Julia Georgallis runs The Bread Companion, a nomadic micro-bakery which travels about teaching newbie bakers & yeast enthusiasts how to produce their very own loaf. Having first met Julia through The London Artisan, the first thing that struck me (after the freshly baked bread smell, mmmm) was the eye-catching branding her mobile bakery uses. Which makes sense, considering Julia is also a designer. A baker almost by accident, Julia talks about how the worlds of food and design have combined in a way which allow her to live the independent life dream: a bit of travel, a bit of work and a lot of passion. In our interview, she gives some top travel tips, hails the importance of bread and shares a unique take on gathering inspiration.
Please can you introduce yourself and your business?
My name’s Julia, I’m half a baker and half an industrial designer and I run a project called The Bread Companion, a nomadic little micro bakery that travels around encouraging people to eat and bake ‘real’ bread. I drive around a trailer complete with a sink and wood fired oven and run a range of bread-making classes. The point of the project however is not just about bread – my aim is to encourage people to provide for themselves and think about where their food comes from. I also run various supper clubs throughout the year and write a blog, The Bap, where I post various recipes, thoughts and stories about food from my travels.
Simple one here: why bread?
So. It’s actually not that simple and I’ve taken an extremely wonky route into the bread world. The Bread Companion came about after I was set a project brief in my final year at the Royal College of Art in 2013 to ‘become an expert’ about something – we had 3 weeks to learn a new skill. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between food and design so I was immediately drawn to bread. At that point in my studies I was a bit stuck and mastering baking got me out of a pickle. I liked that within a few hours I could make something tangible (and delicious) and it felt important when, in life, so many things take so much longer to come to fruition. So after that project, I started volunteering in a bakery (Better Health in Haggerston) on Saturdays. Once I finished at the RCA, I just kept baking and running the project and all of a sudden I was working in the food industry almost full time (I still dabble in the design world). The thing that I like most about bread is how universal it is – every country cherishes their own bread related carb. I also love that it is such a poetic and historically very important food for us human beings – it was the first food that we manufactured, it has come to be associated as the staple of our diet, it has even ebbed its way into our vocabulary and is surrounded by so many stories across the world.
Last year, you spent many months travelling around South and Central America. What were the standout moments of the trip (if at all possible to summarise!) Any plans for another far-flung adventure?
Well, there was this one time in Mexico that does stick out to me, but not for the reasons you might expect. I left London last January expecting to only last for about 2 months – I thought I’d get tired of being a grubby backpacker. But there was this point, 3 months on, having missed (on purpose) my flight back from California to London a couple of weeks prior and I was sitting on a rooftop at a hostel in Oaxaca, telling my sister over Skype, ‘I don’t actually know when I’m going to come home’ and it just felt… freeing. But also scary and I didn’t really know what I was doing, rolling around with no plan – but in the end I travelled for a very happy 5 months in Latin America and, unexpectedly, another 2 months in Europe. I would like to go away again, but I don’t know when or where. But I’m sure I’ll get ants in my pants soon.
In what ways do travelling and baking relate to one another for you?
It’s not just travelling and baking that relate to each other, but travel, cooking and eating in general go together like ham and cheese! Because travel, for me, is all about looking around and immersing yourself in somewhere else, learning about what other people do in other places. Food is totally intertwined within cultures, traditions and routines and so learning about peoples’ eating habits usually teaches you a little something about that place, too.
What advice would you give to someone looking to build travel into or around their business?
To be honest, I don’t think it was the cleverest thing in the world for me to spend a year building up TBC and then disappearing for months on end and, actually, it happened totally by chance and turned out really well in the end. I know that travelling seems like it’s at the heart of TBC’s manifesto, but it actually was not the motivation behind the project, although I realised quite quickly that founding a mobile, micro bakery meant that I’ve HAD to travel, which was just fine by me. So if I was to go back and do everything again with hindsight, I would warn myself to stay focussed – it’s totally distracting and not conducive to working, so you must have a clear focus on your work. Take way more photos than you need on a good quality camera (NOT just on your phone), store stuff online in at least two places and, if you are taking equipment, take the bare minimum and make sure it’s something that you can repair or replace easily and inexpensively.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far? And what are you hoping to accomplish in the future?
This project didn’t start with a business plan, it started with a lifestyle goal, so it’s hard for me to define when I’ll achieve that goal. What I do recognise is that my workshops and supper clubs are selling out. So, I think the first time that this happened was my biggest accomplishment to date because I realised that people actually wanted what I was offering. In terms of looking to the future, I have a lot of things up my sleeve ready to be launched over the next year, which includes concentrating on my blog. Eventually, I’d like to put down some roots somewhere – I’m not sure I can be a nomad forever… but that’s quite far into the future, I think.
Conversely, what has been the biggest challenge in your work to date? How did you overcome it and what did you learn?
On a practical level, monetising something that didn’t start with a traditional business plan or even as a business idea and a backlog of expenses was really hard. The only way I overcame this was to stop indulging the project and to come up with some quite austere plans. On a personal level, keeping up momentum and faith, especially right at the very beginning of the project when I had left my design job and was working alone at something that I wasn’t sure would work was daunting and kind of a bit bonkers. I also think that what I do is a bit weird, and trying to explain my life to people often gets me blank stares, which can be a bit disheartening.
What or who are you currently inspired by?
Inspiration is a funny thing. Going through art school, we were always questioned with what inspires us and it was always important that we could tap into it, so I’d go out of my way to actively find inspiration, spend days walking around in circles, going ANYWHERE – galleries, museums, exhibitions – that might inspire me. But now I reckon I probably find inspiration when I stop and don’t think, when I’m happy and a bit calm and I let my brain daydream and figure things out itself. I’ve been having lots of little light bulb moments in the little pauses of my day, like when I’m hoovering the carpet or boiling the kettle. It’s very different from where I was taught inspiration comes from.
What do you most enjoy doing?
Yapping and eating. Oh, and I love pottering and faffing around.
And finally, what does an independent life mean to you?
An independent life means everything to me! But it also means the little things, like having the opportunity to decide when (and if) you will set an alarm clock to wake you up when you put your head on your pillow at night.