Wednesday 19 February 2020

In the kitchen with The Fabulous Baker Brothers

The Fabulous Baker Brothers, Tom and Henry Herbert, chat to SoGlos about the family business, working together, baking a good loaf and becoming television stars, in the latest In the Kitchen with interview.

Tom, the baker, and Henry, the butcher, are part of Gloucestershire’s Hobbs House baking dynasty and became household names after appearing in the Channel 4 series The Fabulous Baker Brothers back in 2012.

Subsequent series, cookbooks and exciting projects galore ensued for the culinary duo who continue to develop to the family business which champions local produce and handmade traditions at its bakeries, butchers, cookery school and cafés across the county.

Can you tell SoGlos readers a bit about yourselves and where you’re from?

I’m Tom Herbert, operations director of Hobbs House Bakery. I grew up above the family bakery and butchery in the beautiful high street of Chipping Sodbury.

And, I’m Henry Herbert, retail director of Hobbs House.

How long have you worked at the business?

Tom: Since I was 13, so 25 years! Does that mean I get a gold watch?

Henry: Eight years, which must be a picture of a watch at least?

Tell us a little about your training, where you’ve worked before and how you came to your current position.

Tom: I picked up a lot growing up because the bakery is a way of life and all of my family are involved; from helping my dad jamming doughnuts to cleaning bread vans with my grandpa. I quit sixth form at Chipping Sodbury School and went to Brunel Baking College in Bristol, while serving my apprenticeship at Hobbs.

I won Young Baker of the Year in 2000 and went on to open Hobbs House Bakery in Nailsworth. From the bakery floor I hopped to the shop floor as retail director through wholesale sales, then marketing and finally back to operations.

Henry: I trained as a chef at Westminster in London before returning to the family business. I worked at Hobbs House Butchery for two years and now work as retail director.

Tom, what first inspired you to become a baker?

The beauty of mixing a few simple ingredients together and making such a wondrous range of delicious food that, on a good day, people will queue for and once it’s all sold out, it’s time to start again. What’s not to love? And, seeing my dad and uncles enjoying it made it a place I wanted to be.

Henry, what first inspired you to become a chef?

I was always hungry!

Did you always plan to join the family business?

Tom: I did flirt with forestry for a couple of weeks and there’s been the odd early morning occasion when I’ve imagined I’d still be in bed if I tended trees.

Henry: It was inevitable. That invisible hook was always there.

How would you describe your baking or cooking style?

Tom: Bodacious.

Henry: Better ask Tom that one!

Tom, what’s the secret to making good bread?

A decent recipe, good bread flour, taking time and practice. It’s such a simple and rewarding thing to do. If you’ve not tried baking your own loaf I’d implore you to give it a try, if only once.

What sets Hobbs House bread and its baked goods apart from other bakeries?

Tom: There are many good bakeries out there that we have a lot in common with, but at Hobbs House we share a love of handmade, a hunger for perfection and a beady-eye for moving things on and being at the vanguard of baking.

Henry: Generations of expertise and passion. You can taste it.

Do you think artisan bakeries, like Hobbs House, are changing the public’s perception of bread?

Tom: Yes, I hope so. The many demos, talks, courses, the brilliant team we have, the family of customers and the television and book work we’ve done have, I hope, all in their own way played their part in winning many people over to the light side.

Henry: I bloody hope so! There’s still a long way to go though.

Does Hobbs House have a signature loaf?

Tom: Yes, Sherston is our signature loaf. It’s an overnight dough loaf, still made to my great grandfather’s recipe and named after the village the recipe came from. It’s got a great flavour from the long, slow overnight rise the dough has, which makes it superb for a sandwich and it makes the best toast in the world. My granddad used to sleep on the dough trough and it’d tip him off in the morning when it was time to start baking.

Give SoGlos readers an overview of the breads and baked goods you offer.

Tom: Our strapline is ‘handmade bread for everyone’. So we have a great range of traditional loaves that taste as good as people remember bread used to taste.

We’ve also got a wonderful selection of sourdoughs, all risen with our 60-year-old sourdough starter; a lovely selection of burger baps; and brioche rolls that sell like hot cakes over the barbecue season. We do irresistible cakes, pastries, sandwiches, pies and savouries made in each of our shops, in Chipping Sodbury, Tetbury and Nailsworth, where you’ll also find a delightful breakfast and lunch menu.

What about at Hobbs House Butchery?

Henry: We offer customers well-sourced, well-hung and properly cut local meat. Also, our warm scotch eggs are to die for and are particularly popular.

What are some of your favourite ingredients and why?

Tom: Flour, what you can do with it is what I do. And strong coffee.

Henry: Black coffee and Dijon mustard.

Do you make a point of using local produce?

Tom: Yes, our flour is mostly from Shipton Mill, just 12 miles away, and we use more of that than anything else by a long shot.

Henry: I try. We have a wonderful dairy, Woefuldane Organic Dairy, in my village, Minchinhampton, which I like to support.

Which baker or chef do you most admire and why?

Tom: I admire anyone who takes pleasure in growing and making their own food, especially if they then go out of their way to share what they know with the next generation. So perhaps my wife Anna and her friend Fadia Courts, and the other people who volunteer for Horsley School’s cook club. It’s how we’re making the move towards a stronger, more delicious, nutritious and sustainable connection to the food we fuel ourselves with.

Henry: My brother Tom and my dad. What they don’t know about baking ain’t worth squat.

What have been the highlights of your career so far?

Tom: My son baking me a loaf for my birthday when he was 10. There was also the time in Liverpool when Henry and I had 800-plus people singing the song from Ghost while I kneaded dough with a volunteer on stage.

Henry: This interview!

How did the idea for The Fabulous Baker Brothers come about?

Tom: Henry, a butcher and chef, me a baker, both of us brothers working together in the house we grew up in making ‘apparently’ fabulous food, with a love of what we do and a desire to share it, and, bonus, enough on-camera experience. The stars lined up and we got a prime-time show.

Henry: It’s still a bit of a mystery!

What’s it like to work together?

Tom: Great. We push and stretch each other creatively and travelling as much as we do would be lonely and dangerous on our own. Should we get a rocking chair moment when we’re older, we’ll have a lot of great memories to treasure and share.

Henry: It’s pure bliss.

How have you coped with becoming a television star?

Tom: It’s been wonderful. We aren’t so famous we can’t go out without close protection, yet meeting fans of our recipes and show is really rewarding, especially when they tell us great stories that feature our recipes or food, that’s job satisfaction right there.

Henry: Badly.

What can our readers expect to learn on a bread making course at Hobbs House Bakery?

Tom: Whether you’re a complete beginner or a competent baker, or a chef wishing to take your baking to the next level, the day is about stripping things right back to focus on the basics and building great and delicious diversity of breads out of that. They’re hands-on, intimate and fun, and my aim is that everyone leaves after a day baking with me with their minds and bellies happy and full.

What about on the butchery courses?

Henry: You’ll learn some basic skills that you can use at home, and how to use a butcher’s shop properly.

Who is the most memorable person you’ve baked for?

Tom: My uncle Sam and I went to Osaka in Japan to bake scones for enthusiastic visitors for a department store’s annual British fair. The theme was Cotswold Cream Tea and we made 15,000 scones by hand in a week!

Henry: Ainsley Harriot, who I cooked for while I was at college. I can’t remember what he had but I wish it was a recipe from his Barbecue Bible book.

Who would you most like to bake or cook for and why?

Tom: Mary Berry, I think she’s a wonderful lady, but I wouldn’t want it filmed. Just baking and eating together, perfect.

Henry: Anyone who is hungry and doesn’t complain, but does the washing up.

Are there any restaurants or foodie spots that you rate highly in Gloucestershire?

Tom: Fat Toni’s Pizza in Stroud, Star Anise Arts Café in Stroud, Gloucester Services, The Hog at Horsley, (it's my local so don’t come booking it all up so I can’t get in please!), Hobbs House Bakery Nailsworth, come on, it’s got to be top of the list for breakfast and lunch, and Curry Corner, the original and still the best curry in Cheltenham.

Henry: Hobbs and Graze in Cirencester.

What do you get up to when you’re not in the kitchen?

Tom: I like to eat, sleep and spend time with my family.

Henry: I’ve not got there yet.

And finally, what would you choose for your last meal and why?

Tom: Dippy egg and soldiers. If I knew it was my last meal I’m not sure I could stomach much more and I wouldn’t need sea salt, because I could season it with my tears!

Henry: An all-you-can-eat buffet. Go out like Elvis.

For more information see Hobbs House Bakery and Café or Hobbs House Bakery Cookery School.

By Anna McKittrick

© SoGlos
Monday 08 June 2015

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