Graphic designer to artisan baker
PUBLISHED: 09:00 27 January 2014
It may seem like a big jump but Phil Nicodem at Lievito Bakery always had too much energy to just sit behind a desk all day
Words: Andrew Warren
Why bread? Why not gardening, or something else physical? Phil smiles and then lifts another 25kg bag of flour from the stack by the door.
“Bread can be physical,” he says.
We’re talking in his purpose-built bakery, tucked in between a micro- brewery and a dairy farm opposite the River Brue in Lovington.
The place is all dusty with flour and I mention the delicious, warm, yeasty smell of newly-baked bread for the fourth time in as many minutes.
“I can’t smell it,” Phil says.
“Too much exposure, I suppose. But everyone comments on it.”
So, how does a graphic designer make the change to artisan baker?
“My interest in food began early. My parents ran a fruit and veg shop in Wells High Street. Food was in our blood. It’s vital.
"Bread takes time, and the more time you give it, the better it’s going to be"
“On the weekends and during the holidays, I’d get up early and go with dad to the market: four or five in the morning. It was great. The banter, the smell – and when no one was looking, the taste.
“Dad’s from Abruzzo in central Italy. Food is a big deal, there, and bread especially. He taught me about baking. He started me off with simple pizza bases. Then he shared his other secrets: ciabatta, focaccia.
“And although I don’t usually like making cakes,” he adds, “I will make a panettone for Christmas.”
I watch him with interest, and he looks up.
“It’s about love,” he says, working the dough with a firm hand.
We’re interrupted by another customer, and he stands behind his counter and explains what’s on offer. Money changes hands.
“I never expected the passing trade to be so much a part of what I do,” he says, returning to his shaping. “I thought it would be all wholesale, but I’ve just extended the counter – and I’ve got a proper till, too.”
I look at his counter. It’s made from old boxes and planks of wood he found in a disused dairy. It’s piled high with so many varieties of bread, it’s not feasible to list them in the space available. And while I am there, a whole cross-section of folk come to buy.
“Word just seems to have gotten around. Saturday is really busy.” I know that’s true. I’ve waited in line on a Saturday morning for my warm croissants, served by Genna, his wife.
I wonder what his bestselling loaf is.
“It varies,” he says. “Some days I can’t make enough milk loaf, and others the sesame and semolina loaf flies off the counter. But probably, my Somerset sour dough is the most popular.
“You don’t add yeast to a sour dough. Instead, the dough draws from the naturally-occurring bacteria in the atmosphere – so it’s influenced by the local area.”
Standing outside, you can smell the beer, the cut grass and the fresh breeze off the river. Plenty of influences here then.
I watch as he begins to slice the top of his baguettes using a homemade implement based around a razor blade.
“It’s the French style. Each baker signs his loaves this way,” he explains.
I confess that I bake my own bread from time to time and I ask what his top tip would be for a home baker.
“Patience,” he says without hesitation.
“Bread takes time, and the more time you give it, the better it’s going to be.” I nod and promise myself that I’ll try and slow down.
“And keep the salt and yeast separate for as long as possible,” he adds.
“Do you know” he says, “I do get people coming in and asking what’s gone wrong with their sour dough.
“I always offer them some advice, so maybe I could run a clinic. In fact, I’d like to run courses,” he says.
“Perhaps a beginners’ course on making pizzas or simple loaves and then maybe an advanced course for people that want to take it further.”
Things are going in and coming out of the ovens all the time. Did I mention the delicious, warm, yeasty smell? I am amazed at how easily he is able to remember what’s in where and how long it’s been in there. I frequently burn the single loaf I’m baking.
We talk about a typical working week.
“Most days, I’m here by 3am and work until around 6pm.
“Saturdays, I have to be here at midnight to get it all done. Croissants are a real labour of love, and we make all our own almond paste for the almond ones which takes more time.
“But it’s not just me; there’s Fin, my new baker. She’s just so creative with pastries. And on Saturdays, I also have Jake. And of course, Genna helps at the weekends whenever she can, despite having a full-time job.”
I wonder about his social life, his other commitments.
“This is my life – and I love it. I’d rather be doing this than anything else.”
The baguettes are coming out, and I know I mentioned the delicious, warm, yeasty smell before, but it’s still working its magic.
They go into a basket on the counter. He starts to work on a sweet dough onto which he spreads melted butter, local apples and sultanas. This he rolls up and then slices for baking.
“It’s a Lovington Bun,” he tells me, and later, unable to resist, I take one home; I can recommend it with a strong espresso. Delicious.
If you fancy one yourself, or want to try something more continental, pop in and see Phil.