Meet the artisan: Will Wooster
PUBLISHED: 13:10 27 February 2017 | UPDATED: 13:10 27 February 2017
Sarah Lucy Brown
Tessa Allingham meets baker and entrepreneur Will Wooster, of Wooster's Bakery, continuing a family tradition at Bardwell
Who says men can’t multitask? Two hours in the company of baker Will Wooster is enough to put paid to that old chestnut.
In the time it takes to interview him, Will has made 64 malt loaves. He has also remembered to stretch and fold his two sourdoughs, wholemeal and white, to strengthen the gluten, and has given them each a pat before sliding them back into the proving cabinet ready for their 4am bake tomorrow.
He has filled giant crates with generously cut golden flapjack, and dealt with customers who keep popping into the tiny shop next to his bakery. He has ignored a phone call or two, scribbled a few reminders on a busy whiteboard, adding to a haphazard list that already includes salt, sugar, plain flour, and buttermilk culture, among other undecipherable squiggles. He did warn me, to be fair. His diary is chock-full – Hadleigh farmers’ market is his next stop, then there’s Wyken every Saturday, and of course the shop to keep stocked.
“Happy to talk, but I’ll have to work at the same time,” he explains briskly, nudging his cap backwards a bit and leaving a smudge of flour on his forehead. “Coffee?” I’m in the low, white-washed building next to Bardwell Windmill, home to Wooster’s Bakery.
This is where Will works, mixing, kneading, shaping, proving and baking from 1.30am on some days, on others having a lie-in till 4am. “I have to be at Hadleigh with all my baguettes and croissants freshly-made and ready to sell by 8am on Friday. And I have to feed my sourdough starter at about five every morning. But I’m not complaining. It’s the lifestyle I chose and I love it.
Coffee?” He flicks the switch on a flour-flecked kettle, and turns to heave a mountain of richly-dark, sultana-laden malt loaf dough from the mixer and onto the bench. He gets to work quickly, cutting, scraping and weighing out loaves accurately, smoothing them into rounds. It’s almost hypnotic to watch, there’s a rhythm in the way he works. I in moments, it seems, 64 malt loaves are neatly lined up for a bit of a rest.
“Coffee?” A customer drops in, a regular – most of them seem to know Will – for a seeded batch loaf and some brownies. The brownies are tempting, gooey-middled. “My brother’s the cake-baker,” he says. Joe, a couple of years younger than 26-year-old Will, also runs the shop on Saturdays when Will is at Wyken, and works with a local lad, James, to clean down the bakery while his brother catches up on sleep.
“My big love is bread so Joe is a perfect balance to me. If I make sweet things, they’ll always be bread-based, like sourdough brioches or croissants or malt loaf. The process of making bread is fascinating to me, the thought that I can control a live substance – yeast – and make it do what I want is incredible, and I love that what I bake brings happiness.”
It’s not surprising that the coffee Will – in due course – offers me is medicinally super-strong. His is an exhausting-to-hear weekly routine. Suffice to say he barely sleeps between Thursday and Saturday, goes out Saturday night regardless, and has Sunday off. Monday to Wednesday he still has a crack of dawn start, but these are slightly saner days for paperwork, ordering, trying new recipes.
The bakery used to be run by Will’s father, Simon, and is still very much a family business. Mum, Sue, is often to be found selling her son’s loaves on a busy market day.
“Dad was the first baker and he’s still an invaluable help to me on Fridays, but he closed the bakery in 1994. Joe and I were very young at the time, so he needed to get a proper job.” Will reopened the business in September 2015, renaming it Wooster’s at the same time. It stands in the lea of Bardwell Windmill, which Will’s grandparents bought in the 1980s and which is in a state of constant renovation, particularly following the great storm of 1987 when the sails blew off. These were finally replaced in 2012, but repairs are ongoing, and income from popular threshing and milling open days is vital. As for Will, he rather fell into cooking.
“I’ve always been able to turn my hand to something – I’ve worked as a builder, I lived in New Zealand for a couple of years where I worked on boats and on a mussel farm, and I’ve always had pub jobs.” He’s a fine baker. On the markets, his loaves are piled high, long baguettes nudge up against glossy, caramelly, malt loaves, flour-dusted white batch loaves, and crusty wholemeal and white sourdough. He sells earthy spelt loaves, focaccia studded with olives, cheese, and rosemary, croissants, and fluffy, buttery brioche.
Where next? Will would love to have a shop in Bury, something that might spread the Wooster’s word.
“Or maybe I’ll find someone who’d like to sell my bread for me. I’d love to supply restaurants too. We’ll see.”
Will brings Wooster’s Bakery to several Suffolk markets, including Hadleigh (Fridays 8am-2pm) and Wyken (Saturdays 9am-1pm). He will be at the new Bury St Edmunds Farmers’ Market, from March. Details, orders and opening times at www.willywoosters.co.uk
Chances are you’ll find Will at the Beerhouse or Oakes Barn in Bury St Edmunds on a Saturday night.
“They serve a great pint of Adnams at Oakes Barn, and on music nights there’s a fantastic atmosphere there. I’ve got a very tight group of friends, some of them I’ve had since school, and I’ll always make time for them and, of course, my girlfriend, Nicole, who is very supportive of what I do (and patient with me!).
“I’ve eaten at most of the restaurants round here and enjoy that a lot. The Leaping Hare is fantastic, and Pea Porridge is a favourite. I love the fact that you could walk in there in a snorkel and Speedos and Justin [Sharp, chef-owner] wouldn’t mind.”