We interview Ben MacKinnon, the founder of E5 Bakehouse about what inspired him to start baking sour dough bread and his plans to grow heritage wheat in Suffolk…
What inspired you to get into Baking?
I wanted to work for myself, and to work in a profession which I could wholeheartedly believe in. I was sick of sitting in an office. Whilst travelling overseas it seemed that one of the things people always knew about Britain was the crappy bread. That pissed me off.
How important is sourcing locally and understanding where food comes from to you?
It’s really important. Choosing the ingredients you use directly impacts on natural habitats and cycles. I’m really proud that the vast majority of our ingredients are sourced organically and locally. We have great relationship with local suppliers for the restaurant, the legendary Growing Communities supply us with 8 kilos of fresh salad a week during the summer, we also work with Organic Lea and Neals Yard Cheese to name but a few.
Sourcing local flour is our latest project. The majority of bread flour in the UK is made up of a blend of imported high protein wheat from such places as Kazakstan which is then blended with wheat grown in the UK which is weaker and less suitable for bread making. However., there are farmers out there growing fantastic strains of wheat which perform really well in the UK climate and deliver great bread making. We’re starting to seek these guys out and make the most of their products.
That's great to hear and offers a real point of differentiation. Do you think you can taste the difference?
If you were to compare bread made with stone ground heritage wheat over a more mass produced wholemeal blend you would definitely be able to taste the difference. We’ve been experimenting making with a Canadian red wheat and would love to explore growing that over here.
You’ve been dubbed the 'Indie Baker’, what makes the E5 Bakehouse different to other bakeries?
We take a real artisan approach to what we do. There’s a unique energy to this part of East London. The team and our customers, and the space (under a railway arch) all add to the flavour. Plus the fact that the bakery has grown organically has made it turn out pretty funky.
We’ve heard rumours you are opening an E20 Bakehouse?
We’ve been asked to open a second site but I’ve decided it’s too much hassle, so for now it’s on the back burner.
Whats next then, there must be a new project - what about an E5 Bakehouse Book?
Yes, there’s a book underway. These things take time, and there’s always something getting in the way. BUt, we know a lot of awesome people in the area who are interested in helping so it seems to be just a matter of time
We understand you've just bought some land in Suffolk, what's inspired you to get into Farming and what are you planning to grow?
Having grown up surrounded by wheat fields in Suffolk, too long in the city and I go cuckoo. By which I mean it’s a good excuse to get out of the city. More importantly it’s a chance for myself and the rest of the bakers to understand the challenges facing farmers, and to be able to get to know them better with a view to sourcing better quality flours.
My money is on a growing rise in artisan bakeries, with customers choosing healthier, more interesting tasting breads, This is best achieved using brilliant flour. Heritage varieties grown on soils that are well balanced have proven to give better flavour and nutrition. It’s our job to seek these out and do them justice.
Our small plot (13 acres) will offer a chance to see learn about how to grow grains and possibly grow some unusual ones to incorporate into our breads.
We can't wait to visit. What advice would you give to aspiring artisan food and farming entrepreneurs?
Find a product you believe in and make it the best. Start small and listen to your customers. Respect the environment. Listen to your employees.
Do you think the future for farming and artisan food makers is rosy?
It’s up to us all. Will you decide to shop at a supermarket, or will you buy from a local producer? It’s as simple as that. I know that the high streets I want to walk down are lined with independent shops, run by local people, who know their producers.
Finally, do you have a favourite loaf of E5 bread and how to you eat it?
It changes regularly. recently I’ve been really enjoying a little heritage wheat bun we’ve been making. Butter and jam. Winner.