Sam Buckley: on bakeries

by Sam Buckley 30 May 2022

The opening of Yellowhammer bakery and pottery from the team behind Where The Light Gets In prompts Sam to think about the cost of good food and who has access to it. 

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With an arsenal of innovative experimental preserves, his own rooftop kitchen garden and relationships with the best producers in the UK, Sam Buckley works with his team in the airy open kitchen to create multi-course tasting menus of pure magic at his Stockport restaurant Where The Light Gets In.

With an arsenal of innovative experimental preserves, his own rooftop kitchen garden and relationships with the best producers in the UK, Sam Buckley works with his team in the airy open kitchen to create multi-course tasting menus of pure magic at his Stockport restaurant Where The Light Gets In.

This month I have been, in part, responsible for the opening of a combined bakery and pottery. It’s funny really because I am neither a baker nor a potter, but perhaps I have a connection to - or an understanding of - these disciplines that seem to sit so comfortably alongside my chosen craft of cooking.

I met Rosie Wilkes three years ago when she came to work at Where the Light Gets In. She was planning to open a bakery of her own and I can only thank the stars that she asked me to join her in her pursuit. It had always been part of the plan to open a bakery but I had to wait for the right person to come along. Rosie and I share a common sensibility when it comes to ideas about food and the system in which it grows, is harvested and prepared. Rosie’s bread is not just a reflection of the grains and milling techniques she supports but also of her physical and mental efforts as she bends to the task of producing food with honest standards. The loaves are intimate in a sense I have never seen or tasted in bread before.

I have known Joe Hartley for around seven years now and I call him one of my closest friends. Joe is not just a potter. He is a designer, but he is not just a designer, either. He is a maker, but again, this title does not do justice to the limitless energy and intrigue he puts into his work and life. Be it in the garden, at the wheel, building a shelf, making a table or stitching a garment, Joe’s values are simplicity and restraint. His acceptance to let materials develop in response to the journey of their own inherent characteristics would seem more natural in a maker way beyond his years in age and experience. It is a joy to watch him work.

We had spent over a year searching for a site suitable for a bakery when Joe mentioned that he was looking for a space to set up his own studio. The idea came about to look together and very quickly the place we had all been searching for showed itself. It didn’t feel unusual to build the bakery and the pottery together; if anything, it seemed even more natural, and particularly so because of the people involved. After only two weeks of operating, it definitely feels right.

When we opened, it was the first time I had ever worked in a bakery. Sometimes I’m not really sure where I fit in at all. We had good press, and as a result there were queues down the road. We were very lucky that so many came out to see us, to support us and to wish us well in our new venture. During that day, which was actually a lot of fun, I couldn’t help but think of the bakery in the same way as I think about our garden, The Landing.

A bakery is a very friendly place - I don’t think anyone could get mad in one. Even if your desired loaf or teacake is sold out there is always something else warm to eat that will lift your day. Like a garden, there is nothing challenging or confrontational. There is nothing to offend the spirit or remind you of a bad time. It is a place full of things that are warm, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. I have watched the team from the restaurant bundle down the hill one by one and take five minutes respite from their busy days amidst the sweet aromatic drifts and golden treats huddled side by side. I’ve noticed them relax in a similar way when surrounded by the plants and vegetation in our garden.

If bakeries are such a wonderful thing, and a source of spiritual nourishment, where did they all go?

There are many answers to this question, and many more questions that follow. One answer is that family and retail bakeries couldn’t keep up with the constantly plummeting prices offered by supermarkets, which have started to dominate the peripheries of our towns and residential areas. They lurk, squat and flat roofed, insistent in their necessity to the new idea of modernity.

Greggs, however, seems to be pollinating alongside motorways and train lines faster than the wild plants it replaces. But although Greggs is the nation’s favourite bakery I just don’t get the same warm feeling when I am buying four sausage rolls for a pound as I do when buying from an independent. Greggs doesn’t fit the model of food for pleasure; instead it aligns with our new attitude for necessity. If we have to eat, let’s at least make it quick, cheap and convenient. Fuck! Which natural pleasure will be next? Will sex become something that needs to be performed without thought, gotten out of the way so we can get back to living modern life? I am starting to get frightened.

When did we start thinking that food has to be so cheap? This model is clearly not working because food is cheaper than ever and fewer people can afford to feed their families. Food is also more expensive to produce. The frequency with which you see food banks appear is alarming. Ironically, it could be the case that the people employed in low income jobs at gigantic, conglomerate food outlets are the ones who rely on the food banks that now, also ironically, have donation points in the supermarket foyer. Care packages piled high at the front doors of Morrisons and Sainsburys go to food banks that produce queues that should not exist.

Are you as confused as I am?

As the owner of a food business my mailbox is inundated with emails from suppliers telling me they have to put their prices up, and so too must I. The one disappointment I have in opening the bakery is the prices I have to put on the products to ensure we stay in business. Prices I know not everyone can afford.

The independent retail bakery is, however, rising. Up and down the country, people are eager to be the first in line at their new local bakery. But these queues are made up of people that are very different to those in the queues outside food banks. The gap is growing and I am not sure how we reverse it. Other than to take matters into our own hands, use common sense to guide us and support the groups with the quietest voices.

We must stop supporting the system that got us into this ugly situation. We must stop listening to marketing and social media and make up our own minds as to what makes us happy and what we prioritise in our daily lives. Is it the new flavour of a vape pen, a mobile phone with more pixels on the screen, an electric scooter? Or is it a fresh loaf of bread, a block of butter and a visit to the local park with friends to eat your wares under the sun? These days it's hard to know where we derive our fundamental pleasures from. The queues for our daily bread have never been further apart on the economic scale, and as the narrative continues we may feel begin to feel incongruous. Let’s hope we start heading toward the truths that will make the right queues the longest.