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‘Artisan’ seems to be the latest buzz word making its way around town. Everywhere I go it’s being used as the new “it” term for anything and everything fabulous! You could even predict that artisan is sure to become to 2015 what the hashtag was to 2014.
I must confess, I had fallen prey to the allure of the word without fully knowing or understanding its full meaning. Every time I’d seen ‘artisan” in the past, by default, I would replace it with the word ‘fabulous’, and it’s been popping up EVERWHERE!
Artisan bread became ‘fabulous’ bread and the rest of the products followed suit: ‘fabulous’ leatherwork, ‘fabulous” cheese’, ‘fabulous” pizza.
I thought it high time that I enlightened myself on it’s true meaning as that magnificent word was being used more and more as a benchmark for all foodies, and the ones who serve them, to aspire to.
So what is this sweet word, artisan?
1. a person skilled in an applied art such as a craftsperson, or
2. a person or company that makes a high-quality or distinctive product in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods
Wow! Surprisingly simple and modest for something that literally everyone wants to get their hands.
I read an interesting article yesterday about a bagel maker; excuse me, ‘artisan’ bagel maker, who decided to take legal action against an enormous company within its respective industry for loosely throwing around their fabulous word when referencing their latest machine made products. They seem to have recognised this rapidly growing sector of the market, and wanted to have a piece of the artisan pie.
Now by definition, any product that pops out from a largely mechanised, mass production business unfortunately sits outside of the elegant world of skilled artistry that one calls artisanship. Understandably the artisan bagel maker was up in arms! Artisan is a code of honour to those who understand its true meaning. It’s a craft that is perfected over time by the sweat of your brow and the ache in your wrist. It’s rooted in the charm of visiting your butcher, baker and candlestick maker; talking to a living breathing person who smiles at you, lovingly wraps your parcel and passes it over the countertop to you with a polite, “It was made just this morning.” It’s highly unlikely that you will ever be greeted by Colonel Whatshisname as he dishes out sliders from local fried chicken shop.
The artisan always aspires to keep their hands and heart on every part of their business. So I’ve decidedly come up with my own playful term for the bagel makers adversary… The F-artisan.
Meaning false artisan and/or mechanised industrial giant posing as an authentic artisan.
Human nature yearns innately for one thing; the comfort and reassurance of something familiar with the attraction of adventure along with unique and different experiences. It’s one of the great oxymoron’s of life. I strongly believe that there’s a role and need for the artisan, F-artisan and everything in between. Mass produced factory brands cater to our need for familiarity beautifully! When you open a packet of store bought crisps for example, the textures, aromas and flavour are EXACTLY the same every time. We love this! It’s reassuring, consistent, and familiar and meets our needs without a hint of disappointment. But we also long for the adventure that has sparked from an ever-growing artisanal palate. Flavours like soft goat cheese and lavender crisps or wild baby fig and habanero chilly crisps… and then again we yearn for plain salted. Why not?!
In my heart I believe that there’s an artisan in every F-artisan. Both businesses have their place and purpose. We need electricity more than we need the surprise of it being there one day, and then not…
SO!!! ARE OUR DONUTS “FABULOUS”?
By Jove, yes!!!!
– Our donuts are made fresh each morning.
– We use our own inhouse dough recipe – A heart warming, traditional yeast raised recipe with recognisable good quality ingredients.
– Our donuts are hand crafted with love and care.
– We make them the old-fashioned way, in small batches and allow for fermentation to take its natural course …. slowly.
– Our glazes are made from scratch with our own human guinea pig tested secret recipes.
– None of our yeast donuts can ever be identical, due to naturally occurring variations in variables along with the fact that they are hand-formed.
– Made proudly in the spirit of artisanship
I was so excited to see my friend the morning of our first day at I Heart Market. It had been a long, long morning of frying and glazing donuts for the market, and my body was tingling from sleep deprivation. Sort of like when you come back from a nightclub at 6 a.m. But instead of alcohol annihilation it was more of a post-glazing fatigue. *Insert glazed tired eyes reference here*
“Hey Jeanne! How are you? How’s it going?” she chimed with her cool rested smile.
“I’m absolutely shattered!” I replied. “I’ve been up since before the crack of dawn preparing for the market! I’ve not slept at all!”
Now being a seasoned restaurateur herself she chuckled, “Welcome to the food industry!” – My exhaustion clearly bringing back memories of her days as a newbie foodie.
I returned her acknowledgment with a weak smile and hauled myself back to my stall where my mom was setting up.
With very little energy, but enthusiasm soaring high, I sold my Wicked Donuts and they flew out of their cases! I was left with an empty display with still another hour left to sell. It was a triumphant feeling knowing that people had received the product so well. I went home elated and completely in heart with my first experience of the I Heart Market.
“You see mum! It was all worth it!” I said on the drive.
My mother had come down the stairs from her bedroom pleading that I go to bed the night before. “It’s the early hours of the morning! Have you at least eaten the food I’d left you in the oven?” she’d said.
“No, but I’ll get round to it! I can’t stop now! I have to make as many donuts as I can before we go to ‘I Heart’” I yawned. So she resided herself to the fact that I wasn’t leaving and returned to bed… for the second time.
I wanted my donuts as fresh as possible. Donuts are merciless in this department. A proper yeast raised donut has little to no shelf life. Almost every other donut out there is made from large bags of processed cake batter; not what good old fashioned quality donuts are all about. They’re cheap knock offs of a donut that gets spat out by a machine 400 at a time! They’re what I call “Made in China” donuts.
The real deal is made from yeast dough which cannot, and will not, be fed through a machine. A yeast dough recipe is a devil to work with. Yep, it’s wicked. It should be hand cut and will often take up to two hours to rise before it can be hand fried. It’s like a bread roll. Try making one without putting preservatives in and at the end of the day you can break it over your knee or use it to knock out a burglar. It can only be done the hard way!
Big businesses don’t go for that sort of thing. People have been happy to eat the Fong Kong China donut so they’re smiling as their machines fire out a billion donuts every twenty minutes with the shelf life of a preserve.
With this understanding, taking large quantities of prepared donuts and defying the laws of staling was a near impossible feat, but I was going to die in my mother’s kitchen trying.
After my triumph at the market I was almost gloating in a haze of insomnia. With a puffed chest and throbbing feet I was completely content.
Then the emails came…
Hi there, I bought six of your gourmet donuts at the I Heart Market this morning. R16 each wasn’t cheap, but they looked worth it. When it came to eating them, they were so stale and inedible that we threw the lot away. Very disappointed! If you’re going to charge that much for a donut, make sure they’re fresh.
I felt a bit ill reading it. It was brutal to get that kind of feedback after all the blood and sweat that had gone into the market.
And then again…
Hi Jeanne, You did a wicked donut drop off at my office park in Umhlanga three weeks back. I came home and raved to my wife that your donuts were the best ever that I’ve tasted. Yesterday she saw your donuts at the I Heart Market and made sure to get me some as I was not with her. She was also with four friends and forced them all to get some for their husbands.
All of us were most disappointed to taste stale donuts. If you’re going to charge R96 for six donuts can you at least have the decency to sell fresh donuts?
I buried my head in my hands and felt my stomach turn.
“This is so embarrassing!” I yelled to my partner.
“How many people felt like this? Did they not have any idea of what lengths I’ve gone to trying to avoid just that! I need to explain to him.”
“Explain what? They don’t care that you were up all hours preparing! They don’t!” he said.
It was the conundrum I’d been faced with from the very beginning. It’s why big business don’t do yeast donuts.
It’s why the donut has a bad rep in the baking industry.
It’s why “real” donuts are VERY hard to come by. Real donuts are a low profit, high maintenance nuisance to the industry.
So I attempted a reply,
I am so disappointed to hear that you did not enjoy my donuts yesterday. We fry and glaze our donuts directly before we take them to the market so that they are as fresh as possible. We don’t use preservatives, colorants or chemical shelf life extenders and for this reason our donuts don’t have the same shelf life as a shop donut. I understand that they are not fresh out the fryer “fresh”, but I can assure you they are certainly not days old. They are literally hours out of the fryer. I apologize for your bad experience and recognize that this is something we need to look at. I am currently in the process of looking for natural shelf life extenders and ways of getting around this problem. I appreciate your feedback and as a brand new company am fixing problems as I encounter them. I recently wrote this insert for my blog. I’d appreciate if you read it. I feel it’s important that you understand you were not eating a stale donut. Please allow me to deliver a fresh batch of donuts, choose a flavour or two of your choice and I’ll deliver them personally. My apologies again.
The problem with donuts
From where I come from, there isn’t a problem in the world associated with donuts. Maybe the high calorie content which can easily be fixed with a little elbow grease in the gym. Other than that you and I, and the other guy on the street, mostly see a prettied up sweet baked good… harmless enough. But from a professional baker’s perspective and large industries, our innocent sweet little friend presents a myriad of complexities which don’t lend well to profit and loss margins.
Bothersome things such as rapid staling, poor shelf life, weeping glazes, poor stability, moisture loss and struggling to maintain product appearance, texture and palette feel are but some of the struggles faced.
With consumers demanding freshness, impeccable appearance and affordable prices our industry leaders are placed in a compromised position. In order to grow a business to epic proportions most will inevitably lose some of their integrity in the machine of mass production.
I recently read two articles about one of my own personal favourite donut companies that I’ll call COMPANY X. I feel the capital letters are most fitting because they set the trend for the donut business.
Donut moguls around the world seek to emulate their awesomeness. The first article was a glowing tribute to their incredible history and heritage. Way back during their mom and pop days, COMPANY X once hand made their donuts with love and care. They recognised then that the secret to donuts was to eat them fresh from the fryer because they had zero shelf life. They knew that every minute after frying, oxidation sets in and the beloved donut would need beer goggled customers and Botox by end of day. They cottoned on to this and opened a “Fried Donuts” window on the side of the store; glazing them hot and got them out the window to their adoring fans. It wasn’t long before their popularity grew and soon COMPANY X became a global giant.
“What a sweet story,” I thought. “So heart-warming and inspiring…” until I read the second story.
The second article wasn’t as widely available. You’d only come across it if you’d asked yourself the same questions we do at Wicked Donuts. Before reading this article I had been wearing rather thick rose tinted lenses for COMPANY X.
“I wish I could make donuts that tasted just like them,” I would dream and then cringe with inadequacy after friends and family chanted, “You’ve got to get your donuts just like COMPANY X.”
I’ve been humbly manipulating recipes over and over and over to try and get it closer and closer, but there was a problem. I realised what it was after reading article two. I’d been making my donuts in a kitchen when all along I should have been in a laboratory! Instead of using a recipe book and bowls I should have been developing a formula in test tubes.
A traditional homemade donut recipe like ours may call for 8-10 ingredients consisting of flour, sugar, eggs, butter, yeast, oil, salt, milk/water, and few others depending on variations and flavours. But the ingredient list of a plain sugar glazed donut from one of the biggest and most successful donut companies in the world today includes a few other items not found in your everyday store.
COMPANY X Original Glazed Recipe
Serving size: One donut (52 grams)
Ingredients: Enriched bleached wheat flour- (contains bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine, mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), dextrose, vegetable shortening (partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil), water, sugar, soy flour, egg yolks, vital wheat gluten, yeast, non-fat milk, yeast nutrients (calcium sulphate, ammonium sulphate), dough conditioners (calcium dioxide, monocalcium and dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, sodium stearoyl-2-lacrylate, whey, starch, ascorbic acid, sodium bicarbonate, calcium carbonate), salt, mono-and-diglycerides, ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides, lecithin, calcium propionate (to retain freshness), cellulose gum, natural and artificial flavours, fungal alpha amylase, amylase, maltogenic amylase, pantosenase, protease, sodium caseinate, corn maltodextrin, corn syrup solids and BHT (to help protect flavour).
Glaze also may contain: Calcium carbonate, agar, locust bean gum, disodium phosphate, and sorbitan monostearate.
“No wonder!” I thought. “My glaze doesn’t perform like their glossy tear jerker because I haven’t been able to find locust bean gum and disodium phosphate at my local supermarket. It’s got to be the diammonium phosphate and sodium stearoyl-2-lacrylate that’s missing in dough recipe? That’s it!
Truth be told it made me sad, a little angry and also empathetic all at the same time. I won’t ever become a COMPANY X because product integrity and ethics cannot go into the same sentence as mass production.
I knew the limitations of my business right from the start. I locked myself in with my slogan – “handcrafted, gourmet.” I signed a factory death sentence when deciding against colorants. I painstakingly piped my signature with our homemade naturally coloured sprinkles, but I took it on as my parents shook their heads watching me pipe out my first three lines of sprinkles.
“How are you going to do that when you have to make 100?” they asked.
“If I need to make 100 donuts it’s a problem I’m happy to take!” I answered.
Against commercial norms my donuts will remain all natural and I will resist the urge to hunt down that locust bean gum. Maybe I won’t sell 5 million, but that’s okay.
It’s our responsibility to produce and buy products that are healthier and more ethically produced. The choice is ours. With the way the world is going it makes sense to get rid of the machines now and replace them with people again. To start voting with our Rand for what we want in our food.
At wicked donuts we will always keep it real!
That I promise you! #WickedConscience
So, the work of a gourmet donut chef can be thankless. My restaurant friend warned me about this: “You will never be able to please everyone. You just need to grow a thick skin. People can be mean!”
From these lessons come answers, and we have already worked out ways of getting around this. It’s not a cake batter donut machine or formaldehyde. It’s smaller batches; made and delivered to the market throughout the day.
I’m not in the business of serving up slop and shoddy work. I will do justice to our Wicked Donuts because there isn’t anything more satisfying than watching someone eat your donut and cry, “Sweet Jesus! I haven’t had a donut like this in years!”
Truth be told this is a dangerous business
Believe it or not… not just any one can do this job. It takes a strong pancreas, a high metabolism, a discerning palate and a high tolerance for abuse from friends and foodies. To add insult to injury there’s also an eagle eye and deft hand in the temperamental nature of dry active yeast to be honed.
This really isn’t as easy as it looks – taste testing scores of competitor donuts (deliciously exhausting, but somebody’s got to do it… sigh) and painstakingly manipulating recipes for the most pleasing result. A very kind friend volunteered to help me try a competitor’s donut and I laughed as I had Gordon Ramsay flash backs watching her literally spit out the donut into her hand.
“I see what you mean… its best I leave this to the experts.” She said, rather subdued.
We had many “close but no cigar recipes” and I often felt like I was in some kind of Goldilocks twilight zone of “too hot and too cold”… “too sweet and not sweet enough” … “too oily and too dry”. But once I’d made a good batch I’d hand them over to my panel of judges comprising of friends, family and even one of Durban’s finest chefs.
“So what do you think?!!??”
I felt my heart sink as they avoided eye contact and took “just that little bit too long to answer my question” pause before swallowing. One particular judge stared open eyed at the wall to the left of me; I watched his chewing slow down and realised I’d been met with his disapproval yet again. As my weight threatened to hit triple digits, I knew it would still be a long way before Goldilocks would get it “just right”
Finally, we have fine-tuned our recipes to a point where business and pleasure are now crossing over. All the research and development was worth it, even if it was just to have a great donut at the end of the day. My aim was to create a donut that I’d wolf down, I’d have to get it to the point where I’d buy my own donuts and be proud to put my name on them and share them.
Today I can proudly say, “YES, these donuts are truly wicked!” and lay down exhausted, with sugar crystals of sweet satisfaction on my lips.
When we were developing our business model, a close friend with a marketing degree warned me not to give away free donuts. “You are crazy if you just keep handing out free donuts! If you keep giving them away indefinitely you’re showing people that there’s no value in your product! You can’t just keep giving people donuts out of the goodness of your heart. You’re running a business. Businesses only do that for a limited time and then they stop.”
I looked at him a little baffled because I’ve always thought of myself as person, not an enterprise. It wasn’t that there was no value in my donuts, there was great value in the person I gave it to. Now without sounding like a pageant queen who wants to bring world peace with donuts, I battle to understand why it’s so difficult for people to be nice to each other.
Just the other day I was on Facebook, as per usual, and noticed the suggested friends list –you know the part where it says “people you may know? Just below it, it makes reference to how many mutual friends you have in common with these Jon & Jane Doe’s. I was kind of intrigued. I thought, “Wow, nineteen mutual friends like this person and five of my friends like that person, yet I’d never even met them.” It occurred to me in that moment that there are hundreds of people I haven’t met personally that are zooming around in their cars and standing in the queue at the check-out counter that I might like or care about very much if I knew them. On this premise it made perfect sense to give away free donuts to complete strangers!
I’ve always liked baking for my friends and family… and now, why not for mutual or suggested friends. I remember having an excess of brownies after baking for a party a few years ago, I had three options: eat them and send them straight to my hips, bin them, or give them away. So I decided I’d give them away. I wrapped ten generous pieces in some foil and thought I’d hand them out to people as I went along with my day. I was like, “Hey!!! Would you like a chocolate brownie?!” The random stranger’s face lit up every time with a big smile as they’d say, “Yes please!” Then I’d say, “Cool, have a nice day!” I gave my brownies to a nurse, a guy in a book shop, a car guard, one of those ladies who wash cars in the parking lot and so forth. I felt like I was handing out the brownie lotto and felt like a million bucks from simply adding a little sweetness to someone’s day.
And so… I looked at my marketing friend and thought, he obviously has no idea how good it feels to give away free brownies. I don’t think “sharing brownies” formed part of the curriculum of Marketing 101. There might have been a tiny slither in there called social responsibility which sounds incredibly depressing and horrendously obligatory! I just said to him indignantly, “I don’t care what you say! I’m always going to give away free donuts for as long as this business is open!”
You never know, the beginning of world peace might just start from sharing a piece of sweetness.