Baker Behind The Bakes: He Uses Age-Old Starters In Modern-Day Breads
STORY: Annette Tan
08 April 2022
Have you ever wondered who’s behind the beautifully laminated pastries and fragrant loaves of bread at Tiong Bahru Bakery?
If you have, the answer is this guy: Frenchman Paul Albert is the brand’s Head Baker and Natural Fermentation Consultant. Part baker, part mad scientist, this 28-year-old is deeply passionate about baking and fermentation, so much so that his 160-year-old sourdough starter has accompanied him throughout his journeys around the world since 2014.
Today, that starter flavours all the loaves at Tiong Bahru Bakery and the pizza crusts at sister restaurant Drunken Farmer. We asked Paul about how he came to fall in love with sourdough and what his work means to him.
Where did your 160-year-old starter originate?
I got it from the Slow Bakery in Rio in 2014 and have been taking it along on my travels and sharing it with other sourdough enthusiasts. I use it as a starting point for my recipes, such as sourdough breads, pizzas and discards for batters. Since I came to Tiong Bahru Bakery (TBB), the team and I have been developing and nurturing different types of starters using different flours, including those we freshly mill. Different types of flour and water, and the surrounding environment create different types of starters.
How did you come to work for Tiong Bahru Bakery and Drunken Farmer?
I met Cynthia (Chua, Spa Espirit’s founder and CEO) in 2018 in Paris and learned about what Spa Esprit (the company that owns TBB) does. I love her vision and passion for her brands and decided to come to Singapore to explore the possibility of working with the group. I started at TBB, working in the bread team and on the TBB Diner menu.
How did you know you wanted to be a baker?
I started my career as a chef working in restaurants and fine dining establishments, but I fell in love with baking when I worked at the Slow Bakery in Rio. I realised how complex and rich the technique of breadmaking is. I was hooked and have been pursuing it since.
I love the bread community as bakers are more inclusive and I realised that this is somewhere that I can explore more, and share and immerse myself in a community. To me, bread is a universal product, relatable to different cultures. Yet, it is not just a product. It is a form of expression. Although it is a singular product, there are so many ways to express it, translating across various cultures and races.
For me, in the gastronomic world, you don’t have the luxury of failing; it is very much about perfection. But in the baker’s world, it is very much about trying, exploring and constantly finding new possibilities.
How has the food of your family influenced what you do today?
I am from a Parisian suburb, but spent a lot of my childhood in the south-west of France. I grew up eating in a very communal manner, with tons of sharing dishes. Charcuterie, cheese and bread featured strongly in our daily meals. Bread is always available at every meal, it is like the heart of the meal, placed in the middle of the table to be shared.
Why should people choose sourdough over regular bread?
Sourdough is more digestible than white bread as the fermentation process breaks down the gluten structure. Sourdough is also prebiotic, with nutrients that feed the good bacteria in your gut, which helps keep your gut healthy.
Sourdough is way tastier, with complex flavours like tanginess from the acidity of the natural fermentation, and has a deeper, richer aroma. The shelf life is also much longer so it’s easier to store. It is delicious on its own and pairs beautifully with anything and everything.
What keeps you excited about your work?
Crafting and developing everything that has to do with fermentation, understanding the relationship and link between fermentation, and the different products. For example, sourdough with cheese, cold cuts, pickling, natural wines and other fermented beverages…
For the past few years, Cynthia has been pushing to better the way we eat and drink, championing good gut health through fermentation, sourdough and natural wines. She saw my passion for sourdough and wanted to create a movement and a platform where we could get like-minded people to come together to share, learn, understand and explore everything about it.
Thus, the Tiong Bahru Bakery Sourdough Workshop was born. This is where we conduct various classes, encourage conversations about sourdough, experiment with starters, baking methods, ingredients, milling of fresh flour, etc.
How will you keep evolving the food you offer?
The process is always changing. Thus, you get different outcomes. It is about experimenting and constantly striving to improve and be different. Evolution comes naturally with that.