My name is Isabel Pasch and I run Bread & Butter Bakery in Auckland, New Zealand. I am not a kiwi, nor am I a baker or a pastry chef. I love all foods, but to me bread is the most wonderful of all. It is a food that is thousands of years old, real bread is nourishing and versatile and I never tire of it. So let me tell you, how I ended up running a bakery.
I was born in West Germany, a child of the 70s. When I was little my dad was studying to become a doctor and my mum was the breadwinner (excuse the pun), stopping work when my younger sister Inga was born. My dad’s career pursuits took us all over Germany and I continued this nomadic life by studying at different universities and in different cities and countries. The German city I have spent the most time is Berlin, although Auckland trumps it now – so saying where I’m from isn’t easy.
I became interested in politics at a young age. Germany has excellent daily newspapers and I was lucky to grow up in a household were politics were discussed at the dinner table. My political awakening coincided with a major historical event, which Germany was at the centre of: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Witnessing the end of an era made me acutely aware of history in motion, the way things from the past influence things that happen now and will continue to shape the future. Actions have consequences and it’s just a matter of luck whether you live a free life in which you determine your own future, or a repressed life, in which you don’t.
As a teenager I wanted to be a lawyer, until some vocational training at a law firm in year 10 cured any idealistic views of the work of lawyers and I turned my attention to politics. My first love, however, was a man a few years older than me with a passion for science. He was already at university, so I changed my mind again, becoming interested in how things work at a molecular level – I started studying general Biology, later turning to the study of the smallest living things, Microbiology. From politics – humanity at its largest scale – to its smallest, microbiology.
Marine microbiology particularly interested me, but I didn’t find similar enthusiasm for it in Germany. My uncle had talked about a tiny country in the Pacific where he’d spent time studying and I decided that if I was to change university, I should go further afield. Free as a bird, I was ready to travel. The lucky recipient of a scholarship, I arrived in Auckland in February 1999 with no idea what I was in for, or that I’d still be here 20 years later.
Along with a team of enthusiastic scientists I studied the intestinal microbiology of fish which my supervisor was trying to prove were vegetarians. My lab buddy studied the biology and physiology of the fish, while I looked at the bugs inside their guts. It was a magical time with lots of boat trips to the gulf islands, swimming, and seeing dolphins, sharks and other marine life. When I wasn’t studying I was at the beach or discovering amazing bush and alpine walks, or in the city sifting through Op-Shops, often bemoaning the fact that I was here only briefly and that buying all this amazing crockery and furniture just wasn’t warranted. I developed a love for coffee and spent a lot of time hanging out with friends at a lovely little place in Ponsonby called ‘Espresso Love’.
I fell in love with New Zealand and when my supervisor offered me a PhD position at the end of my MSc, I really wanted to stay. I had not only fallen in love with the country, but with one Kiwi in particular. Sadly, that Kiwi wanted to go on his big OE and I had no intention of stopping him. I had two options – I could stay in New Zealand without him or join him on his adventures, hoping that one day he would bring me back to my adopted home.
I decided to put my trust in love and we moved to Berlin together. Once there I started a PhD, but my luck had left me – I felt lonely, and when pressure to produce immediate results was put on by the company financing the research I decided I needed a change. To the distress of my professor I quit, enrolling in a post-graduate degree of Science Journalism instead. I was still really interested in science but wanted to be able to share its wonders with others rather than dig deeper and deeper into a singular problem. I continued working in this field for some years.
During this time, I married my wonderful Kiwi and when our children arrived we wanted them to grow up in a sunny country with wide open spaces, beaches and great schools, so back to New Zealand we came.
In Germany, a country of 85 million people, Science Journalism is a niche profession, and in New Zealand even more so – I thought that three or four science journalists would probably cover everything. As an outsider with no contacts and English as a second language, the game would be even tougher for me. Time for a change – this is where my career as a baker formally begins.
I had always been a passionate home baker, part of a strong tradition in my family. My first memories are my mother’s family eating cake and drinking filter coffee by the bucket in my grandmother’s kitchen. Cakes came in all types, with each auntie bringing one and my grandmother baking too. It wasn’t frowned upon to have several pieces of cake – with cream. Moving away from my parent’s hometown when I was six, my mother continued the family baking tradition and my sister and I both did the same, baking cakes, biscuits and slices whenever the opportunity arose. So, in New Zealand, in search of a new career and missing the ‘real bread’ that is so important to the German diet, I decided I was going to open my very own bakery. I would save us all from the dreaded ‘white fluff’ that New Zealanders, at the time, considered to be bread.
I didn’t go into this venture completely naïve – I spent several months working with a friend in Berlin who ran a large organic bakery, learning as much as I could about bread, rolls, cakes, and the running of shops, kitchens, distribution and logistics. Called Beumer & Lutumand operating since the early 1990s, it was one of Berlin’s first organic bakeries, and still has a strong presence in the city.
In the end, of course, nothing prepares you for running your own business as well as just getting in and running your own business and when we moved to Auckland in 2010, we were lucky to find a small French bakery for sale in Ellerslie. It soon became ‘Paris – Berlin Organic Bakery’ and we focused on organic sourdough bread, cakes and pastries all made with love. After a couple of years and a very steep learning curve, I had the courage and knowledge to expand, and with the help of my husband and my newly acquired business partners, we opened Bread & Butter Bakery in 2013.
I had no idea that I was ever going to run a bakery – my poor parents may have objected to eight years of university study if they’d known the outcome! In spite of this I find that baking bread is actually the perfect synergy of my passion, knowledge, history and expertise. Bread is both microbiology and politics in action – it’s a product of microbiological fermentation processes – and understanding the difference between real organic sourdough bread and the white fluff that is sold as bread involves science and the politics of how things are grown, processed and marketed to us. It‘s also important to understand how these different types of bread affect our bodies – which again comes down to the microbes we harbour inside of our guts, and how and why this matters is Science Communication.
The ultimate result of all of my passions is this blog and in it you will find digressions into lots of things that I’ve become interested in over the years. As I’ve been baking, selling and talking about bread I’ve realised how little people know about it. The origin, science and benefits of real bread seem largely lost as fear of grains and gluten gain more airtime. There will be new topics and issues that come up – that’s the nature of politics and science and food. It touches everything, is at the heart of everything and matters (or should matter) to everyone. I hope you’ll enjoy reading and thinking about the various topics. Some may challenge your current thinking and some may change your behaviour – either way, I look forward to hearing your ideas and thoughts. Most of all, I look forward to helping you discover the joys of real bread, the staff of life.