Where the smell of Baking Lab’s freshly baked bread is normally blown onto the street from a signboard, during the ROEF festival in September, these same smells were blown from the roof of Volkshotel.
At first glance, the setting didn’t reveal much about what was happening on the roof; a few flower pots, large and small, pots of grain here and there and floured tables with rolling pins. Only with a primal instinct to smell and feel what the environment has to offer does it become clear what is taking place; the flower pots give off heat and it smells like fire. It’s time to bake. Bakery café Baking Lab was invited here to give a bread workshop for the ROEF festival, a festival that gives new meaning to the unused roof surface of Amsterdam and has been doing so for the past five years.
In addition to a bakery and café, Baking Lab is primarily an environment for informal education, for both visitors and the people who work there. In a playful manner, the biological, chemical and physical processes of baking are explored and made tangible for the public during workshops and educational programs. However, the rooftop expedition that took place during the ROEF festival presented a challenge that developed into a story along which the participants were taken back in time. Because no oven was present on the roof of the Volkshotel, the lab was forced to take a new approach to the workshop; baking in homemade ovens.
Exploring what it takes to make an oven with minimal resources led to an understanding of materials and their properties to generate, retain and repel heat; an exploration that also took place some many thousands of years ago. The participants were engaged in this exploration of fire control and manipulation, a concept that according to J. Goudsblom, author of the book “Fire and Civilization”, underlies the civilizing process of man. As the only animal species on this planet, we have managed to control fire and thus have been able to harness the full spectrum of heat for cooking our food, farming, melting metal, and baking bread. The Baking Lab uses the story of the origin of bread to tell a story about us as humans and our history. The Lab uses science communication more often to make societal themes such as nutrition, health and sustainability tangible with bread as a metaphor.
Time and again, bread proves to provide insights into what makes us human. This time in the form of a 40-minute journey that initially took thousands of years, from hunters and gatherers to city dwellers on a roof on the seventh floor of Volkshotel.