Friday, June 17, 2011

How to Win a Bake Off

Tomorrow morning Klecko will be hosting yet another Saint Paul Bread Club bake off. I've been sponsering these events for close to a decade and never tire of them, but before I get to the competition, I should probably give you some background on the club.

It started around a decade ago. The professional guild of bread bakers was getting weak, and I wanted to continue learning. what better way to do this than by surrounding yourself with experts.

My idea was to start a club that was open to the entire Twin Cities. I started off by contacting most of the bakeries in the metro and invited them to join me in building this bridge between professional bake shops and the home enthusiest, but the sad truth is not a single bakery in town showed any interest.

The reoccuring question that I was asked was.....

"How are we going to make money off of this?"

Klecko sighs.

All to often buisness people only look at the short dollar. If they don't see a pile of cash within arms reach, their minds vision isn't willing to get its plop a** off the couch.

Since starting the club, or rather because I started the club, I have been featured in publications locally and nationally.

The club and my bakery have been blessed to have been given many front page (top folds) in the different newspaper food sections, and with that kind of traction...Klecko was able to slip into his monkey suit and parly that attention into interviews in business sections, receaved cook book deals and has been given the oppurtunity to write for publications that carry some swag within his community.

In many ways the bread club has been a major componant in my career.

But you know what? I'll tell you this, and I'll say it in front of the Polish Christ.

Damn the accolades, the greatest thing that has transpired from starting the club is the people that I have met.

I have become friends with, and have learned from so many wonderful people, I can't tell you how humbling the experience has become.

In just a second I will tell you about some of these people, and what you can do to improve your chances as in a baking competition, but first let me tell you a few basic essentials that must take place when setting up a club of any sort.

The first thing that is crucial for a club that is going to obtain longevity is that is must be run by a dictator LOL.

I know that sounds brash, but I couldn't be more serious.

If you have ever joined a club, or sat on a board in any organization you had to have seen how the life/soul and intent of the original mission statement gets sucked out by weirdo's that try to compensate whatever is lacking in their lives through manipulating the club to meet their needs instead of the memberships.

When this happens, it always leads to fights, which will lead to hard feelings and a possible implosion in membership.

That's why you need to run it like a dictatator. If you implement rule #2 which is that there are no rules, or money allowed at the've just stripped every incentive for anybody but the purist to join you in championing your cause.

You know how when you're watching the Olympics and some guy from Egypt wins a silver medal in the high jump, and you don't really care all that much, but then they show a prerecorded piece that let's you into that athletes life?

You've seen it a million times. dude had a brother with no legs so he carried him on his back to the missionary school in the village each day, or the woman pole vaulter who was an orphan and trained by a group of Buddhist monks, when your get hipped to these back stories....its hard not to fall in love with these people.

Let me tell you about some of my champions.


I don't remember the womans name, but she came sporadically to club meetings during the first couple of years. she was middle aged, nice looking, but always seemed to be run down.

I remember thinking in a non perverted way how pretty this woman could have been if she did something more with her hair, accessorized her wardrobe a bit...blah-blah-blah, but whatever I didn't put a lot of thought into it.

I tried to be nice to her because she was a type B person that would never approach me or a person in charge of a situation, because I am guessing that she might of thought that she had nothing to contribute.

Well during the second bake off, she showed up to the bakery, and I receaved more clarity into her situation. she was mother to a daughter who was severly handicapped and bound to an electronic wheelchair.

The daughter couldn't speak, she made loud yelping noises and shrieked, but they were able to communicate.

During that bake off the woman won a second place ribbon for one of her entries and when she walked up to get it, the daughter made loud-high pitched noises and began shaking almost violently, she was that excited.

Mom looked like she was gonna cry because she was so happy, she got all Church Mouse and hung her head and returned to her seat with a smile on her face.

Later in the day, she got called back up to the stage, but this time for a first place entry. This time she simply could not contain her emotions and she sobbed openly.

I could tell that she wasn't even going to fight it. She was passed being embaressed. So I ran up and put my arms around her, held her tight and helped her glide back into the moment.

When the event was over. The mom was sitting next to her kid and I asked how she was able to create 2 winning entries.

She just grinned and turned to her daughter and replied.....

"She helped me!"

And the 2 girls giggled while I felt like crying.

Jody -

Jody Stee is a wonderful woman, I don't know much about her personal life, but she is one of those people who never wants to be the expert, but always wants to experiment and make samples, or what we call guinea pig loaves in the biz.

One day she calls me up and I hear thuds and bumping in the background and asked her what the "H" was going on and she responded.....

"Now you know my plight, I have to bake with a Hip-Hop son who refuses to leave the kitchen."

Jodi was working on a banana bread recipe for the bake off and I gave her some tips. Quick breads are w/o a doubt have the most entries in the bread category.

And 99 out of 100 times the biggest problem people have is they underbake their loaf.

When I told this to Jodi, I could feel her recoiling in fear, she didn't want to keep her loaf in any longer than usual, it was almost viewed as torture.

Well, she brought her submission to our contest and won 2nd place. I wasn't the judge, but I felt qualified to assure her that had she listened to me....she would have won.

Two months later, at the Minnesota State Fair, the Fair that offers the largest baking competition in the nation, she did take my advice, and out of over 200 entries....Jodi Stee took 2nd place.

The newspaper was there taking photo's and out of all the people, and all the baked goods present. They chose to put my friend on the front page.

Her life changed that day. I'm not kidding you.

There are other simular stories too, like Pat Robert's. She's a self professed house wife who was pretty much bankrupt of confidence, but after crushing at our bake off in the rye division, she went to State and destroyed some of the top bakers in the world.

Seriously....Pat has won this statewide division the last three years running.

But, don't think that Bread Club is all about the girlios, we have guys too. In fact I'll bet our gender demographic is about 50/50.

Ron Miller, our club President, he makes a wicked mean Challah. A couple years ago he took first at State, but you know....that's not even my fondest memory of his baking.

Ron is a Jewish man around 20 years older than me, and several years back I asked him to come to my demo kitchen at the State Fair and do a prestation of Jewish foods.

Not only did he come, his family flew in from across the entire nation to watch this presentation. His peeps were traveling in from as far as Flordia.

The joy on President Millers face, I'm telling you, you just can't put a price tag on that.

These a just a few of the many-many people that I have been so lucky to meet, and as you can imagine, I could rattle off dozens of more stories about my baking friends.

Not all of them have blue ribbons on their mantels, but I'm telling you it just doesn't matter.

Having a friend to bake with, a friend that understands the dynamics of what's taking place from the mixing bowl to the oven.....that's nothing short of glorius.

I wonder was legends will be created tomorrow?