As a child my favourite bit on Play School was always when they went through the windows and you got to see what was happening somewhere exciting like a chocolate biscuit factory or dairy farm. In the time that I've been blogging I've been invited to step through a few round, square and arched windows of my own and seen behind the scenes of gin production at Caorunn, made butteries at JG Ross and cooked breakfast on the shovel of a steam train at Deeside Railway. As such I was delighted to receive an invitation from Food Fest 15 to explore the word of bread making and coffee roasting along with lunch at one of my favourite Aberdeen city centre eateries.
FoodFest15 is a year-long celebration of the fantastic food and drink offering in the north east of Scotland. Bringing together local food producers, restauranteurs, hoteliers and retailers, the festival’s packed programme highlights the wide variety of food and drink offerings available in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. From world class foodie events to celebrity chefs, from distinguished fine dining to grassroots craft brewers, FoodFest15 offers a fascinating glimpse into the delicious fare produced in the region.
My first port of call for the day was The Bread Maker in Rosemount Viaduct. This inspiring venture combines artisan bread making and social enterprise, providing meaningful employment, training, educational opportunities and social activities to adults with learning disabilities. I was welcomed over a coffee by chief executive Donald Anderson who explained the history and ethos of the organisation. Opened in 2007 in a former bicycle shop The Breadmaker combines a commercially focused enterprise with registered charity status. Upstairs the shopfront and cafe is bright, airy and welcoming along with a canopy and outside seating, something which is sadly lacking in Aberdeen. Two floors downstairs, in the arches beneath Rosemount Viaduct is were the bread is made. One floor down is the thriving outside catering part of the business. Here freshly made bread rolls are turned into sandwiches and buffets to head out to offices across the city. Going from bakery to boardroom in less than 6 hours and ticking both the tasty lunch and social responsibility boxes for their customers.
Two floors down in a surprisingly small space for the amount of bread produced the bakers, apprentices and volunteers are all hard at work. The business has been such a success that they have almost outgrown their space and plans are afoot to move the baking part elsewhere in the city and continue the outside catering and coffee shop from the Rosemount premises. There are 26 Apprentices with learning disabilities at the moment, who work in the coffee shop and the bakery. They are supported by the same number of staff and a group of much valued volunteers. More volunteers are always welcome and can help make a real difference whilst at the same time learning baking skills themselves. If you're in Aberdeen and this sounds like something that might be of interest to you do take a look at the Bread Maker's Volunteering Page on their website.
Time for me to make some bread of my own. My tutor was Master Baker Darren who also runs bread making courses in the bakery. Courses take place on Sundays throughout the year and cost £150. They cover how to make a range of bread from the simplest to specialised breads such as focaccia and ciabatta. Your lunch is also provided along with a folder of recipes and you take home everything you make. My 13 year old son, who has bread making ambitions of his own, has already started dropping hints that this would be the perfect gift for him. We'll just have to see if he's naughty or nice between now and December 25th. However I'm sure he's not the only foodie who would appreciate a voucher from The Bread Maker in their Christmas stocking this year. Worth putting on your letter to Santa if you're anywhere near Aberdeen.
Starter bake was a plain white loaf. I've never used fresh yeast before so that was a first for me. It felt almost like putty. Useful to know that if I wanted to buy some most supermarket bakeries should be happy to oblige. Darren also busted the myth that you have to keep the salt and yeast separate in the bowl. No need if you're making the dough straight away. Time to get kneading and the stopwatch was on for 15 minutes. I looked wistfully at the huge mechanical mixer across the room as it worked away at a batch of dough for rolls. It and the bdm (bun dividing machine) were the only labour saving devices, everything in the bakery is done by hand to traditional methods. Rather than put my whole lump of dough into the bread tin we weighed it to ensure consistency and used the excess to make a plaited loaf. It was much easier with dough than with my daughters hair. Both loaves went into the prover before heading for the oven.
No rest for the wicked and I was set to work making a cheese damper bread. This is pretty much a cross between a scone and a soda bread and I'd been admiring them whilst in the retail area upstairs. Very quick and easy to make and a perfect loaf to throw together at the last minute. Top tip for baking bread at home in order to create steam is to put some ice cubes at the bottom of the oven, also set the temperature slightly higher than you need as it will drop as soon as you open the door to put your bread in. Remember to turn it back down whilst you're baking though. Lunchtime was looming so I left my three loves baking in the giant oven and headed off with the promise to return later to collect them.
I'm no stranger to the delights of Food Story in Aberdeen's West End. In fact I'm responsible for a miniscule part of its success as I took part in their initial crowdfunding initiative. My name is up there on the the Foodstory thank you Chalkboard along with 139 other backers who helped them reach and surpass their £8,000 goal back at the start of 2014. £10,070 was pledged which enabled them to take the next step and move around the corner into new premises. A lot has happened since then and in Spring this year they knocked through next door into an empty property to double their space. The new space is equally as inviting as the original and is full of quirky recycled decor which sits perfectly with their whole ethos as encompassed by their 3 stories.
The Food’s Story
All good food has a story. We are dedicated to giving you, our customers, homemade, wholesome, healthy, organic free range,local food.
The People’s Story
Our team, our lovely customers and our investors helped to build this café in 2013.This is the people’s cafe
The Planet’s Story
We want less waste and more recycling in this lovely world. This is why the café was hand built and almost everything in it was made with recycled materials. Our packaging is made from plants and the vegetables we use are organic.
You need to get there sharp to secure a seat at lunchtime as its location in the west end means its very busy with both workers and shoppers. The queue was constant the whole time I was there and there's always such a happy buzz about the place. I enjoyed a warming bowl of soup plus a selection of salads. The salads at Foodstory are absolutely outstanding. Such interesting combinations of flavours, colours and textures, by far the best I've come across anywhere. So filling and nutritious too.
Co-owner of the cafe Sandy joined me for a chat after I'd eaten and filled me in on the next step of their journey going forwards. The food has always had an emphasis on vegetarian, vegan, raw and gluten-free dishes however there are still options for carnivores but in time this might change. The stumbling block to going purely veggie is their amazing sausage roll. I'd certainly miss it from the menu big time. The new space has enabled them to open in the evenings initially on a trial basis but now the hours extend to 9pm every night except Sunday & Monday. You can currently BYOB but plans are afoot for a drinks licence. Also expect to see more events happening in the space with live music, films, foodie events, food swaps and a community market all in the pipeline. Lots more pages to be turned in this particular story.
My next stop on my foodie journey round the city was MacBeans, coffee roasters and tea specialists, located on the corner of Back Wynd and Little Belmont Street. The shop celebrated its 25th Birthday last year and I had thoroughly enjoyed reading a piece written by Victoria Pease at STV online about its history. It was a delight to meet owner Ian Cukrowski who is a man with tremendous knowledge and passion for all things coffee. The shop itself is a wonderfully cosy Aladdin's cave of all things tea and coffee. It somehow manages to combine an olde world feel of blue cannisters and a dark counter with every modern gadget that a hot beveridge conniseur could possibly desire. And of course there's the ever present smell of coffee and the smiling personal service of knowledgeable staff. This is exactly the kind of retail experience that online shopping can't hope to replace.
Ian led me downstairs to the celler where all the magic happens. Hessian sacks, barrels and chests of coffee beans from across the world all with their own stories to tell and individual characteristics. I had no idea that all the coffee was freshly roasted in the basement of the shop. This freshness makes a huge different to the quality of the coffee you purchase. Every single bag of beans makes its way down a brewery style chute on Back Wind and Ian tells me that his body bears the scars of manual labour involved in manhandling all those beans. Inspired by a coffee merchant in Dundee Ian learnt the trade from a standing start when he set up the business 26 years ago and since then has visited coffee plantations around the world.
As is the trend with many food and drink products these days, provenance and single sourcing have become increasingly important in the world of coffee. I was surprised as to how different all the different varieties of green coffee beans looked and interested to hear the stories behind them from both large and small producers. Their current coffee of the month is from female coffee farmer Iris Maricela Aguilar, who owns a 2.8 hectare farm in Santa Lucia, Honduras. You can't get more traceability than that. Time to get down to the business of roasting. The green beans get poured into an almost tumble dryer like machine which roasts as it turns. There's a small viewing window at the front where you can visibly see the colour changing, a temperature gauge on the side and a scooped tube to remove a sample and see the progress. This is where the real skill comes in to play. Ian says he tries to go for a Goldilocks coffee. Not too light, not to dark, but just perfect. Of course the roast is only part of the story. Then comes the blending. Macbeans sell a selection of blends to their own specific recipes and also have some special creations for some of their trade customers.
We headed upstairs to brew up some coffee and continue our caffeinated discussions. The shop's clientelle has changed over the years as coffee has become the hipster drink of choice. New ways of brewing such as Chemex and Aeropress have had an influence and of course Christmas time provides a huge boost to sales. We discuss the thorny issue of Fair Trade coffee versus Rainforest Alliance and then I'm set the challenge of sniffing out the different aromas that can be found in coffee. With a set of 40 little jars I fail miserably to identify smells such as potatoes, rubber, peas and butter. Not sure I actually want my coffee to smell like any of those but it provided a fascinating insight and a fun way to end my afternoon. All I had to do now was pop back to The Bread Maker to collect the fruits of my labour. My three loaves were ready and waiting for me and I headed home to feed them to my family whilst regaling tales of my Food Fest 15 adventures.
For more information on FoodFest15, visit www.foodfest15.com or follow the festival on Facebook at www.facebook.com/foodfestfifteen or on Twitter @foodfest15. FoodFest15 coincides with Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink, and is a partnership between Aberdeenshire Council, Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, Aberdeenshire Tourism Partnership, Aberdeen City and Shire Hotels’ Association, Banffshire Coast Tourism Partnership, Scottish Enterprise, Visit Royal Deeside and VisitAberdeen. The project is supported by VisitScotland.
Disclosure - Press Trip courtesy of Food Fest 15. Thanks to Tricker PR, The Bread Maker, FoodStory and Macbeans for facilitating. All views expressed are my own.