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[ZOOM KOREA] Master baker gets creative in the kitchen

Dec 14,2017
Confectionery master In Jae-hong sprinkles flour on his dough to make a baguette in the bakery laboratory of Cheonan Yonam College in South Chungcheong.[PARK SANG-MOON]
1. In inspects freshly-baked baguettes and is pleased with his results. 2. The master baker uses a sieve to filter whole wheat flour. 3. Baker In carefully kneads the dough. 4. Baker In explains the process of baking to students at Cheonan Yonam College. 5. Gomchwi ciabatta, a healthy bread filled with various minerals and fiber. 6. Pain de seigle, a bread that is more than 60 percent whole wheat. 7. Panetone is bread from Italy that is made one month before Christmas. People eat the bread while waiting for Christmas. [PARK SANG-MOON]
The origin of bread is not certain. White, soft bread made from yeast is said to have been made by Egyptians in 2000 B.C.

In Korea, breads known as myeonpo and seolgo, a type of sponge cake, were first introduced by foreign missionaries who came to the country at the end of Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Although bread originated in the West, it is now a popular snack, or even a meal, in Korea.

Confectionery whiz In Jae-hong is one of the 12 existing masters in confectionery and bakery in Korea. After 39 years of devotion to the field, he finally reached to the top and gained the title of “Republic of Korea’s 12th Confectionery Master.”

Although he’d achieved everything he had ever wanted, he will never forget Oct. 23, 1978. That was the day he started working in a local bakery. He had to leave school after finishing seventh grade due to financial hardship.

In was born in Seoul, but he graduated elementary school in Busan and transferred to a school in Seoul when he started seventh grade. Since his family was poor, he was forced to earn a living through delivering newspapers and Chinese food. When he was going through his rounds delivering newspapers, his final stop was a bakery, and the owner persuaded him to come work for the business. The owner convinced him by saying that he will be able to earn his living by learning the craft of baking.

Hearing that he could study and learn a skill simultaneously, he jumped at the chance to work in the bakery and started learning how to make bread. He would wake up each day at 5 a.m. and work until 10 p.m.

He started with cleaning and washing the dishes, and then familiarized himself with baking and kneading the dough. Focused on basking, he quickly became too busy to continue his studies. He spent about three and a half years at his first bakery.

One day, an acquaintance of his boss who worked at the famed Napoleon bakery visited In’s bakery and was captivated by In’s excellent cakemaking skills. Soon after, In was brought over to work at Napoleon bakery.

At that the time, Napoleon bakery was considered the best bakery in Seoul and the top training school for baking and confectionery skills.

In’s time at Napoleon bakery was the most difficult phase in his life. Everyone who works at the bakery must begin at the bottom, so In started cleaning dishes, washing towels, and sweeping the floors.

Only after some time did he begin learning new baking skills. After learning to bake, knead, and decorate cakes, it usually took employees four to six years to become second-in-charge of production.

The day started at exactly 3:50 a.m., when he woke up, and by 4 a.m. the work at the bakery began. In the Christmas season, In and the rest of the workers were only able to sleep for one to two hours a day.

However, what was more infuriating than lack of sleep was the physical punishment. To acquire the perfect skills, the workers were under strict regulations and were punished by beatings.

The workers were organized into groups of three: The person on the job, a trainer and a trainee.

Even a mistake made by only one person led to punishment for the whole group. The person on the job was whipped for not doing his part properly, while the trainer was punished for improper teaching and the trainee for making a mistake. After being chastised for their wrongdoings, the workers were lashed until their buttocks bled, and then they were told to go back to work.

The training process is considered to be unthinkable and shocking in modern times, but its consequences were incredible.

If a baker was known to be from Napoleon bakery, other stores would whisk them away by offering them high salaries. Five out of the 12 confectionery masters in Korea are from Napoleon bakery, a testament to the shop’s high-quality output.

One of In’s inventions is “healthy bread using natural fermentation.” It’s neither sweet nor salty, and made without eggs, sugar or butter. The baguettes are made of only four ingredients: salt, water, flour and yeast.

His most well-known baked creations are the Gomchwi ciabatta and Pain de seigle. They are especially popular among health-conscious young people, as these breads are full of vitamins and fiber, easy to digest and are also effective for diets, since the breads use the process of natural fermentation.

In thinks the most important factor in bread-making is sticking to his principles. Four hours after the bread has been baked, In believes that it begins to lack freshness and the taste is diminished. To prevent this, others use eggs, sugar or butter.

To make an honest piece of bread that is up to his standards, he chooses to go down a difficult path in order to produce high-quality and fresh bread at all times for his customers.

What interests In nowadays is his business and education. He plans to launch a new business called “You and Bread” at the end of this month. He will form his own team and pass on his skills and methods down to the younger bakers while continuing to stick by his principles and produce quality bread.

His other plan is to reach out to younger bakers. Currently, he is passing on his craft to students majoring in food service industry at Cheonan Yonam College in South Chungcheong. He also teaches at Hyejeon College in South Chungcheong and at Korea Tourism College in Gyeonggi, both famous for their departments of confectionery and bakery.

The faces of his students show the respect and awe they have for the confectionery master as he purposefully washes his worktable before he starts his class.

BY PARK SANG-MOON [moonpark@joongang.co.kr]