Five Minutes with Irish Chef Louise Bannon

Louise Bannon started her culinary career at Ballymaloe and has gone on to work at Tom Aikens, Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck and the infamous Noma in Copenhagan as pastry sous chef. She spent five months in San Francisco learning more about her true passion: making delicious breads, before baking bread for Noma Australia.

Tell us about your love of bread and what you learned in San Francisco?
My love of bread started at Noma, when I began to make sourdough. Feeding the starter every day and watching it develop, it became part of me. I baked the bread at Noma for lunch and dinner service. I always loved watching the progress of making the dough and unloading an oven full of bread. I wanted to learn more and see how bakeries operate, so I went to visit Tartine, where some of the best sourdough breads are made. I also visited a bakery in Petaluma called Della Fattoria, where all breads are baked in wood-fired ovens - this is the first time I experienced bread being baked this way.

What do you find most exciting or fascinating about baking?
The bread starter. Feeding it every day, watching it grow, bubble, activate, and adding it to the bread dough at the right stage always fascinates me. The starter is the most important part of the bread making - it's what gives the bread fantastic flavour and allows it to rise.

Tell us about baking bread for Noma Australia?
I was making and baking all the bread out of a shipping container. It was so exciting, and I really enjoyed looking out on such a beautiful view while selling fresh bread and connecting with people passing by. It was a challenge baking the bread, as the temperatures were very warm, so the dough activated much faster.

Any tips for those afraid of approaching bread making?
Start by getting familiar with a bread starter. Feed it every day. Learn to mix flours and water and get a feeling for the dough. Bake at home as much as you can to get more and more familiar with baking a loaf of bread.

What's next on your agenda?
Right now, I'm looking out for a location where I can settle. I want to find a space to bake great bread and pastries and share them with people.


What are you looking forward to most at this week's LitFest?
Connecting with people in the industry - I love to learn and listen to other speakers. I am looking forward to meeting Francis Mallmann from Argentina, who does fantastic cooking over fire.

How do you suspect it will feel to return to Ballymaloe as a speaker after so many years since your study there?
It feels great to be invited to take part in LitFest - there's always a high energy in the air. All the Allens are such innovative, energised people. I always like to visit the gardens at the cookery school. There is a constant array of exciting vegetables, fruits and herbs growing. There is a small house in the gardens made out of shells that I always like to visit too any time I'm back!


Catch Louise Bannon this weekend at the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food & Wine, May 20-22,


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