Friday, 2 March 2012

A right pair of Herberts

Last night saw another trip to Bath to see foodie people at Topping and Company . My previous visit was to see Dan Lepard talking about Short and Sweet; this time it was two for the price of one with the Fabulous Baker Brothers putting in an appearance.

The shop was extremely full and although I arrived at the billed door-opening time, there were only really spaces at some distance from the speakers. I chose a seat in the back row which gave me space to stretch out my poorly leg and left my bag on it while I headed to the till to pick up my copy of the book. On my return I found a woman sitting happily in my chair, having stashed my bag some way under a table. I struggled to bend down to retrieve it and took up another seat, rather bemused.

The brothers were introduced and Tom spoke widely about a range of subjects, allowing Henry to interject on occasion (in between batches of pancakes). Fortunately, the chaps' voices carried all the way down to us at the end, although this wasn't the case for some of the questioners at the end. Tom talked about all sorts: the origins of Hobbs House bakery, the Herbert baking dynasty, his own career as a baker, his dad's record-breaking achievements. Oh, and bread. Henry talked about being banned from stuff, his career as a chef and latterly as a butcher (not quite so gripping from a veggie point of view, but I knew the score when I bought the ticket), and they both talked about the Channel 4 series and the book, which was produced in a miraculously short turn around time.

The brothers clearly share great enthusiasm for food in general and bread in particular, and work well as a sibling double act. Henry produced an enormous double stack of sourdough pancakes which elicited loud cries of 'Ooooh!' when periodically held aloft. At least they did after the crowd was coached to respond thus in true pantomime style. Tom and Henry both spoke entertainingly and welcomed questions which they answered readily. I couldn't always hear what was being said as the four women in the row in front kept up an unselfconscious conversation for the latter part of proceedings - for the second time that evening my unerring sense of where to sit had struck gold...

When the talking and questions were over, the boys adjourned to the far end of the store for signing, and I shuffled to the end of a long queue of signees. The queue didn't move very fast as the boys took time to talk to everyone who approached them, and (as I discovered as I got within sight) to practise the impressive art of synchronised defacement of the books presented to them. When my turn came, I presented my book and Tom stood up to greet me and shake my hand in a very gentlemanly manner. When I divulged that I had worked at Hobbs House in Chipping Sodbury for several weeks one summer when a student (an awfully long time ago now), he raised my still captive hand to his lips. (I didn't do anything interesting at the bakehouse, just cutting up cakes in trays, but it was fun and you got to see mysterious bread making stuff going on, as well as the juddering shuddering bread slicing machines which always looked to me like they were waiting for the opportunity of snagging your cardie and drawing you, screaming, into their slavering maws.) In the meantime Henry had commenced defacement and upon learning that the book was to be a gift, took it all in his stride and redoubled his efforts.

The book itself is absolutely packed with recipes and tips, and I am pleased to have got one to give to someone special, although the dead stuff:other stuff ratio is a bit too high for me to feel it's a good addition to my mainly vegetarian cookery library. I had a great evening listening to the lads and it was a treat to meet them and see their obvious pleasure in sharing their enthusiasm. There's clearly a lot more to come from them as artisans in their chosen fields, participants in the wider Real Bread movement, involvement in community projects and no doubt further appearances on screen and/or in print. Whatever's in store, I am sure they will rise to the occasion...

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