Joaquín Labayen, the baker who left his job in Madrid to bake bread in Zanzibar and deliver it on a motorcycle

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In recent years, the motto “bread, motorcycle and no return date” has governed the life of Joaquín Labayen (Granada, 43 years old). He now no longer has the vehicle parked at the door – he sold it just before embarking on a trip to Latin America – and has given himself a period of two months to check if his latest adventure, this time in not very remote lands, works out. forward. He has just started a business making bread to order in Alhaurín el Grande (Málaga), a “microbakery”, he calls it, in which there is no space for direct sales, but rather a shared workshop in which he bakes low bread. order. “As soon as I can, I want to buy a motorcycle again and have my own workshop,” he expresses his wish. It's Tuesday and today he had to refresh the sourdough of the breads that tomorrow he will knead and on Thursday, he will bake and deliver by hand to his clients. By not having a store, he plays at a disadvantage in the business. “Smell is an unbeatable magnet,” he reflects. More information Labayen's business website sheds some clues about his past as a graphic designer. The one that one day he decided to park, seduced by the masses and the fermentations. It was around 2010. A book by baker Xavier Barriga had fallen into his hands and on television he had seen Ibán Yarza in action making sourdough bread. While doing tests in the oven at his house, he launched “an online store with a bread theme” where Javier Marca went to buy a t-shirt. This is how Labayen and the owner of Panic met, making Marca remember him when he planned the opening of the Madrid bakery in 2013. “He hired three home bakers. They were beautiful days, but hard, because we were excited, but we had no idea, because we were not professional bakers,” recalls Labayen. There, in that space in the Conde Duque area that would become a reference in the world of artisan bakery, he spent two stages interrupted by his desire to live an experience, dreamed of by many and carried out by few: that of traveling around the world, on a motorcycle, without a return ticket. “I told myself, if I have been able to change my job… let's try doing this.” And so he headed to Africa, to Zanzibar, to the modest bakery that a co-worker in Panic had set up. That was just the beginning of a 19,000-kilometer motorcycle journey through Africa that he recounted in a blog, Motor Bread, and later in a book, Pole pole, Mugunzu!.Whole wheat bread from Bora bakery. Bwejuu, Zanzibar. Image provided by Joaquín Labayen. “I learned a lot because there were very few means. We kneaded by hand, we baked in a small air oven, and my friend had a small refrigerator that didn't always work,” says Labayen, about his time at Bora Bakery. If there is something he has learned from his travels—because after Africa he did the same with Latin America—it is that to make quality bread you really need very little: “just a couple of ingredients, time and knowing how to adapt to high temperatures.” He says it knowingly, because in the bakery the temperature did not drop below 30 degrees and they still managed to make “reasonably good” croissants and loaves of white wheat and whole wheat. Some time later, his restlessness and his passion brought him other baking chapters, such as a visit to the home bakery of a diplomat's wife in Lusaka (Zambia) and to the Upendo Sisters Bakery, located in a convent of Franciscan nuns in Ifakara (Tanzania), and from which free bread comes out for social centers. He himself helped make cookies and bread that he describes as “mould-like, full of yeast and oil.” “The bread itself was not very interesting, the work of it was.”Alice kneading cookies in the Upendo Sisters Bakery workshop.  Ifakara, Tanzania.  Image provided by Joaquín Labayen.Alice kneading cookies in the Upendo Sisters Bakery workshop. Ifakara, Tanzania. Image provided by Joaquín Labayen. That African journey had little to do with the Latin American one, which he carried out between 2022 and 2023, after having worked at Vanille Bakery and Mision Bakehouse, confinement through. From countries in which bread, in a large part of the territory, does not exist as we know it and consists, for example, of «corn porridge», it went to a region in which «the breads, local and “The business model is similar to that of Europe.” “The sourdough phenomenon is not as widespread as here or in North America, but in every major city there is now at least one option.” As he traveled through Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia, among others, Labayen perceived a certain homogenization in the bakeries, apart from the traditional breads typical of each place, something that in his opinion is not necessarily bad. “There is a certain romantic vision of the fathers of each place, at some point the breads that are traditional today were introduced and at the time they were intruders,” he argues.Poster photographed in Chile.  Image provided by Joaquín Labayen.Poster photographed in Chile. Image provided by Joaquín Labayen.Solo, that's the name of Labayen's business. Because he is the only employee for everything: receiving orders, making the bread and distributing it. Also to manage the website and social networks. And because it only sells bread. For now, it offers five: a half-kilo loaf (4.50 euros) and two, a half-kilo loaf and two special breads: with roasted garlic and almonds and with dried tomatoes and olives. All made with stone-ground flour from the El Molino flour mill in Coín, with 10% whole wheat, and 100% sourdough. “It is the way that satisfies me the most, the product is unmatched and the preparation is what I like to do the most. It does not have added yeast,” he indicates. That is why he explains that this type of bread lasts in optimal conditions for about four days, although today he had one for breakfast that he made six days ago, simply having regenerated it with a heating in the toaster. “The ideal conservation is in cotton linen fabric that does not have lint. Hence the traditional bread bag or the other way is in the closed wooden bread box. Bread deteriorates because it dries out,” he explains, later adding frozen portions as an option. Not having a store is a handicap, but also a relief for someone accustomed, in recent years, to walking lightly. “If it doesn't start working in two months, I'll take my things and leave,” Labayen reflects on his project. As he heard people say during his trip to Africa and the title of his book reads: Pole, pole. Slowly, in suaijili. You can follow EL PAÍS Gastro on Instagram and x.