Fabulous Baker Brothers earn their bread and butter
Tom and Henry Herbert have been travelling all over the UK since their television series The Fabulous Baker Brothers made them culinary superstars, but next month they’ll be home in Gloucestershire for two special events. SUE BRADLEYdiscovers how stardom is helping Tom to achieve a long-held ambition
WHEN it comes to busy years, 2012 has been off the scale for Tom and Henry Herbert.
The pair have not looked back since their Channel 4 series The Fabulous Baker Brothers made them household names, regularly pulling in audiences of more than two million when it was aired in January and February.
Their success has been such that they have been in demand at food festivals all over the country, including Gloucester Quays, Abergavenny and Taste of London, while in recent weeks they have been busy filming a second TV series.
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Soon the baker and butcher duo will be at Spiegeltent Bistro in Cheltenham to host a rustic artisan lunch during the town’s annual literature festival, tickets for which have already sold out, while on October 30 they will be joining The Gloucestershire Echo and The Citizen in celebrating all that’s good about local food and drink when they present the Diamond Jubilee Taste of Gloucestershire Food and Farming Awards.
For Tom, 35, the last 12 months have been “like a dog travelling in a car with its head out of the window”.
“We’re not doing the driving and it’s quite dangerous, but also quite stimulating,” explains the fifth generation baker.
Yet, while life has never been busier for the brothers, Tom knows he still has much to do to achieve the ambition he set himself shortly before winning the Young Baker of the Year accolade just over a decade ago.
“When I entered that competition I came up with the strapline that I wanted to do for bread what Rick Stein has done for fish,” recalls Tom, who lives in Horsley, near Nailsworth.
“I’m painfully aware that 90 per cent of bread in this country still comes from a handful of factories – there are still a lot of people to be won over to the light side.
“To me, getting people to eat real bread rather than factory-made loaves is comparable to the difference between real and instant coffee: a decade ago a lot of us were happy with instant but now we have grown to appreciate coffee made from ground beans.”
Tom blames the decline in British bread-eating on new processes invented in the 1960s that resulted in large quantities of loaves being made in faster times. Factories using this technology often bake with lower grade flours, which often results in a lower price for their products.
“Little regard is paid to things like quality, digestibility and flavour,” says Tom, who along with Henry is still closely involved with the running of the family business Hobbs House, which has branches in Cirencester, Tetbury, Nailsworth and Chipping Sodbury .
“Nowadays, people who go to a baker are people who feel it is important to know where their bread comes from and that it’s been made with care and skill,” he says. “Our best seller at the bakery, the Sherston Overnight Loaf, costs £2.50: up until the Second World War the price of a loaf of bread and a pint were always the same and I think our Sherston loaf is great value when you consider the flavour and how filling it is.”
Tom realised several years ago that encouraging bread-making at home was one way he could make an impression on people’s tastebuds.
“I began by doing a breadmaking course for the Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath,” he explains.
“That got me teaching, and I loved it. Later on I opened our place in Nailsworth, a cafe and open-plan bakery in which everything is centred around the oven and baking courses.
“Some question the logic of a baker encouraging people to bake their own bread, but, to me, my work is bigger than self interest.
“I did eight years working shifts in the bakery, wondering who ate the bread I was making. Towards the end of that time I started going out doing farmers’ markets and meeting people and realising my job wasn’t just selling bread but educating people about what real bread was.
“Once people have tried real bread there’s no going back.”
“I figured that I needed to make it my job to win as many people over to eating real bread or I wouldn’t have any customers to sell it to.” it’s no good having a skill if nobody appreciates it.”
Soon Hobbs House will be helping even more people to learn to bake when it opens its own cookery school in Chipping Sodbury in 2013. regular updates on which frequently appear through Tom’s Twitter feed.
Meanwhile fans will be able to tune into the pair’s new series in the new year, parts of which have been filmed in Bourton-on-the-Water and Stratford-on-Avon.
“We still have a long way to go to win people over to the light side, but progress has been made,” says Tom.
“We’re seeing a renaissance in real food and we’re proud to be a part of it.”