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Q&A with Steve Rogers


A sourdough knife with personal history

Process & Waste

A few months back I was listening to Jonathan Pryzbyl of Proof Bakery (Mesa/AZ) interview his local flour miller. If you’ve got the sourdough bug, I highly recommend his youtube channel – Amanda, Jonathan and his team give a really interesting insight into what it’s like to run a 100% artisan sourdough bakery. I really admire their pursuit of not only doing things the slower, more nutritious way with sourdough, but also using better flours and higher percentages of local wholegrain flours.

I love listening to people who work with raw materials such as bakers and millers, as there are a lot of similarities with what I do.

Hearing Jonathan talk about the pride he has in his sourdough croissants, you learn so much about how his process has changed since he took over Proof Bakery. From whacking a giant block of butter into a square by hand and doing everything as an ambient proof, to having a precise control over his temperature and time at every stage of the proof. To using a laminator and even having new pastries to experiment with from mastering the process.

I’m not sure I’ll ever made croissants again

Have you ever tried making croissants? It absolutely ruined me. I hold my hands up and admit I am NOT a pastry maker. I don’t have a sweet tooth… so the bread I make every week is really all I bake. But when I tried making croissants with friends a couple of years ago… sorry Chris, let’s be honest… they were absolutely awful. Not even recognisable as croissants… if you saw them in the street, you’d think “Oh, that poor squirrel got ran over!”.

They were that bad.

And that was with using good old predictable instant bakers yeast.

Sourdough croissants seems like you’re trying to tame a wild beast that takes over a day to calm down. Not fun, unless you’ve put the blood, sweat, tears and months of work into nailing down the process.

Something I’ve taken away from hearing about Proof Bakery and their millers, is the idea of process and waste and how they interact with each other.

Nothing is standardised with Reclaimed Materials

When I begin forging a Nakiri (a thin knife designed for chopping fruit and veg), I’m not simply stamping or cutting out the shape of the knife like a machine would in a big factory. I’m not even starting with a standard bar stock to which I begin forging. As it’s reclaimed, the material new re-treating and the surface preparing before I can even begin forging.

Even then, every piece of reclaimed steel is a different dimension. That means gauging the material I need to forge the basic shape challenging at times. More often than not, I try to over estimate by about 5-10%, so to allow for any error or misjudgement…. as you can always stretch at manipulate the steel, but you can’t create something from nothing.

What this means is sometimes blades are a fraction longer than intended. It’s something I communicate with my clients (I always offer the choice of shortening if required). It’s only been a positive.

In this case the process itself inherently creates something that is a “waste” of sorts, but when passing it over to you, it’s only been a positive or at least allowed an extra choice a bonus.

Underdeveloped Process Passes Waste Forward

There is a new concept I’ve been working on for the paste couple of years. It’s been a great learning experience for me as I’ve learned about an entirely different material and technique. A year and a half ago, if I were to release this concept then, I would have been passing over my inefficient process as waste to you. An inefficient and underdeveloped process means much more time and materials – that you pay for.

It’s why I spend months if not years testing these things out. I don’t want a process that doesn’t work for me and that you end up paying more for – or that with the combination of those two, just isn’t viable at all.

Some of you may be wondering, why waste your time with something like that? Why not just make things you know work?

It’s true that most of this doesn’t really make sense a lot of the time. The only way I can explain it is this….

Creating something with my own hands, learning about new materials, creating new ideas and these being what connect me with like minded people who use the tools I make in their lives everyday… That is a big part of what drives me forward and interests me.

So if I just stopped exploring new things, even when they perhaps don’t make much sense at all… I’m not sure there would be much point continuing.

Waste Less Forging

One afternoon I thought I’d experiment with a forge-only concept. Something that’s made almost exclusively with fire and hammer. I came up with this small herb chopper, as you see below. Overall, it felt like a success. It was reasonably quick to make and as it’s made entirely from reclaimed steel (no other fixtures), the whole process is vastly simplified. The heat treatment done by fire and eye (so no waiting for the kiln). It is much simpler compared to my other work but still made in the same spirit.

It was definitely fun to be able to take something that’s essential old scrap and make it into a beautiful tool in a matter of a couple of hours. I don’t think I’ll make them regularly available though, but rather as something I can make here and then to take a breather from other tasks. Perhaps I could make a few available for Christmas gifts?

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