Twenty-four-year-old Stavros Evangelou thinks back fondly on his grandfather’s bakery, on the corner of Nikis and Apollonos streets in central Athens, which specialized in recipes from Smyrna. The bakery was later taken over by Stavros’s parents and uncle, who succeeded in transforming it into a robust family business. Growing up in the bakery and the creativity that this particular craft offers prompted the young man to head to Germany – as there are no bakery schools in Greece – and continue the family tradition.
He first spent some time in Frankfurt perfecting his German and then went hunting for a school, helped by his expert father.
“The level in Germany is very high. Munster, for example, has a school with a state-of-the-art bakery and exceptional professors with a wealth of knowledge,” says Stavros.
For the practical side of his education, he looked for a bakery where he could learn from the best; one that was neither too small nor too big, which was committed to quality. He worked hard, did well and was soon noticed by his superiors, going on to win competition after competition, until this year he and a colleague represented Germany at an annual European competition for best young baker. Stavros ranked top in four categories, among which was bread, in no small degree thanks to his use of mastic and mahlep – trade secrets passed on by his Smyrnaean grandfather.
Today, his Smyrnaean bread is available every Friday and Saturday at Hinkel, an excellent bakery in Dusseldorf that has been around for 125 years. In January, the store will also start carrying his rustic bread and other goods.
“It’s the best bakery in Europe in my opinion. It has amazing variety,” says Stavros of the store he randomly discovered seven years ago while walking around the city. “It has a unique concept. It only sells bread, rolls and a small number of baked desserts. It does not sell sandwiches and coffees. Nevertheless, there’s always a queue and that means it must be doing something right.”
Hinkel offers 120 to 150 different products on a daily basis, rotating its selections.
“The Smyrnaean bread is from an old recipe from Stavros’s grandfather. I wanted to start making and selling it as soon as I tasted it,” says a smiling Josef Hinkel sitting near the entrance to his small bakery, urging customers to taste it. Hinkel employs 75 people even though it has just two small stores in Dusseldorf’s old quarter.
“Everything is done by hand. Everything. His products are exceptional and all the breads are made with old, authentic recipes,” says Stavros.
What makes his bread so special?
“It is really something quite different because it’s not kneaded. Basically you allow the flour and the water to prove alone and the sourdough is made with basil and lemon,” says Stavros. “We have it in the store in Greece and now we’ve started making it here, and it’s selling like hot cakes! I didn’t expect that.”
The young Athenian baker has been working at Hinkel since August and will stay until the end of the year, when he has to get back to university to prepare for his final exams in October and earn his title as master baker. His dream is to return to Greece and take over the family business, making breads that are not just delicious but also nutritious, with whole grains, seeds and other wholesome ingredients, as well as a few with very little salt or without yeast.
“If I had stayed in Greece, I would never have realized my dreams,” he says, urging children to chase their passion and not get tied down by the notion that they have to pursue conventional university studies.
“A good craftsman will always find work,” he says.