An interview with Vanessa Kimbell, of www.sourdough.co.uk
We are meeting in Vanessa’s Northamptonshire kitchen, where she takes small weekly classes in the art of bread making.
What is your job title, Vanessa?
I guess I’d call myself a sourdough and wild yeast specialist.
How would you describe your background in food?
I was lucky enough to grow up both here in the UK and in the South of France, where my parents had a house and where I spent the very long school holidays. In our village in France there was a bakery where I hung out from the age of 11, and then worked in as soon I was old enough. Later, after a two-year City and Guilds catering and patisserie course in the UK, I returned to France and worked in the bakery again until I was 21. Now I have a family of my own and we still have the same house in the village – my children are hanging around the bakery just as I did at their age. I suppose that’s why I can say I know a lot about sourdough and the art of using wild yeasts. I grew up with them.
What’s grabbing you in the world of baking at the moment?
Two main things. Firstly we are learning more and more about the nutritional value and digestibility of sourdough bread, and the science keeps confirming what many a baker already knows from experience; yes, that man has been eating wheat and bread forever, but slowly fermented bread, made with wild yeast, which is what I teach in my classes. Wheat naturally contains phytic acid, which is indigestible for some. However, the wild yeasts in sourdough bread neutralise the effect of the phytic acid, making it easier for us to digest. Secondly, I’m excited about the ethical and sustainable aspects of producing sourdough instead of ordinary commercial bread. Baking with natural yeast and organic flour (heritage grains and speciality flours are also a passion of mine) cuts out nasty chemicals, fossil fuels and fertilisers from the process, which are not only bad for the environment but very bad for us to be ingesting on a daily basis. The more facts we discover about these issues, the more convinced I am that good bread could actually change the world for the better. In fact, I’m writing a book about it…
What do you most want people to take away from your classes (apart from a good loaf of bread)?
I’d like them to take away not just one recipe, but an understanding of the endless possibilities of wild yeast cookery. You can use a sourdough starter – which you take home with you at the end of the course – for bread, cakes, pizza bases, scones, doughnuts and all manner of other delicious recipes. I want my students to be enthused and confident enough to take the skills gained on the day back to their own kitchens and everyday cooking. I’ve been working hard to share my skills with as many people as possible, and I’m delighted to have just launched the Sourdough Club, so not only can fans of real bread come on a course or follow what I’m doing on my website, but they can now be part of a like-minded community and mutually expand their baking knowledge online, with my direct input. I love the idea of creating the right environment for sourdough lovers to congregate, share ideas and grow, just like wild yeast does in the right environment.
NB Vanessa’s sourdough starter and Sourdough Club are also available to those who can’t attend a course at her home. Go to www.sourdough.co.uk for the details.