Monday, 24 November 2014


Wow… It’s been a whole 8 weeks since we last did an entry.  That’s testament to the total consumption it has been setting up shop though, not our apathy towards writing blogs!

We’ve been anything but lazy these last few months.  From the inauguration of the container (leaky doors, blown fuses), to learning to cycle 80 kilos worth of bread (creaky gears, bungees), to meeting Michelle Roux Jr. (intimidating, handsome), we have covered a range of  emotions, events  and new skills learnt. 
And now finally we have a moment (or at least a couple of hours) to reflect, remedy and appreciate.
So to summarise, this is how our month has gone:

Week 1-2 - Renovate container:  All our boys, who are now officially on the wrong side of thirty, generously gave us their time while Daisy and I made cups of tea and bacon sandwiches. I then spent last week complaining about my lack of drilling skills.  Serves me right! Gendered labour division can be hard to avoid.  Especially when you love making bacon sarnies and your boyfriend is a builder.

Week 3-4 Product testing:  Mostly successful until we realised that nothing comes out very well if the thermometer on the wall reads just 5 degrees! After a freezing, gruelling few days of wondering why our bread wasn’t happy, we realised we needed to severely crank up that water temp.  This was contrary to our efforts back at Max’s flat, when we were trying to get the dough cold enough by adding ice. 

Weeks 4-6 The BBC Good Food show!
Total shit fight, each of us working 60 hours in 4 days. We turned up at Dalston at 2am - a harsh reminder of what our lives were like 5 years ago, before we had kids, and before trying to start a social enterprise.  As people all around us were drinking and partying, we hunkered down to work and put the oven to its first real test. 
With the help of some circa '98 mix cd’s I found in my boyfriend’s old room at his mum’s, and Mcdonalds coffee which Max kindly bought each morning, we smashed it!  It was so satisfying to showcase our new range of bread and delicious pastries to the general public. Turns out that, under pressure, and with top notch ricotta salata, pancetta and chegworth squash we make the best damn Focaccia this side of Pisa.

Now, onto the future....

Finally stage one is drawing to a close (the renovation of our shipping container) and with stage two starting to come together (building up products, trade and work schedule) we are hopeful it will not be long before stage 3 commences, when we can start employing young people in a supportive and inspiring (if slightly chilly) environment.

Coming up…..

We will be showcasing our delights -including our delicious lamb wraps - at the Hackney Winter Village market http://www.timeout.com/london/shopping/christmas-markets-and-fairs-in-london?pageNumber=4 in two weeks time.  We are also continuing to make bread regularly for all our wholesale customers. Whilst we function as a wholesale bakery we have spare bread most days so please do pop down to get your daily loaf. We are there from Tuesday- Saturday.
We have been so thankful to everyone’s love and support, in particular a huge shout out to Lee Belcher http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/b-a-m-christies-magazine-redesign. who designed our logo. 

And to Simon http://www.simonmemel.com/ who made our beautiful signs for the BBC GFS.

Right, off to get my kid from school now before sending some invoices and working out how to use that drill!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Firstly we have to send an apology for the lack of entry the last few weeks.   We’re at the final stages of renovating our freight container now, and much preoccupied with such things as finding usable materials, calculating voltage capacities and being creative with very small spaces. 

For me, one of the most interesting things about launching a new bakery has been the discovery of the booming business ‘startup’ industry.    There’s countless online resources and support companies out there who can help get your organisation off the ground – or hinder, depending on how bogged down with it all you decide to get.  Sales, strategy, market research, finances... the list goes on.  Realistically though, inexperienced people (like us) trying to grow a successful organisation are not going to see much happen if they stay behind a desk.

And then there’s remembering why the whole thing started in the first place.  For me, that was seeing  a lethally defeatist mindset in a lot of quite dangerous young people, and realising they needed more than just ‘charity.’  Over time, I came to see that the calm, cyclical and somehow quite spiritual nature of the bread making process might offer them the kind of stability, routine and financial independence that are key to sound mental health in most people.  

More importantly though, is the ‘bigger picture.’  Like it or not, we live in a society where individual success is judged largely on career specifics, and career specifics are still largely determined by school experience.  Those who disrupt at school, and struggle to conform to classroom expectations (for any number of reasons), face a labour market that more often than not perceives them unfavourably.  

So I find it unsurprising that those affected develop an alternative system of values.  That they congregate in groups with like-minded others, where they can feel pride and self-worth through behaviours that are accessible to them.  Aged 14-22, there is very little in life that feels more important than the acceptance and respect of your peers: the trouble is, in some groups that means being prepared to partake in situations that might get you killed or put in prison.

What a tragedy that some become institutionalised from such an early age because of this.  That the opportunity never emerges for them to feel self-worth through other means; like a hard days meaningful work, or earning legitimate money, or feeling part of a productive and fun workforce.  

Amidst the chaos of trying to get The Dusty Knuckle off the ground, I’ve enjoyed taking an hour to remind myself of what it is that we’re aiming for with this organisation.  Recently we consulted a group of teenagers who all have some experience with the Criminal Justice System - next week I’ll post about their perspective on all this.  


Monday, 18 August 2014


One of the biggest challenges of starting a company, or trying to work for yourself, is the question of where to sit and work every day.  Having no professional ‘home’ can be genuinely de-motivating and, over time, start to threaten your productivity.
It’s fine to do a couple of hours work in a coffee shop, from time to time.  Almost romantic, even.  But when you’re starting to look at a couple of days every single week, the situation can get pretty nightmarish.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a fail safe guide to getting stuff done when you don’t have a workspace.

1)      The library.  A good start.  It’s free, and other people there tend to be focused on their own thing, so there’s an air of purpose that will keep you going.   The best ones are the ones where the elderly congregate to do crosswords. 
Pros:  free and quiet
Cons: can’t make calls, wi-fi’s always crap, can’t drink tea

2)      Home.  Almost always a mistake.  Seems appealing in the morning, you’ll feel guilty and depressed by the afternoon.  That’s if you aren’t already dead from caffeine-overdose.
Pros: free, refreshments on tap, can work in your pants
Cons: you’ll feel depressed about your life, you’ll end up watching Jeremy Kyle

3)      The park.  A delight, if all you have to do is read something or make calls.  Crap for pretty much anything else.
Pros: free, pretty, close to nature
Cons: only realistic for about 3 weeks of the year if you live in cold London

4)      Coffee shop.  A nice treat from time to time.  Depending on which one you pick of course.  Some are much more precious about you sitting there for six hours and spending only £1.30 on a filter coffee.  If you’re as tight as me, make sure the wi-fi works before you buy anything.
Pros: you get waited on, you can eat cake, you can people-watch
Cons: you spend a fortune if you get into the habit.  There probably aren’t enough plug sockets to go round.   You get dirty looks if you make calls.

5)      Your mum’s gaff.  Probably the best bet all round, if the option’s there. 
Pros: free, homely, unlimited fridge access
Cons: you’ll have to have an awkward chat about how well your ‘business’ is going.

So there we have it.  Here’s to everyone out there struggling with this and please get in touch if you can give us a free desk space.  We’ll bake for you!

Sunday, 3 August 2014


There is a famous modern bread book that all bakers (new and old) have on their book shelf these days, called Tartine. It is a bakery in San Fransisco - and besides having great recipes, this book has cool as hell photos and makes bread and the life of a baker look glamorous, hopelessly cool and super stylish. For me it wasn't (totally) these gorgeous moody shots that made me love the book, it was the section in the back about using day old bread. 

All European countries have 'old bread' recipes. In Spain they blitz it with ripe tomatoes, peppers and cucumber and drink it cold as a refreshing soup. We pour lashings of custard and cream over it and bake it as a bread and butter pudding. In Italy, the list is never ending.

The sourdough that we make lasts days and days. The first day it is fresh and soft and can be eaten alone (I often have eaten half the loaf that I take home from the bake on the train before I even reach South London). The next day, it will make wonderful toast with tons of butter and marmite; the next it will make great cheese toasties, salads, soups, breadcrumbs and croutons....

What a great versatile thing. Besides all the obvious health benefits of eating long fermented loaves; I think it should be the long life of the bread that we also get excited about. Perhaps we can even justify the large price tag that comes with artisan breads, after all, it doesn't sprout green fluff after two days and if you are clever you can make up to three meals- a bit more than just something to make a sandwich with!

As my bakery training continues, I am realising that this life is a far cry from the instagramed photos of San Francisco bakeries with nice outfits and post bake surf sessions at dawn. Instead, you are grubby and covered in flour at all times and the only thing I ever seem to find myself doing after the bake is falling asleep on the tube. I do though, feel quite 'wholesome' (which in turn does feel a bit smug, possibly even glamorous) when three days later I am making a rustic Italian bread salad or smothering ripe avocado and red onion on toast.


Monday, 21 July 2014


I was lucky enough to be in Lisbon last week. Beautiful sunshine, hand painted tiles, sardines and mountains of glimmering custard tarts. We ate at cheap tascas for every meal of the day - usually sat at the bar, with a cold beer and whatever was cooking on the charcoal grills lining the window fronts. As soon as you sit down you are offered a basket of bread. It struck me that this rarely ever happens in England, and I wondered why?

There is nothing nicer than receiving a basket of mixed bread before a meal, to dip into olive oil or spread with butter. Once when I was eating out, the waiter bought me warm rolls, with unsalted butter and rock salt for me to add myself. I remembered this always happened in France too. In northern Spain, it's day old bread rubbed with tomato and garlic. In India they bring you tin plates of oily Paratha.

Bread is a simple, staple food. It goes with pretty much everything. Toast is probably the most delicious snack/starter/meal that exists. I hope that soon our bread will be filling baskets and passed along bars, and taken to tables in restaurants for people to soak up those last delicious bits of food. I have never really thought about the life of the bread once it leaves the bakery doors. It's really exciting to think that the bread we make will be the start of a meal out, or part of a beautiful salad - or even what waiters around London will take home as leftovers, to slather with butter in the morning after a hard night's shift.

Because that's what food is all about really, isn't it? Particularly bread. Comfort, togetherness; looking after each other. If you've ever made a loaf of bread for someone else, you'll have felt this too. What better way than this to bring young people back, when they feel like society's forgotten about them?


Thursday, 10 July 2014


Coming up with a name for the bakery took almost a year.  That was the bloody easy part.  Suddenly now there are names to be dreamt up for all the products, too.  Nightmare.

In Italy, we learned how to make delicious apple pastries. Crisp, sweet, and beautifully puffed. Upon returning to England, the name stuck: we called them what we had known them as there. La Sfoglia di mela! This translates, literally, as ‘the apple pastry’ ... isn’t that just commonly known in the UK as an apple turnover??

The same thing happened again last week when we offered ‘Pan con tomate’ for breakfast at home and a chef friend sneered, with immense disappointment, “Do you mean tomato on toast?!”  And in fairness, that is exactly what we meant.  The humble slice of toast, with tomato rubbed on it. In Italy they call it ‘Bruschetta al pomodoro,’ because that is what ‘tomato toast’ is in Italian.

Does the London foodie scene insist on naming basic food products by their European translations because it’s more authentic that way, or are we all just being pretentious, foodie snobs? Or are we just being paranoid about this?? Maybe we should keep our beautiful product by the name it had when
we learnt how to make it? So please, friends, enlighten us.
When you next want to eat an ‘apple pastry type product’ for breakfast, what would appeal to you most? A ‘Sfoglia di mela?’ An ‘apple turnover?’ Or perhaps you’d sooner chomp on our Anglicized Tuscan treat - of unbridled Twitter fame (kind of) - the ‘Sfog Sfog?!’

Max and Becca

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


I was out last month chatting to a friend about working with kids. She stated with complete conviction that people, when it comes to working with disengaged youth, have either 'got it, or they ain't.'

After hearing all about the badass rapport with young people that she'd honed over the years, I felt like someone had opened my eyes (and kicked me in the face at the same time) to how difficult I might find being at The Dusty Knuckle. Is it true that when working with young people some people either have it or they don't?

The following week Dais, Max and I went to East London to teach bread making to a group of kids aged 12-16. I spent the previous evening surrounded by bread books, trying to draw out the structure of gluten on Word. I worked out the lesson plan meticulously - start with the science of bread, move on to yeast types, then talk them through some European breads and finish with shaping Focaccias.

I arrived prepped to the max. Trying to be confident (bearing in mind my chat from the week before), I rallied up the troops and began the class.

Not even 1 minute in - I hadn't even managed to get past the scintillating structure of gluten or the benefits of sourdough - and eyes started wondering, I know I am losing people. If I carry on like this, these kids aren't coming back, they are going to start insulting me, they will tell their mates how crap the class was, and Anna will be right - it's a natural rapport that I just ain't got.

I realise I am going to have to switch up sharpish. I'm panicking. I forget about the lesson plan, my toiled over diagrams and detailed notes and I grab the dough.  I ask them to feel it, and surprisingly there are volunteers - albeit with trepidation - but before long, everyone has sticky fingers ad globby hairy arms. Fabio is even (without realising it) working out baker's percentages! It becomes clear actually what this is all about - me sharing something I love with these kids, and our mutual interest in making it. It fills me with warmth watching these hyperactive little hands disappearing into the dough, and I start to see the full potential of making bread.

The class is messy, loud and chaotic but they are interested. They all come back the next day, confident and ready for more, and they take home warm Foccacias to show off to their mums. It all makes me remember my weird hairy-eared maths teacher at school and how much we used to take the piss out of him all the time, but in his lessons we learned and respected him; we understood maths and we liked him.

I want to be like Mr Donovan, I think (without the hair). Working with young people is about finding a way to engage - but being yourself too.


Monday, 23 June 2014


As the newest member of The Dusty Knuckle, the third addition and one with the least baking experience, I have had a lot to learn these last few months. The huge learning curves in business, social media and cash flow are minor compared with the mountain of knowledge there is to learn about baking bread.

When I joined the team, I had good knowledge of food, I baked often at home and had bundles of enthusiasm - so I was probably a bit cocky to begin with. My first Friday dough day however quickly knocked any ideas out of me that I might have had about myself and my capability to bake. I struggled with pouring the flour (way too quickly so that I was left snowy white from head to toe); I struggled with mixing the dough (spilling it out of the bucket and leaving big lumps unmixed). And that was just the beginning. When it got to being taught how to shape the dough after the 3 hours of fermentation I didn't understand how Max's fingers worked with the dough like that, moulding it into the perfect rounds without ripping the structure or getting it stuck to his hands - and all so quickly and effortlessly.

The isn't the only hurdle. Scoring, loading the oven, learning to feel the dough, reading the dough... it is never ending.

They were and are very patient with me. When the loaves I had shaped left the oven looking like little monsters, they didn't mention anything but instead made helpful comments on how I could improve - and pointed out the ones I had shaped that looked ok (I suspect that often these were ones that they had actually done).

I have been watching, trying and messing things up every week now for nearly 6 months. Next week The Dusty Knuckle bosses go to Glastonbury and I will be making 40 kg of dough and manning the 330 C oven all on my own. With their encouragement over these last weeks, I no longer feel that nervous sickness that I used to feel when I started. I'm pretty excited to get stuck in on my own now. Cross your fingers for me at 5am this Saturday, when I'll be traipsing from Peckham to Islington to bake my arse off.

I suppose it goes to show. Progress takes time and, although it can be slow, it's amazing what you can achieve with good teachers, a bit of drive and lots and lots of encouragement.

Can't wait until our young people get to learn that lesson too.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Talking Youth

Last week I went to the 'Talking Youth' event, held by the Department of Work and Pensions.

From what I understood, it was a chance for a group of 15-24 yr olds to 'have a dialogue' with business leaders about 'barriers to employment'. Seemed right up our street.

The School of Social Entrepreneurs recently provided us a workshop about networking, that awkward thing you're supposed to do during the slots in events when organisers couldn't find enough panelists to fill time. Networking is basically just a pretentious word for 'chatting'. It becomes awkward at the point when you want to talk to someone who doesn't particularly want to talk to you. Or vice versa.

One of the things I'm trying to train myself to do as a startup-founder is get comfortable with awkward conversations and endure things I don't particularly want to do (like living in a constant state of anxiety and justifying to my girlfriend why 75kg of flour needs to be in the kitchen at all times). I figured that approaching the big dogs at the Talking Youth conference would be a good place to start.

Piers Linney was chatting with a senior exec from Microsoft who looked a bit like Where's Wally. At SSE they told me to 'read the body language' and decide if it was 'open' or 'closed'. An arbitrary call to make, you'll appreciate. I shuffled towards them trying to look unassuming and friendly. They were talking about an email thread they'd been sending each other. It irked me that they were here in a room full of young people, to give advice about employment to young people, and here they were talking about emails. With closed body language! I gritted my teeth and went in.

Within 10 seconds of me saying "really sorry to interrupt you guys, can I just tell you about...." I knew I'd lost them. Piers told me that when it came to charity, "he was doing his own thing". Where's Wally said I should speak to McDonalds. And with that, they were gone.  (In fairness, I later spoke with Piers at more length. He's a really nice guy, but still doesn't want to help us with The Dusty Knuckle.)

The event itself turned out to be a room full of graduates asking about how to get on apprenticeship schemes when you're over-qualified. Never once were criminal records mentioned, or mental ill-health, or lack of basic qualifications. It left me feeling pretty bereft of ideas for what to suggest to those young people. What the @#?! are they meant to do? I frantically sat there tweeting, determined to get the most of my 7% battery left. (#talkingyouth).

So in a roundabout sort of a way, I'm glad I attended the event. I stomached some awkward networking, made friends with someone in the DWP, ate sandwiches and fruit sticks but, most importantly, I reinforced my conviction of the need for organisations like The Dusty Knuckle.


Monday, 9 June 2014


In April 2013, I set about gathering the following items:
- Eight metres of raw, untreated flax linen.
- Five plastic mushroom crates
- One tall, larder fridge
- A 16kg sack of organic rye, wholegrain and strong white bread flour.
- One 50kg cement mixing tub.

I obtained the lot for the sum of £38.00. Ebay, and a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit. The mission was to bake and sell 16 sourdoughs. Our good friends at Sweet Thursday Restaurant had agreed to let us use the pizza oven for a trial run on a Saturday morning, provided we were out by 7am.

On the 16th April 2013 I woke up at 4.30am, got in my dad's car and drove 16 unbaked loaves to the restaurant. To my great relief they sprung up on the hot stone and crusted beautifully. I slung the loaves in a sack, got on my bike and dropped a few samples off in cafes round the area. I didn't have any idea what I was getting myself into. Today we've repeated this process 64 times - every Saturday for the past 15 months, barring one week when I had a funeral to attend. A 5:00am start every Saturday is no joke when you work regular hours from Monday to Friday, and enjoy a Friday night drink like everyone else does. We're now at capacity, selling 45 loaves a week. We've obtained £30,000 in startup funding, had £4,000 worth of kitchen equipment donated, had a 40 foot freight container donated to us to use full time as of September, delivered baking workshops to 35 young people, and begun consulting with 6 young offenders for the youth  employment program we'll be rolling out in a few months. It's been a mind boggling year. As I write this 25 kg of dough is fermenting in two buckets beside me. We've had to start using ice cubes in the dough to bring down the temperature. Summer time last year we learnt the hard way. Nothing breaks a bakers heart like the sound of gas seeping from the loaves when they're turned out before hitting the oven. You end up with a flat, scraggly mess of a loaf; not the proud and fully-bloomed picture of humankind's most significant nutritional discovery.
The miracle of wheat fermentation is capturing the heart of bread-enthusiasts around the country. Over the next few years we'll be working to enlist the captivating properties of bread making to get lives back on track: 17-24yr olds who have lost faith in the system will, we hope, find meaning in life - find optimism - through working as employees in our bakery. Please follow and share our story. We look forward to keeping you updated!

Love and respect

The Dusty Knuckle.