The Fresh Batch: Paul Leaming

Paul Leaming is Senior Artisan Bread Baker at Wild Wheat Specialty Breads.

Name: Paul Leaming
Age: 30
Current City: Auckland, New Zealand
Current Job: Senior Artisan Bread Baker at Wild Wheat Specialty Breads

What is your background in baking/pastry and how did you get to where you are today?

I worked for many years as an automotive parts consultant for a leading Japanese car manufacturer and stumbled across a French artisan baker who ran an evening bread making course. I instantly fell in love with baking. It turned into an obsession. So I set my sights on my newly found passion. I enrolled into The School of Baking at M.I.T in New Zealand. Towards the end of the course, I landed a part time job as the weekend baker in a small bakery that lead into a full time role. A couple years later, I am now working with one of the best bakeries in New Zealand at Wild Wheat Specialty Breads. I am a Senior Artisan Baker specializing in sourdough breads.

What do you love about your job?

I love the soul of baking. It's a magical thing to create something from nothing. When you see that hot crusty loaf from the oven, I think to myself all those long hours, early starts, heavy lifting are all worth it to make that perfect loaf.

What are your favorite products to make?

You know my high school tech teacher would say to me use the "K.I.S.S method" "Keep It Simple Stupid!". Apart from calling me stupid, he was right! I like to use that approach in both my cooking and baking. My favorite loaf to make would be a simple white sour dough loaf with three simple ingredients: flour, water and salt. To create a loaf with so few ingredients, to create something so complex in flavor and with such depth, still astonishes me today.

A ciabatta loaf created by Leaming..

What do you consider to be the biggest food trends impacting your business, and how are you responding?

I think that bakeries like Tartine have opened up a real appreciation of bread to the home baker world wide. There are home bakers out there that make amazing bread from their own kitchen without the use of specialized commercial equipment. I feel that we as professional bakers need to up our game and push the boundaries of great bread just to stay ahead. I also think that the revival of ancient grains world wide is having an impact on us. We do not have the same access to ancient grains in New Zealand, but I think that will change as more people become aware of their benefits.

What is the best advice you have received from other bakers/ chefs? How has it helped you?

When I did my first bread class at our local bakery, the French baker said to me, "So Paul I hear you want to be a baker, this is a good thing. You must love the dough!" at the time I didn't know what the hell he was talking about. I thought he must have had his head in the oven for too long. But now I realize that it is passion that separates bakers from great bakers. It's the love that you have for what you do that gets you out of bed on those cold winter mornings. The passion is what keeps me learning.

Who would you would like to collaborate with in the kitchen?

I would like to say Chad Robertson from Tartine simply because he's the man. He's kind of like the Optimus Prime of the bread world.

What is the best thing you’ve eaten lately?

Bahn mi Vietmanese baguette. I love Asian food and bread. I love Asian food in bread even more!

When you are not in the bakery, where can you be found?

At home in the kitchen cooking. If I'm not cooking, I'm baking bread. I try to bake a couple of times a week. This is the only chance I get to experiment, plus having fresh bread is pretty cool too!

In terms of innovation, what do you think your generation brings to the table?

I am very excited to see what the future holds. I think new traditions will emerge around how we experience bread. More innovative thinking around grains and flavor. And as a result, a deeper appreciation of bread.

What is something you would like to achieve that you have not done already?

I would like to eventually open a small artisan bakery. I would like to share the love of bread and keep the skills alive.