Corona and farmers’ markets
Corona times have their impact on farmers’ markets. In my hometown Bonn (Germany), the downtown market suffered as all surrounding shops were closed. When was that? March, April? Corona took away my sense for date and time.
The markets in the suburbs boomed as home office meant also cooking at home instead of eating in the canteen at work. And supermarkets did not always provide the “proper” environment in these times.
Besides those general trends here in Bonn, there was also one person who stranded in Bonn during Corona times and built his own business at the market.
This is the story about Baptiste, a French student who visited his German girlfriend and because he could not travel back anymore decided to start again baking bread on a wood fire oven and sell it on 2 markets in Bonn.
He got into contact with a local pizza backer “Pizza Prinzip” , who caters with his wood fire oven pizza for several markets, and off he went.
So let’s listen to his story and craft.
How did it all happen?
Askan: Baptiste, who are you, where do you come from and what are you doing in general?
Baptiste: I am Baptiste Hagège, French from the Southeast of France, more precise the Drôme region. I am into sports, rehabilitation and physiotherapy and another passion: bread and pastries. I am doing the latter one since being a little kid.
Since you were a kid?
Yes indeed, since I was 13, I was selling cakes and pastries in a bakery.
Great. And how did it happen that you came here to Bonn?
My girlfriend Nadine is living here in the city of Bonn and I was suppose to visit her for a weekend. But with Corona suddenly air travel stopped, everything was shut down. So I decided to stay with her during the times of Corona.
That sounds quite romantic. I hope she liked it as well.
Yes, very much.
Now you are working at the market in Oberkassel (neighborhood in Bonn) with a wood fire oven from Pizza Prinzip. How did that cooperation happen? You probably haven’t heard from Pizza Prinzip already in France.
I discovered the farmers’ market at the Frankenbad in Bonn and I asked myself, hey why not start selling bread here. The major things for selling bread are, first making bread, having flour and an oven. For the flour I discovered the nearby Broicher Mühle and afterwards I started looking for a wood fire oven. I approached several bakers in vain and then I contacted Zoe who is running the Frankenbad market, who told me to call Boris (owner of Pizza Prinzip). We started a trial with one of his ovens and it worked out. So he told me: just do it!
So we started the first Friday market here in Oberkassel, it worked really well, people were coming back the next time, they really liked the bread, which is the most important part (laughing).
Baking bread in a wood fire oven
But tell me, what is so special with a wood fire oven? At home I am baking bread as well, but only in a normal electric oven.
What’s so special about the wood fire oven is that you have to preheat the stones inside first, then you put the bread in the oven and do not heat it anymore, the stones give back the heat. Therefore one has to master the heating of the oven, meaning having the right wood and fire to heat up the stone to the right temperature.
What does it do to the bread when you bake it in a wood fire vs. an electric oven like at home?
Well it first adds taste to it. A more distinct taste to the bread crust and a particular color, a little darker. The bread will also not be uniform, there will be for example some darker spots due to some ashes or so which gives authenticity to the bread.
Is it harder to handle such an oven?
Yes it is more difficult than pressing a button of a regular oven. Each one is different. And it is after two months that I start to understand how the oven works. Before that it is only tests. So it is a long process. Of course the type of wood is important which will add taste to the bread and heat up differently.
A different style of breads
When I look at your breads, your Pain au Chocolat, I wouldn’t know which type of style they are. The baguette is not the one I usually see in France, neither will I find your other breads in a German bakery. How would you describe it?
Well, I would say it is a bread from former times and which comes back into fashion again. The breads are sourdough based which helps to keep them fresh longer and gives them a distinct taste, a certain acidity. It won”t be the classic baguette which is eaten immediately. I am using whole flour not the white one.
Which are the flours you enjoy working with?
For making bread I like working with spelt, the one you can find here and the one from France.
And what do you like so much about spelt?
The “little” spelt is one of the most ancients cereals. It is a bit yellow and has a distinct taste, slightly spicy somehow, slightly sugary , a quite particular cereal.
Spelt is different to wheat, it will not rise as much when baking. And here in Bonn is also different to the one in France.
Oh really? What does this mean?
In France we have an organization which protects the “little spelt” . Here in Germany it cross bred with wheat, looks a bit more brownish, with a strong taster, partly reminding of rye. So it is really a different flour altogether. In France spelt is strongly protected and therefore “pure pure”.
Is rye being used in France?
Yes. And here I discovered at the “Broicher Mühle” a super beautiful rye with yellow, purple, black, white colors. It is really great to work with, it has a great taste.
The experience selling at a market
Have you ever worked on a farmers’ market before, with your own oven etc.?
Not it is my first time. It is the first time that I sell bread on a market.
Where you not scared working at a market making your bread “live” in front of everybody?
Oh yes, I was scared. When I had my first breads, they were a failure. So I put them aside. Then somebody wanted to buy them and I told him: no don’t buy them they are not good. But he still wanted to buy them and he liked them. The next breads turned out better nevertheless.
You had some experience as a youngster selling bread in a bakery, is this experience here at the market very different?
Ooh, yes, yes, it is a bit different. First it is a bit more complicated as I do not speak German. Okay, I know spelt flour, rye flour or “would you like a Pain au Chocolat” in German. But beyond that the communication with the people is different.
So it is the smile which wins at the end of the day, even under a mask in Corona times?
Exactly, the smile with the people is what counts. Then the people are happy.
Is it always the same people who came to you to buy bread? Or did it always change?
I have base of loyal customers, that is really a great experience, one of the most positive things I am taking with me being at the market. You meet every week the same people, they provide me with feedback, telling me what was good and what not so good as you have to consider that I am not really a professional who has done many markets. So I get a lot of advice from the local customers, and that is really super. And what is great they still come back when there was something not so great. They try something different, it is really nice.
The difference between markets
You are working at two markets: the one here in Oberkassel, rather a suburb and the other one at the “Frankenbad” in the “old town” of Bonn at the center. Is there a difference between the 2 markets? Or are they the same?
No, they are very different. On the level of the organization and people. In the “old town” market I have to first produce my bread in the oven and the transport it to the market with a trailer on my bike. Here in Oberkassel I produce the bread on the spot itself. There is also a different ambiance, here in Oberkassel people take more time to talk with each other. À Frankenbad people have less time, but they are a very different type of people. So there the markets have different type of customers, event though the age groups are similar at my stall. But as a whole there are more young people at Frankenbad who are more interested in the initiative. In Oberkassel people prefer the more traditional side. In Oberkassel the people are interested in the fact that I am a young guy and working to get things done. Frankenbad has a more alternative ambiance also when it comes to consumer habits.
And what does it mean in terms of sales? Is it different as well?
No, not really. People come, ask what kind of bread it is, we give them advice for example what they are going to have for dinner and give them the best choice. On the pastry level people have also the same preferences. It is kind of balanced between the two markets.
I have heard that you will come back one more time and then you will leave?
Leaving the beautiful city of Bonn,
your girl friend,
the chance to bake bread and sell it
Which is really pity from my perspective.
Now I know: I can make it!
But tell me how would you characterize your experiences here? What are your lessons learned? For you personally.
In the meantime the cook from nearby bistro came by and wanted to buy some bread as well. And after a chit chat Baptiste commented:
You see it is nice, he gets some breads from me and he brings me his great bowls, this exchange is really a nice experience. But also the ambiance amongst the traders is great. I give bread, I get fish. That is really a particular ambiance.
So what does this experience here means for your future? Is it something you do not want to do anymore because it is so hard?
It gave me the idea that it is feasible to do it. Baking breading, finding flour, starting the business, people who come back to buy again. At the beginning we wanted to do it for ourselves and now we want to do it for the customers. So these two things blend together, that is really super. I really got the feeling that I can make it.
So it means that one of these days we will see you here again? Maybe during vacation?
Why not. I call Boris (Pizza Prinzip owner) and will ask him if I can bake some bread in one of his ovens and then we start again.
Any final words?
First, I would like to thank Boris a lot for his help, he gave me everything and trusted me. That was top. You know I just the capabilities and he gave me all the materials. And even when I had a strange idea, he said “no worries, just do it”.
And second I would like to thank all the people from Bonn who bought my bread.
I was really impressed how Baptiste got stranded and found a way to make a living in a foreign city without any knowledge of the local language. And how people like Boris are helping in a practical way without knowing about the outcomes. These are the stories which make farmers’ markets unique places full of life.
A little link list:
- Market in Oberkassel
- Farmers’ market at the Frankenbad
- Pizza Prinzip who helped Baptiste with the wood fire oven
- The local mill Broicher Mühle for Baptiste’s bread
- The other markets in Bonn on this blog