Baking Lab: A Difficult Bakery

to Define

By Tamara Kaňuchová | News | November 20, 2023

Cover Illustration: Photo by Tamara Kaňuchová / The Amsterdammer

Culture Reporter Tamara Kaňuchová attempts to define Baking Lab, a café, bakery and educational place located in Amsterdam Oost.

What makes a place undefinable? I was thinking about this question while interviewing baker Ferdinand Doumic about Baking Lab, a bakery and café on Linnaeusstraat. For me, undefinability is when associations and memories are stronger than the original purpose of a place. 

“I would say it’s a café, of course. It’s a bakery, it’s an educational place, it’s also a social place,” Ferdinand says. “So, there’s all those things that connect to each other. That makes it so hard to define. […] And I think also, maybe something interesting about the Baking Lab is that because it is so diverse, it will bring people who tend not to be so much specialists, but more generalists who have diverse interests.”

After trying to describe Baking Lab himself, Ferdinand asked me, a frequent customer, what it is for me. I remember the first time I went to this small place in Amsterdam Oost. It was because of the smell of croissants that is present even on the street, and because of the colorful window above the entrance. It had not even occurred to me, but Ferdinand remarked that the mosaic resembles a croissant.

Ferdinand started at Baking Lab two years ago as a volunteer. Now he works there almost full-time, four days a week. Volunteering was how he learned about bread-making, which became his newly-found passion, after studying and working as an actor for a while. As of now, he is also organizing the space for volunteering, baking, teaching bread-making workshops and “a bit of everything.”

Photo by Tamara Kaňuchová / The Amsterdammer
Photo by Tamara Kaňuchová / The Amsterdammer

“When you have eight plus people in front of you, you are performing to a certain extent. You need to be able to also interact in that sense with your audience. And sometimes it needs to be lighter. Sometimes it needs to be deeper,” says Ferdinand. He explained how receptive he needs to be, using his experience from acting school to observe whether or not he’s losing his audience and decide how best to work with them. However, he puts the same emphasis on the information and skills he is teaching. “It’s education. So it’s a lot more about being a teacher than being an actor.”

“What makes a place undefinable? I was thinking about this question while interviewing baker Ferdinand Doumic about Baking Lab, a bakery and café on Linnaeusstraat.”

Bakers at work. Photo by Tamara Kaňuchová / The Amsterdammer
Photo by Tamara Kaňuchová / The Amsterdammer

An important characteristic of Baking Lab is their interdisciplinary approach; experimentation and circularity are at the core of all their activities. They channel the different backgrounds of the employees and volunteers, ranging from psychology to biology to environmentalism, into a diverse and creative space. Baking Lab also collaborates with Amsterdam artists and scientific organizations like Micropia (Artis) or in the form of catering for FOAM.

“We do attract science institutions, but also more artistic ones. A lot of bakeries are production places. We decided to take a different route. I think we attract a lot of artists and scientists, because the experimental part is what they have in common, you know – and also, we’re open to do something that we’ve never done before, not just to sell it, but to try it out.”

The initiator, Jechiam Gural, has a background in natural sciences. He encourages experimentation with ingredients and coming up with new recipes. Additionally, he attempts to share scientific knowledge, using baking analogies to explain enzymes or processes that happen under different heat conditions. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of their logo symbolizing a mathematical curve. The team at Baking Lab gets to experiment on different levels, for example when working with different kinds of flour. 

“Recently, there was research that was made on sourdough and using different flour. It’s like having a different soil. You have a different base. Let’s say you’re in Germany, or France – you don’t grow the same kind of crops, right? Basically, changing the flour of our starters always creates something interesting because it shifts the balance. So, you’re changing the environment, changing the soil and it creates diversity,” says Ferdinand on the role of science in his work.

Volunteers are also a part of the team. They differ in age and have various reasons for joining Baking Lab. How are they getting along?

“I remember this woman in her 50s or something, and this student that was in her early 20s. And then suddenly, I felt there was a bond (…) suddenly there was a bit of a mother-daughter thing, and then I didn’t even have to do anything. I just witnessed this space creating this connection,” recalls Ferdinand.

What fascinates me about Baking Lab is the circularity and approach to food waste. They are reusing materials that naturally come up as waste in cafés and bakeries, such as coffee grounds, stale bread or juice pulp. When old ingredients are used as inspiration for experimenting and reducing food waste, the process comes full circle. It is challenging to store and preserve these materials, but fermentation procedures can be used to prevent ingredients from going bad. 

Photo by Tamara Kaňuchová / The Amsterdammer
Baking Lab Welcome Sign. Photo by Tamara Kaňuchová / The Amsterdammer

“So right now, we’re trying to work for example with pulp [to make vegan honey]. Slowly, we’re just going around, and we’re probably going to come back to something extremely simple. Sometimes you need to go quite far into error, trying things that become very complicated and weird and unrealistic, to then come back to this simple thing that you were doing maybe at the beginning, but in a slightly different way.”

So, what is Baking Lab again? Maybe the definition does not really matter, and this is precisely why it attracts so many people. There’s something for everyone, whether you want to experiment with the science of bread-making, test solutions for major problems of food waste, or simply find new friends. I believe we could all use more places like this.

Bags of Flour. Photo by Tamara Kaňuchová / The Amsterdammer

Tamara Kaňuchová is a university student in Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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