On a verdant oasis of a farm north-east of Pretoria, three Allen Scott woodfired ovens have been slogging away every day inside the humble bakery of The Bread Gypsy for the past seven years. Each morning the ovens are loaded up with large logs (wood sourced from felled invasive alien trees) and fired up, burning continually throughout the day until early evening, by which time the logs have been reduced to ash and the thick walls of the oven have absorbed enough heat to bake hundreds of artisanal loaves through the night. At dawn, their fresh, heaven-sent bread is loaded up, delivered and enjoyed by discerning bread lovers throughout the city.
From modest beginnings, The Bread Gypsy has grown steadily to become one of the largest artisan bread producers in the country, supplying restaurants, cafés and farmers markets throughout the area. Back in 2011 when The Bread Gypsy was founded, there were very few artisanal bakeries in South Africa, but the past few years has seen a huge surge in the local artisan bread culture. People are slowly cottoning on to the truth behind commercially produced bread. Laden with a gamut of unhealthy chemicals and preservatives, commercial bread lacks both nutritional value and flavour. Enlightened bread lovers are returning to the roots of this age old staple – made using time-honoured techniques and only natural ingredients. Being an artisan bread baker requires dogged patience and a fair dose of stamina, because this baking process is a protracted one and can be very physically demanding. Using various methods and combinations of stoneground flour, water, salt and yeast, The Bread Gypsies skilfully create a wide selection of different bread styles and pastries.
The bakery was built on the family farm of founding baker and co-owner Pauli Coetsee. Coming from a long lineage of great cooks, her childhood was infused with a deep-seated love of all things culinary. Before embarking on the life of an artisan baker, she trained as a chef at the South African Chefs Academy. A couple of years later she learnt of an apprenticeship position that was available at Île de Païn in Knysna, under renowned artisan baker and chocolatier Marcus Farbinger. For 18 months she worked tirelessly through many, long night shifts, slowly developing her skills and learning both the art and science behind baking real bread. “I am really glad that I changed gears in my career”, Pauli said, “ because bread baking really speaks to my soul. Every aspect of this humble process from beginning to end just makes so much sense to me”.
After completing her apprenticeship she returned to her family farm and built The Bread Gypsy. She chose to set up the business there for a number of reasons, one of which is that she is able to provide suitable lodging for her baking team. The hours of an artisan bread baker are long and arduous and to find transport for their all-nighter shifts is very challenging. The Bread Gypsy’s entire team therefore, all of whom have received in-depth, in-house training, both live and work on the farm. “I am very lucky to have such a skilled baking team”, says Pauli, “they all understand what it takes to make consistently good bread and they are committed to making sure that the quality of our bread remains superior, which takes long hours and dedication.”
Not long after launching The Bread Gypsy, Pauli joined forces with Alicea Malan, a talented pastry chef and creative powerhouse who perfectly compliments Pauli’s skill set. A few years after launching The Bread Gypsy, these two passionate go-getters opened the Lucky Bread Company at the Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria (along with another partner), a café style restaurant specialising in superb coffee, bread and pastries. They have since opened two more branches at OR Thambo Airport and the Mall of Africa. This business has provided an ideal platform from which to sell their wide range of artisan breads and pastries. Their partnership has gone from strength to strength and they are constantly evolving and thinking up new creative concepts. To ensure that they always have their finger on the proverbial pulse, they travel frequently to seek inspiration from popular foodie destinations around the world.
Their most recent project is the Skaftin food truck, which is a bespoke, mobile catering service offering delicious food fare and coffee in a refurbished, super-retro VW camper van!
Watch this space…
Follow The Bread Gypsy on Instagram: @thebreadgypsy