Peter Jespersen’s ‘magic craft’

This interview with Peter Jespersen of ‘Simpel Surdej’ is a great occasion to get to know more about sourdough and bakery. I must admit that although my wife uses the sourdough starter, I never got around understanding it properly, and I also find it a little bit ‘intimidating’: to see it growing in its jar, in the fridge, is slightly weird. But I also admit (rather gladly!) that everything cooked with it is so very excellent! Therefore, I can’t wait to know more about it… but before we delve into it, here are ‘Simpel Surdej’ contacts:

First of all, let our readers/followers get acquainted with you: where are you from, how old are you, where are you based, and which is your main activity?

My name is Peter Jespersen, 32, located in Viborg, Denmark. I am educated as a Multimedia Designer and, later on in life, as a chef. My main activity is head chef at a boarding school, called Klejtrup Musikefterskole. I run the social media platform called “Simpel surdej” in my free time, and currently I am also working on creating a physical passion driven space for this project.

How did it all begin? How did you start your activity? Did you attend any school or did you learn your craft by working in your sector?

I was a terrible baker as a chef, and one of the things I didn’t like at the beginning was flour, because it was messy and triggered my sense of order. As I took the role of leading chef after the previous one (who was an outstanding baker and had worked as the head of baking for a huge company before that) left, I was forced to learn how to bake properly, and that’s where my journey began.

This is not bread, this is art!!!

Could you please tell me, and the audience: what is it that makes sourdough so fascinating? How does it work? Why is it that food prepared with it tastes so good, and is also so ‘light’ to digest?

Sourdough fascinates me because it’s alive, it’s pure nature and because it’s complicated. I am also a very visual person, and there are many beautiful visual processes in sourdough baking. The end result of a proper loaf, is a piece of art in itself. I love this craft, it’s rustic, water, flour, fire.. and a lot of temperature control and techniques. I love the history and tradition of mastering an honest craft. There are always ways to improve, new paths and I know that many are pursuing the ‘perfect’ bread. Besides that, the community for sourdough is awesome and I have already met a lot of cool passionate people.

Considering your native nation, how in your opinion your national or even local culture did shape your interest for the food industry in general, and sourdough bread in particular? Would you say that there is a Danish and/or Scandinavian/Nordic way to sourdough bread?

We have less sun in the North, so we tend to create more rustic and heavy loaves by tradition. Take the danish rye bread as an example. In Denmark, we learn to eat this bread at a very early age. I know many foreigners who need to get acquainted with this special type of bread, before they start liking it. Currently there is a tendency (highly due to social media) to create mostly wheat loaves with huge air pockets. Making these types of bread is easier with strong white flour, from more sunny countries — but can still be achieved with what we have here in the North.

I have watched the “Sourdough for beginners” video on your website, it is amazing!!! My advice to the readers is to watch it asap: it is not spoken, you just see the process that leads (from scratch) to baking the finest bread ever seen. Now, would you care explaining your work flow, or at least some phases of it?

Thank you! Workflow and words to study, if you are interested in this, could be; autolysis, bulk fermentation, cold proof, creating tension and strength such as coil fold, preshape and final shape. There will be English guides available on our YouTube soon.

How do you work on improving your craft? Do you attend courses, meet and discuss with other people in your sector, research and consult books and/or technical manuals, attend exhibitions/fairs… got any advice for beginners?

The best way to improve is to keep on baking as much as you can and as often as you can. The sourdough is alive, and you need to understand it in all the processes. I myself went on a baking spree in 2019 and pretty much baked bread every single day, no matter how much I had in my calendar. If you can scale it up and make more than one loaf a day, your learning curve will go faster. The community is there to help you. At the beginning of my project I promised people I would help them if they sent me a sourdough related question/problem on Instagram and also related pictures with their bread for troubleshooting and help: I have been doing that for nearly a year now and I continue to do it, even though my inbox is still growing by the day. I have found a lot of good friends and we both meet and discuss everything related. It becomes very nerdy, but in the end you will realize how few tweaks are needed to create better bread. Lately I have teamed up with a very talented guy called Ronni and we are working on the project together now. Until recently we did not know we both lived in the same town. We are both hardcore sourdough nerds.

Simpel Surdej recently enjoyed very good news and media coverage

What do you reckon of the Danish (and Scandinavian) modern cuisine? There is a lot of hype about it: do you think it is just fashion or is it ‘here to stay’? Further: do you think your products can fit in it? Why?

I will do my best to make the sourdough craft here to stay. A better and more nutritious healthy food is a win/win. The whole process of making bread is a lot of fun and meditative in itself, I think that’s what excites a lot of people. Some bakeries and most supermarkets are selling low quality (I.e bake off) bread and people have come to the realization that they can bake much better bread of a higher taste and nutritional level themselves at home.

Now a technical question, I reckon it could be interesting for our readers: what kind of machines/tools do you use? Which is your favorite? Why?

My favorite tool is the scoring knife (breadlame) There is nothing more satisfying than slicing through a dough that’s ready to be baked. Back in the early start of the project, we created a handcrafted one ourselves that we still use daily and one that many people find interesting. Sadly a few have tried to copy the design already, but the awesome people who want to support and give back to our project (for us to be able to expand into our physical location!), have stayed loyal and still want to have the Simple Surdej breadlame on their bread journey. We thank you for that.

Which is your vision for the future?

I want to progress from the virtual world of showing bread and teaching sourdough, into the ‘real’ world. Very soon we will launch our new space and be able to meet people face to face. They will also be able to taste our bread and no longer just look at it through the screen. I want to give back as much as I can, ultimately that is what gives me the most satisfaction. We are all in on this project now and I am excited to see where that takes us. We hope people will come and join us, taste our bread, have a good time and a nerdy sourdough chat.

Which is the most important event on your horizon? Anything you wish to share with the audience.

Keep an eye on our social media and keep a free slot in your calendar, we wish to meet as many of all our followers as possible, and welcome new people to the lovely world of sourdough madness. Thank you for the interview.

Thank you Peter! Hopefully see you soon in your brand new space!