Originally from the island of Mauritius, Beesham Soogrim is a vegetarian chef and baker working in Holm, Sweden. We met on a Facebook forum for bakers and have been encouraging each others’ love of breads. I thought it would be nice to learn more about his craft and share his story.
How did you become a baker?
I’ve been primarily a vegetarian chef for almost thirty two years, cooking in India, South Africa and Norway. For the past twenty-eight years between living in Norway and Sweden. Baking is part of my job and this is how I started baking; at that time I was baking with yeast. Imagine your first time baking was by mixing not one kilo of dough but twenty. I was basically self taught and have developed my own style of baking. Teaching myself, method and by practicing and practicing.
What brought you to Sweden?
Long story short, I met my children’s mother.
You are a primarily a sourdough baker?
Yes. I met master baker Manfred Enoksson, around 10 years ago who came to give a sourdough course at my kitchen and I became interested with sourdough baking. We used to have an organic shop here on the farm where we baked between 200-250 breads that we sell on a Friday, five to six different kinds of breads. Now the shop is closed.
Why is sourdough your choice for baking?
People have been baking sourdough breads for thousands of years and still do it in many parts of the world with only natural fermentation. For me it is a challenge to bake clean and pure sourdough bread. It is healthy and the reward of the final product made by hand rewards the customer and baker. The list can be long.
I notice a lot of bakers stenciling now on loaves. Is it just a trend or a new way of make a signature on loaves?
I have always been baking breads for the eyes, as well as taste. Then I met Josep Pascual and I had a chance to take a workshop in Holland and learn from him. Since I bake for children, what can be better than beautiful breads which have been decorated with stencils? And in my own workshops, I want to show people how to bake beautiful breads at home just by using their imagination and some stencils.
Tell us about your work in Holma?
Holma is a foundation, with facilities for conference. We have a forest garden where we grow organic vegetables, fruits, and berries. We’re also equipped with a huge professional kitchen and bakery. That is where I work. I have been working here for almost 12 years, and also feeding 180 kids at the local school, as well.
What sort of flour do you like baking with; rye or wheat?
I use organic flour and also mill all my whole grains into flour. The last two years I have been working with a project called Our Beloved Bread. This project is about heritage grains from the south of Sweden. They’re locally grown. We’re encouraging farmers to go back to grow heritage grains. I had the special privilege to meet Hans Larsson, who has been doing research on heritage grains for almost 30 years. And he has his storage in Holma, too.
I like to bake with both rye and wheat. In Sweden people eats a lots of rye, which are integral in many nordic breads. I like the Ölands heritage wheat very much. It has a high protein and very good taste, too. I buy the organic white flour from them and use over a ton a year.
How do you bake, with dough retarded or overnight or longer?
It's depend on which kind of bread I want to bake. I do both retarded and overnight, but mostly I cold ferment in the fridge. For me it's a way to control my baking, since my main work is cooking in the kitchen. So it all depends on the time I have to take care and manage my dough.
What inspires you?
I get inspiration in many ways; from books, the internet and from many great bakers. I like to buy baking books. I have a good collection of them. And I also like to experiment.
You’re now making Vienoisserie with wild yeast. What is the difference between that and a typical croissant made with yeast?
Many will think it is impossible to make laminated dough without commercial yeast. Actually one can make anything one want on with wild yeast. Having patience and a good starter is all there is to it. I have two very old starters; one started 90 years ago. The other is 30 years old. They are very powerful.
Personally I think it has a better the taste and lasts longer. Even the day after it was baked, it’s still crispy. I find that the one with yeast got soggy after a few hours.
How many different breads you bake daily?
I don't bake daily, but I do bake different breads every week. Rye, pita, focaccia, baguettes, ciabatta, and normal sourdough country bread. I like to experiment a lot. And I have the opportunity to do it at work and of course my friends love to taste them.
And you have been doing workshops recently with another baker. Do you think there is a renaissance of home bakers?
Yes, I have been doing workshops. I have my own local workshop teaching people how to bake good and healthy bread at home. Then Barbara Elisi and I did an international workshop. People came from all over the world. We were booked in no time. We can only do a couple in a year.
As well, I have been invited to different countries to give workshops, too.
There is a big demand from home bakers who want to know how to bake good bread at home. From all the forums we have on Facebook, we see how active people are from all over the world. This is how my name has gotten around and has been a way to meet wonderful people.
What sorts of breads did you eat when you were a child?
I am from Mauritius, which was a French colony. So the influence has been French bread. I grew up eating baguettes.
Do you cook, too?
As I mentioned, I am a vegetarian chef. It’s my main work. It’s not often in the profession that you find a cook baking bread as well.
What is you favorite bread?
This is very difficult to answer, but if i have to; levain baguettes made with emmer flour. Or a whole wheat kamut bread. Both use heritage grains. But I like many breads. The list would be too long to mention them all.
What inspires you?
Probably all the wonderful people out there who have the same interest as me in baking good beautiful and healthy bread and they’re are many.
How about a book?
It's been on my mind for long time to write all I’ve learned. I have the idea of writing a book in a very simple language and including many baking tips for organic and natural leavening. It's a lot of work. We will see.