Among the few things our senses remember for a long time is the smell and feel of a fresh loaf of bread. The aroma is imprinted on your brain, and stays with you for a long time. When it comes to bread, I’m afraid you don’t get much variety in Pakistan. The word usually implies whole wheat or brown bread available at bakeries. It’s just sad how unfamiliar Pakistanis are to the variety of bread out there. Sigh!
There is however, a German chefling among us that has set out to change this lack of ‘bread knowledge’ (Yes, its that vast a subject) in Pakistan with his amazing variety of organic breads.
Claus Euler regularly sells his produce at a local farmer’s market in Islamabad, and has made quite a name for himself and his bakery, Max and Moritz among the foodie community.
We got around to asking him about his chefling journey…
What’s your chefling tale?
My interest in food started in my own garden as a child. I had my own little patch in my parents’ house where I loved to grow tomatoes, never walking the dog without carrying a plastic bag to grab every pile of horse or cow dung I could find on my round. I knew all the spots where I could dig out horse-raddish… Especially inspiring was the old gardener and his mountain of a compost heap in the corner of the garden. His passion became mine!
It was a breakfast at a student friend of mine, which inspired me to start baking bread in 1980.
Since I have lived longer in South Asia than in Germany (20 years in Pakistan now, and married to a Pakistani), I always missed good bread and started to bake it here as well. Till today, it is that combination of early admiration for the wonders of nature and growth, the dream to grow something myself and then my professional work to promote an integrated, practical (!) approach with daily action to contribute to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of resources, which drives me. Concentrating on one signature product, which is also the most vital to human life and culture (bread), is needed to master the road to perfection.
My pride is my roof-top veggie- and herbs garden, as well as every other square centimeter of terrace and entrance garden space used on my 1 kanal plot, which supplies me with many ingredients for my own bread recipes and other products.
If you were to describe your love for baking bread in one word, what would it be?
How did you get the word out for your products?
I first baked bread for my own family and friends, then took bread instead of flowers to invitations, and with overwhelmingly positive feedback, I joined the Farmers’ Market with my stall at Kuch Khaas in November 2013. Slowly, and because there was and is nobody who makes bread like me, the demand increased and I started to build my clientele. I currently send out my list of products to around 360 customers weekly.
Recently, I was inspired to design my own logo. This features Wilhelm Busch (15.4.1832-9.1.1908), the first cartoonist in the world (who happens to be my great-great uncle) and the two naughty boys Max and Moritz, the characters he is best known for. Their adventure to break into a bakery had me decide the way I did…
Since I consider customer care a prime ingredient, next to a unique product one wants to share, I designed a flyer (explaining HOW I make my bread), responded to many requests for catering and baking on order, and thus expanded. And obviously, I used all my network of friends and colleagues to spread the word.
Any particular memory from your early days starting out?
Since I wanted to bring out a wood-oven taste, I used to bake in the oven of the original Pizza Party restaurant, around 3pm on Saturdays when the heat was perfect for my loaves to be shot in, and when the restaurant had a lull in customers. Then later, I had the support of the owner of Basil Leaf, who allowed me to use his wood-oven. This was also conducive because of its proximity to Kuch Khaas. Only since the summer of 2014 have I had my own wood-oven, and have slowly mastered the firing and overall handling. In the early days, I would collect little twigs myself during my morning walks and procure a good amount of my wood from my own sustainable sources. Trial and error were my best companions!
What kind of organic products do you like to make the most and why?
Coming from a country known for having the world’s greatest variety of bread, and being a cultural anthropologist by training, my prime interest is bread and its its cultural importance in human development. I am clearly an olfactory person, and there is nothing more heavenly than the smell of a fresh bread.
The bread cannot be unique if it does not make use of the entirety of available sources and the variety of possible ingredients, food-pairing knowledge, drive for frugal innovation and the feedback from those who have tasted my breads.
I will definitely not get tired to learn every day and support local collectors of Jeera in Astore, the best walnuts in Dir and Kohistan; to make my unique breads and convince people to have them with my smoked fish, Kimchi, hunter veal, hummus, white cheese with fresh herbs and home-made marmalades. Experimentation with new combinations, and sharing the results are my main motivations and put me in a state of flow when I am at it.
What is the one thing that is essential in making the perfect loaf of bread?
Time is very important – good bread needs time to “ripen” like a fruit. I use my own sour dough varieties, six at moment, which need to be fed every day. I let the dough rise for 20-24 hours and use the best ingredients possible.
What are your plans for the future?
Instead of growing too fast and shifting from baking to management of baking only, I decided to grow slowly and carefully consider the step towards having staff as support. Partnerships to supply my breads to selected cafes or restaurants are on the path to materializing, and would initially be mastered with a second baking day.
I consider horizontal expansion to be a good step as well; I recently took up a partnership with Imran Saleh (Farmer’s Cheese Making, Lahore), the only Pakistani who makes decent hard and soft cheeses in the country, and am currently his point of sale in Islamabad.
There are a lot of requests by people, who open new eateries, an online distributor of organic products, or requests to join other Farmers’ Markets. But my focus is to secure the ingredients for expansion and use more “rare” species of grains; panicum miliaceum, a wild millet from mountainous Broghil Valley, or the replacement of imported spelt and rye by either growing these species myself or getting them from the only in-country producer left, and so-called non-timber forest products, under fair-trade conditions.
Not second to that is the constant alert to reduce my “ecological footprint”, and consistently adhere to my own set of principles formulated to run the business early on.
Maybe, I can then get space from an underutilized bakery somewhere nearby in Islamabad, expand into catering support to a friend, who is the most amazing Pakistani cook I know (with her own TV show). with my planned cheese and bread platter, and use more organically managed farm space from friends who were helpful in launching my bread baking.