At The E5 Bakehouse
Today, it is my pleasure to introduce you to our friends at the E5 Bakehouse (next to London Fields Station) where we shall be staging our book launch and exhibition tomorrow night between 6 and 9pm. They will be firing up the brick oven in the bakehouse yard to cook us some tasty fare, with refreshment kindly provided by Truman’s Beer and fiddler Dan Mayfield supplying the tunes.
Not so long ago, Ben Mackinnon started baking at home for his friends and making deliveries on his bicycle each Saturday. A few years later, you would have found him selling his bread from a table on the pavement outside Leila’s Shop. Quite recently, he was running his own wood-fired brick oven and baking organic bread in the yard at the Happy Kitchen.
But for the last two years, Ben has been running the E5 Bakehouse in two arches under London Fields Station, producing an endless supply of sourdough bread and a whole range of loaves, cakes and savouries to delight the residents of Hackney. And the outcome has been the spontaneous creation of a new social centre for the neighbourhood, where you can pick up your daily loaf, linger over coffee and cake or, if you wish, learn bread-making yourself at weekly classes. It is a working place, a meeting place and a creative place, uniting the local community.
When you walk into the Bakehouse everyone is busy, yet no-one seems to be in charge. It is a model of relaxed concentrated activity and the outcome is superlative baking. Many of these people were originally volunteers who came along to use Ben’s first brick oven under the railway arches and opening the Bakehouse allowed him to offer them a salary. Similarly, just as the famous wild Hackney yeast is kept alive from one batch of sourdough to the next, so profits are slowly reinvested in equipment and resources that permit the Bakehouse to grow.
“I was searching for something to get my teeth into,” Ben admitted to me, referring back to a significant spell of unemployment in his twenties,“and you can’t match the satisfaction of bread when it’s done really well.” Lanky and blonde, with an infectious youthful energy, Ben has conjured the Bakehouse into existence through his own hard work and persistence.
“In May 2011, we moved into this arch and we still deliver everything by bicycle – we are reinventing the wheel!” he declared, gesturing excitedly around at the flurry of life surrounding him, “Everything’s organic, the energy is from renewable sources and we are careful to buy from suppliers who farm in better ways. We really focus on quality and we have a great team of people.”
Curiously, most of the staff at the Bakehouse did not originally train as bakers. Many have impressive university qualifications in high-brow subjects, yet they all share a devotion to the elemental process of traditional bread-making in a slow labour-intensive way. This ardor, held in common, unites and inspires these zealous bakers. They are strongly engaged with their working practice and idealistic to discover a better quality of life for themselves and their customers – no less than pursuing a better world through kneading dough.
“We are passionate about sourdough and the lost traditions of our baking ancestors.” Ben assured me, quoting the phrase that is the heartfelt maxim of the E5 Bakehouse.
Lauren Gerstel, Baker
Gregoire Diqueliou, Baker
Hannah Gledhill, Cafe Manager
Ben Glazer, Baker
Despina Siahuli, Head Chef
Dan Cartwright, Barista
Franzi Thomczik, Pastry Chef
Souleymane Diarra, Barista
Ben Mackinnon, Entrepreneurial Baker
Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien
E5 Bakehouse, 395 Railway Arches, Mentmore Terrace, London E8 3PH
You may also like to read about