which is proving very popular. We often have classes booked up months in advance – the doughnut masterclass is particularly quick to fill up.
What is an average working day like for you?
Blimey, that’s a hard one – no day in the job is the same. My working patterns vary between day, night or afternoon baking shifts. At the moment I am away from the bakery a bit writing our new baking book ‘Bread Ahead’ with Matt and Louise, which is great fun.
What do you like most about your job?
Pretty much all of it! I really love developing new ideas and thinking of new doughnut flavours. I also enjoy the teaching side of the job, and of course getting to bake alongside our crew of very talented bakers, especially my wife Louise, who now looks after the bakery school.
Is there anything you dislike?
For the first two years Louise and I were on night shift duty from 10pm till 8am in the morning. It wasn’t ideal to sleep through the daylight and work in the darkness, but it had to be done to start the business.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
There are many moments to choose from: baking the bread for Prince William and Kate’s Royal wedding in 2011; working with Fergus Henderson and gaining a Michelin Star at St John Restaurant whilst I was Head Baker; opening Bread Ahead with my wife Lousie and Matt Jones; teaching baking for the first time and finally launching my cook book ‘Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding’.
What would you say to young people looking to get their foot in the door?
Get yourself down to your favourite bakery and ask if you can do some unpaid work. That way you’ll get to see first hand what life as a baker is like rather than viewing it through rose-tinted glasses! At Bread Ahead we normally give guys who do this the first opportunities when positions become available as they have put the time in already. As a self-taught baker, I’d recommend getting at least a basic knowledge of baking (you can do a short class at Bread Ahead to feel the dough), but the best way to learn is getting stuck in on the job.
What skills and personality traits does someone need to develop to become a baker?
Firstly, you need to be massively in love with bread, and it helps to be physically fit, patient, happy to work for long hours at night, happy to work in a team, have a good sense of humour, a strong love of food and an optimistic personality.
What do you think will be the next big trend in baking?
There is a lot going on at the moment, especially in London. It’s fantastic to see lots of micro and small bakeries opening up, with most of them doing a bit of teaching as well. My doughnut craze is still going strong, canelé is another big trend, plus flavoured sourdough. I’ve also seen some really good ‘layers’ with great croissants – bakers are giving them a new lease of life. At the moment I am working on bringing back the iced bun with a twist – watch this space!
Feeling inspired? Try your hand at Justin’s famous doughnut recipe, and find plenty more tips and tricks in our baking hub. Whatever your skill set, we’ve got plenty of insight into kick-starting a career in the food industry:
How to be a food critic
How to be a professional chef
How to be a food photographer
How to be a recipe writer
How to be a food stylist
To find out more about Justin, visit the Bread Ahead website, or follow them on Instagram and Twitter.
Are you keen to make it as a baker or are you already established in the industry? Let us know in the comments below…