Leiths

#MadeAtLeiths: Tomek Mossakowski on the joy of baking bread

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#MadeAtLeiths: Tomek Mossakowski on the joy of baking bread

Leiths alumnus and co-founder of The Dusty Knuckle Bakery School Tomek Mossakowski tells us how he made a career out of an honest loaf of bread.

There’s a beautiful singularity to bread. You make bread dough, you bake bread dough. You do the same the next day. It’s simple. When the bread’s good, you’re happy, and when it’s not, you question your life decisions.

It’s very niche too: fermentation, folds, acidity levels, autolysis. It appeals to my intellectual side.

Before baking, I was an academic at King’s College London in the English department. I loved teaching but academia wasn’t my passion. I was lost and needed a change, so I decided to take the Leiths Diploma in 2015, maybe the wildest career change I could have imagined.

I don’t have a very good story as to why I love food. There’s no childhood memories of baking with my grandmother. I just really like eating.

I wasn’t much of a cook when I started the Leiths Diploma. I could sometimes make a delicious tomato sauce but certainly didn’t spend my weekends making pasta or salting my own bacon. I had few opinions on food; just that it was nice.

I was an empty vessel, earnest and wide-eyed at everything that was going on in the kitchen at Leiths. I thought the food we cooked in our classes was the most delicious I’d ever tasted.

Leiths was brilliant. It made me tackle things that I would have never normally tried, like making pork pies and prepping squid. I had the chance to do fun things like cook for 50 people and taking part in a Christmas cake decoration competition. And it helped me start a new career at a time I was worried I’d messed it all up.

It was also really challenging. I did loads of things wrong and got really stressed. I smelled my reduction and almost fainted in my teacher’s arms, which was really ridiculous because she made a point of telling us to never, ever smell your reduction. More than anything, I had to learn a whole new way of thinking and operating and it was exhausting; especially for someone who’d spent the last three years reading Foucault into the night.

During the diploma, I found that I couldn’t wait for the days when we made bread. I graduated from Leiths and immediately looked for work in amazing sourdough bakeries: The Dusty Knuckle and Brick House Bakery.

This momentum was so important. For anyone thinking of changing careers, my advice is just go for it, hard and fast. But look after yourself too: you’ll have a lot to learn and lot of work to do. Don’t compromise on your health and happiness. Work with people who look after you, and do them proud.

I won’t lie; baking is repetitive work, but I find comfort in that. Repetition is a baker’s tool. It’s how we learn to improve our bread. Small changes, trial and lots of error, determination. After years of intellectual questioning and open-ended thinking, the pragmatism of bread feels great.

With bread comes good people too; people who enjoy the heat of the oven, the mess of flour, the faint ridiculousness of the job. The kind of people who love to share a hot, oily focaccia with you at four in the morning. Over endless shaping of loaves I’ve had some of the best conversations of my life - childhood, music, books, friendship, family, food heaven and hells and ‘how much would I have to pay you to live in the dough mixer for a month?’

Two years of intense baking flew by. I’ve started work at every hour of the 24 hour clock, pulled some desperately long shifts, cut, burned and steamed myself and just about learnt how to make a decent loaf.

There’s still an impossible amount to learn but I’m really happy to say I’m now teaching others.

I returned to my first bakery, The Dusty Knuckle, and pitched an idea: let’s open a bakery school in your spare container unit. They agreed and together we set about gutting and refitting, costing and marketing.

Our doors opened in February 2019, and since then, we’ve been running three baking classes a week.

Knowing how to make a loaf of bread is an incredible skill to have in your life and I’m very happy to show you how it’s done. It’s funny - no matter what I do, I always seem to return to teaching. I think it’s my compass.

Starting the Dusty Knuckle Bakery School has been an incredible opportunity. I’ve learnt how to run a business. Any concerns I had about losing my baking skills were totally unfounded. If anything, I’ve improved as a baker thanks to students who continually challenge me. I’ve had to adapt and test recipes, simplify and summarise, and somehow get a classroom full of people who’ve never touched dough before to each make a dark, crusty and honest loaf of bread in a few hours. Now that’s a baking skill.

@bakeryschoolDK
@dustyknuckle

If you dream of a career in food, come along to our friendly Open Evening on 5th June.

At Leiths, there are dozens of routes to your dream career, from our How to Cook Bread Part 1 or How to Cook Bread Part 2 to our Food Styling course to Nutrition in Culinary Practice or our flagship Diploma.

Share your Leiths memories using the #MadeAtLeiths hashtag.

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