"When opportunities arise you put up your hand.” This advice given to Jason Keesing has stood him in good stead over the years, and led directly to winning the 2012 Young Bread Baker Award. After deciding a career in accounting was not for him, Jason found himself doing an apprenticeship at Fresh Start Bakeries, (now ARYZTA), where plant manager Phil Field encouraged him to enter the competition.
It was a close call, but he won by a single point, a result based on his good theoretical knowledge Jason thinks, rather than his practical skills. Winning gave him the chance to improve his practical skills. He enrolled in a two week Richemont Advanced Bread Baking Course at NZ Bakels and travelled in the USA for four months, during which time he completed a course at the American Institute of Baking, visited plant bakeries and gained an insight into American culture and food which has influenced his thinking about the industry as a whole.
The Richemont Bread Course gave Jason the practical experience he hadn’t gained as a plant baking apprentice. He says the course was a lot of fun and that he was surprised at the small class size and the amount of one-on-one tuition he received from tutor Brent Hughes.
“It was very hands on and we baked a large range of breads. It is a very different way of doing things and there was quite a lot of focus on par-baking breads for distribution and final bake-off at the retail end. There’s not a lot of this happening in New Zealand yet but it has potential,” says Jason. “The course illustrated that there are lots of ways of doing things. It took us back to basics and I was really surprised at the quality. It was a great opportunity to experience something different to what I usually do.”
During his semester in Kansas at the American Institute of Baking, Jason learned the basics of baking, including wheat growing and milling. The nearby Kansas State University has its own mini-mill, which is used to demonstrate the practice of milling. But Jason says it was not all about bread. There was a focus on the science behind baking and the opportunity to learn about cakes and other sweet products, something he had not done before, being a plant bread baker.
“The course helped us to understand the interactions behind the processes of baking, and showed us how much more there is to know. In some ways, it raised more questions than anything else, but the practical elements of it were very useful and it has certainly made me more confident. The other course students were from Latin America, China and Japan, so I got to meet people from all over the world and get an insight into the Chinese baking industry.”
While in the USA, Jason travelled to Portland Oregon to visit a company that manufactures improvers. He also visited plant bakeries and got to see bread making operations that are similar to those in New Zealand, but on a much larger scale. He was struck by the sweetness of the bread in The USA. “Red wheat flour is predominantly used in bread making. The bran in wholemeal flours made from this wheat can be quite bitter so sugar or molasses is used to cover the taste. Americans obviously have a very different palate as a result,” Jason says. “An average loaf of bread in the USA has a sugar content of eight percent!”
When asked about the future of baking, Jason says, “I see artisan baking as the future of baking. We are going back to basics. We could be more adventurous, move away from tin loaves. We need more variety in our breads – grain breads, wholemeal, sourdough. We have to lower the salt content without losing flavour. Our fast foods could also be a lot more varied.”
In his current role at ARYZTA Jason “does a bit of everything.” He is officially a baker but he is also involved in Quality Assurance, production accounting, planning, and stock and staff management.
“I enjoy being on my feet and seeing results. It’s not the same every day. I enjoy problem solving and variety. Baking is a very challenging industry.”