“With Justin the force is strong and the crumb is good”
Baking has always been part of my life. My mother used to bake bread most days when we were children, and even at my first job at Crowthers, a family-run restaurant in East Sheen, London, where my first job was washing dishes, I would help to bake the bread until I moved on to do cooking and pastry.
I met my wife, Louise, when I was sixteen and heading to Hounslow catering college. We were in the same class, and one of the many reasons we are still happy together after twenty-four years, is that we both understand the demands of a life as a chef or baker.
After Crowthers I worked in many other restaurants: in Cheshire at the Rookery Hall, in Maine, USA where I cooked up a storm on Little Cranberry Island, and at The Green House in Mayfair London to name but a few.
But it was only when I joined Fergus Henderson at St John Restaurant that I really fell in love with baking. Even in my early days as a chef, I always liked cooking ‘nose to tail’, so when an opportunity came along to work at St John I dived in. Those were the most amazing thirteen years: I found my calling in pastry and baking in the first few months.
One of the turning points was when I did my first bake at St John. The bread and the crackling of the crust just didn’t stop singing to me. I hung up my chef’s apron and put on a baker’s, and never looked back.
I owe Fergus Henderson and his partner and co-founder of St John, Trevor Gulliver, so much. There were many joyous occasions at St John, but one of my proudest was receiving our first Michelin star when I was Head Baker and Pastry Chef.
Also I was very proud to bake the bread for William and Kate royal wedding in 2011
A few months after leaving St John, a fellow baker, Matt Jones, called me and told me he had found a site for a bakery in Borough Market and asked whether I would be interested in coming on board. I said, ‘Hell, yeah’ and we opened Bread Ahead in the summer of 2013.
Bread Ahead stands for British baking; we bake our bread using British wheat but use lots of sourdough and long fermentation. We bake early in the morning and throughout the day and we have large windows at the front of the bakery so people can come and watch us working our magic, but also we get to see daylight – happy days.
I have worked in every section of a kitchen, from kitchen porter to head chef, and I’ve found the baker’s life the hardest – but it’s a passion and I love it and it’s become a way of life.
I have put pen to paper a few times now, as co author of Beyond Nose to Tail http://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Nose-Tail-British-Cooking/dp/0747589143 and the Complete Nose to Tail http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Complete-Nose-Tail-British/dp/1408809168
But now I’ve written my first solo book BREAD, CAKE, DOUGHNUT, PUDDING.
(Signed copies available for purchase at Bread Ahead)
“One of the most innovative of our modern bakers”
-Nigel Slater, Observer Food Monthly)
“I have always loved eating his bread and cakes, and his the doughnuts are the best in the world. Fabulous book”
“Having always hugely enjoyed eating the seemingly endless, singular delights of this talented and very good baker, it is a boon and a half to know at last how Justin makes these so very, very delicious things”
“Best of the batch . . . Gellatly’s sourdough is without peer in London”