Name: John Groundwater
Current City: Denver, Colorado
Current Job: AM Head Baker at Grateful Bread Co.
What is your background in baking/pastry and how did you get to where you are today?
I developed an interest in cooking in high school and when I realized I could make it my career, I knew that nothing else could make as much sense for me. The interest in baking & pastry came a little later when I started looking at culinary schools and decided on the program at Johnson & Wales University. I worked in a couple other pastry kitchens during school, but took a position at Grateful Bread right around the same time that I graduated. From there, the rapid expansion of the business, my hard work, and a little luck is what really got me to where I am today. I started at basically an entry-level position, but was able to move up to my current position in about a year and a half, and have now worked at Grateful Bread about 4 years total.
What do you love about your job?
I love the complexity of what I do, the necessity and ability to look at so many factors that go into taking bread from the mixing of ingredients, through proofing, and into the bake, make every day a challenge. Even if we are making the same products, no two days are the same. I’m constantly learning and able to experiment with different things to see how the littlest changes can have the biggest end result on a product. It is also really satisfying to hear praise from chefs who have the chance to use our products or customers who try them at restaurants around Denver.
What are your favorite products to make?
One of my favorite breads to make is challah, the intricacy of braid and the delicate nature of the dough make it a satisfying product to make successfully. I also like making our country loaf. It’s really amazing to see it at the beginning of the mix, when you’re convinced it’ll never become viable dough, but through proper technique and manipulation, and a lot of time, it becomes really beautiful and delicious bread.
What do you consider to be the biggest food trends impacting your business, and how are you responding?
I think the biggest food trend I’ve seen lately is a growing interest in how food is made and where it is coming from. People are really opening their eyes to how mass-produced, over-processed foods are affecting their health and the environment, so they are seeking out local, natural, and sustainable foods and producers. As a company, we’ve always done what we can to source the best ingredients and make top quality products, and as we’re expanding, we’re finding it possible to improve on our existing practices. The biggest thing we’ve got in the works is that we are buying a mill from Austria so that we can start grinding some our own flours with grains sourced from local farmers.
What is the best advice you have received from other bakers or chefs? How has it helped you?
I think two of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received are to never consider yourself above a task, and that everything worth doing is worth doing well. There’s going to be things at every job that no one likes to do, but when you refuse or shirk a responsibility, or do a haphazard, lazy job of it, people are going to view you in a different light. I think my willingness to help out with any task and take the time to make sure it is done correctly has really helped me to gain the respect of my co-workers and superiors.
Who would you would like to collaborate with in the kitchen?
I recently had the chance to work with a local artist, Martha Russo, and that was a ton of fun. Having no barriers or constraints on what we were making, and really just running with any idea, made for a really interesting break from the ordinary. I would like more collaboration like that, or with chefs who really like to think outside the box and be innovative with their dishes.
What is the best thing you’ve eaten lately?
I think the best thing I’ve eaten lately was a lamb dish at Locanda Verde in New York. It was lamb three ways (leg, rib, and smoked sausage), with artichoke and greens. Each piece of meat was even better that the last, and the whole dish came together very well.
When you are not in the bakery, where can you be found?
Being a Coloradoan, I like to spend as much of my time as possible outdoors and active. In the summer that means hiking, rafting, and enjoying shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. In the winter, I spend as many weekends as possible snowboarding in the mountains.
In terms of innovation, what do you think your generation brings to the table?
With the level of interconnectivity that now exists, I think the pace of innovation has really picked up. It used to be that smaller cities and places further from the big food capitols really lagged behind on trends and innovation, but with level of access now possible for us, that’s becoming a thing of the past. The ability to look at what someone is doing across the country or even the globe, and the willingness of people to share techniques and ideas, has given more people the chance to be on the cutting edge and increased the motivation to present something new and exciting to the world.
What is something you would like to achieve that you have not done already?
I’m not one to set specific goals, so I don’t really have any unfinished achievements. The course of my career has been a bit of a surprise to me so far, a welcome one though, so I would like to maintain that. Being open to whatever comes my way and doing my best has worked for me up to this point, so I just hope for success in all my endeavors.