Humility, integrity, and conviction…Three qualities that I feel are essential for living one’s life according to a mission statement and its ever evolving reach. While the word ‘passion’ gets used a lot when discussing one’s sense of ferver towards pursuing a personal interest or goal; without the aforementioned qualities, one’s passion may not be sustainable. Furthermore, when one centers his or her career around providing solutions that have the potential to benefit all of humanity. Switching jobs (shifting gears) entails not only identifying with and adapting to a new company’s mission statement; it also includes taking that statement and allowing it to become part of your core identity.
“There has been an explosion of interest in our story and in orders for our products, which has changed everything in a very positive way for us. For me, it has “validated my validation”, which has enabled me to relax a bit, to feel less isolated in my conviction that we’re doing something very important for humanity. And it has given me precious time for my family and for my breadbaking hobby, not to mention a new long-term project I’ve taken on with the purchase of a good-sized orchard.”
“That “living food”, with its biologically viable embryo in its vitamin-rich sack, it’s “baby bottle” of starches, its magic cloak of minerals and fiber, and its sleepy colony of microorganisms waiting for a meal, is fantastic food for us. It provides energy and protein, as well as micronutrients in abundance. Once fully fermented, its utility to our bodies is maximized, and the parts our organism can’t use are of great use to the bacteria that populate our guts and help regulate our organism.”
Enter this week’s inspirational featured baker, Paul Lebeau of Wolfgang Mock Companies. After thirty-two years spent introducing medical technology solutions that at first were rejected and are now considered as standard-of-care around the world; he decided to switch gears and spend the rest of what will be his long and storied career helping society “take back an activity that was essential for survival from the very beginning of civilization, and only recently lost: home milling of dry foods” (medium.com article). Since making this switch in early 2016, Paul has both accomplished increasing the amount of homes with Mockmills and inspired many home and professional bakers to embrace the benefits of baking and cooking with whole foods. Just a short conversation with him or perusal of his Instagram feed reveals how much of his core identity is focused on his mission and thirst for knowledge.
So without further ado, I present to you Paul Lebeau of Wolfgang Mock Companies.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): I recently read an interview that you did with a writer on Medium.com entitled “The Mockmill Revolution: Getting the Most out of Grains.” At various points in the interview you describe how much you’ve learned over the years from like-minded individuals such as professional bakers and food scientists. How would you recommend that a fellow passionate home baker take advantage of all that such individuals have to offer?
Paul: Well, I consider myself a student when encountering professionals who have spent their lives focused on topics that are still new to me. We’re like-minded in the sense that we’re trying to figure out together whether and why people should change the way the go about getting ingredients for the foods they make. What amazes me is how MANY people out there are ready to engage on such topics, primarily through social media. That kind of engagement is available to everyone, whenever they have time and energy for it. Of course, getting out to attend seminars and courses is a great way to get elbow-to-elbow with people who have impressed you from afar, and that’s often a rewarding way to invest one’s free time and money.
The artisan baking community has not a single smug aristocrat (that I know of) on offer; these are all folks who put their trousers on one leg at a time. They are hard-working, generous individuals, laboring at a hot oven in an effort to change the world for the better, preserve and further one of humanity’s oldest arts. And they make themselves available. More impressive for me than the big-name, well-covered, book-author types are the modest, self-taught leaders who share their experiences and discoveries, their opinions and their skills in simple ways through social media. There I have found true friends who are passionate, honest, generous, and dedicated, all around the world. Such friendship is available to everyone who has time for social media, and who fits the description in my last sentence.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Since joining the Mockmill team in 2016, how have your role and overall mission evolved and in turn affected your overall quality of life?
Paul: My job at Mockmill has been, and continues to be, to test and validate our belief that every kitchen needs a stone mill. My experience tells me that the process of validating a belief, which entails sharing it with people qualified to evaluate it and objectively receiving their feedback, is one that requires intensive outreach. So I began my mission by listing groups of people who might be the most prone to see interest in making one’s own flour, and by searching for and reaching out to leaders in those groups. My goal had to be encountering them, which meant either travelling to meet people or inviting people to visit us. The second (and always very urgent) part of my mission has been to communicate the Good News of my validation efforts. To let the broad membership of those target groups know that “their leaders” have considered the matter and found that there is merit in owning and using a stone mill, a Mockmill in particular. For that, I had both to travel (do my best to get in front of audiences at conferences, fairs, meetings…) and become highly present on social media (Paul’s Instagram). There, we’ve been careful not to engage in heavy name dropping (“Star Chef So-and-So loves his Mockmill”) or to contract “selfie-itis”, i.e. posting pix of ourselves with celebs. Rather, we’ve sought to encourage everyday bakers who have started their Mockmill adventure to “tell the world about it”. And that has largely been my responsibility.
So in answer to your question, my role evolves as I discover new ways that Mockmill adds value to peoples’ lives and go about starting the validation/communication process that discovery calls for. Think of gluten-free, pizza, pasta, pulses, regenerative agriculture… This list goes on and on. The “Age of Corona”, of course, has put an end to my travel (which, quite frankly, was often terribly exhausting for me and difficult for my family), but not to my outreach activities. I finding myself often reaching out to friends in difficulty (think of the star chefs whose businesses are in tatters) with expression of empathy and admiration. There has been an explosion of interest in our story and in orders for our products, which has changed everything in a very positive way for us. For me, it has “validated my validation”, which has enabled me to relax a bit, to feel less isolated in my conviction that we’re doing something very important for humanity. And it has given me precious time for my family and for my breadbaking hobby, not to mention a new long-term project I’ve taken on with the purchase of a good-sized orchard.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Upon mastering the basics of sourdough baking many home bakers purchase a home grain mill (in many cases a Mockmill). How would one’s recipe formulation and dough preparation processes change when using freshly milled flour instead of pre-ground flour?
Paul: Haha! This is one question I can only answer with speculation. You see, I’ve only ever baked sourdough bread with flour I milled myself! I’ve never used anything but the whole flour, nor used commercial yeast or a mixer, for that matter. So I can’t give practical advice from experience. I can offer impressions I’ve taken from speaking to others though, so here goes.
Here’s what a home or professional baker should find different when he or she begins working with freshly-milled flour:
A. Differences in Dough Texture: The bran in Mockmilled flour will make a noticible difference in the dough. In the case of soft wheat, about 50% will be of a particle size small enough to pass a #45 (0.355mm) sieve. The rest will be bigger pieces.) The dough will require more water; extensibility will not be as great as with bran-free flour. This is because bran (even the small pieces) behaves like a “wall” between gluten molecules that are trying to bind into a chain. (I’ve heard two leading bread/cereals experts moan publicly about the common belief that “the sharp bran pieces are like shards that CUT the gluten chains. That is nonsense, according to those eminent experts.) In any case, handling of the dough will be different. Since the handling of dough is a most pleasurable experience for me, I don’t believe that using freshly milled, whole grain flours will be a disappointment in this respect. Just different!
B. Enhanced Fermentation: Freshly-milled flour is alive. A few moments before you hydrate it, it is grain, “life capsules” that hold and protect an embryo and its initial food supply. The flour is therefore teeming with life (the grains were covered with microbes just waiting to get at that food supply inside) and with hydration, life-processes, through enzyme activity that is significantly higher than in pre-milled flour, get going very fast. So your dough is much more alive, too, and fermentation can be surprisingly fast. Above all, the biodiversity of whole grain (tens of thousands of discreet phytochemicals, some that bacteria REALLY love, are present) is pleasing to the yeasts and bacteria in sourdough, so building and maintaining a sourdough is easy. (Again, I have no experience with pre-milled flour in this respect; I can’t say “easier”.)
C. Visual Differences: Because the gluten network cannot be established as well as it can in bran-free dough, you simply won’t get the same bread volume that white flour will give you. You can, however, get VERY nice, soft, fluffy, open-crumb loaves. And if happiness for you is big wholes, well, try blending freshly-milled flour with bran-free flour. There are plenty of examples of people doing just that, and loving the flavor and nutritional improvement it brings to their baking.
D. Flavor and nutritional value: Here, it’s a new world. Fresh milling will take you on an adventure in biodiversity, an adventure on which you may try not only different wheats and ryes, but also a boundless plethora of other whole foods: barley, rices, heritage corn, oats, millets, pseudocereals, pulses, seeds, and more! (Some of these require “off-road mockmilling”, so there is learning to be done. It’s an adventure! The rewards are great, too, because starting with your first whole-wheat loaf made with freshly milled, your taste buds will tell you that they’ve been deprived all these years. They’ll want more! Your waistline may complain too, after a while, that it’s shrinking, as the bread’s fiber will give you a feeling of fullness that curbs overeating, and your body’s insulin reaction to bread will be moderated. Your gut bacteria will celebrate, as they are getting the fibre they expect whenever you eat carbs. It’s not known how far-ranging the benefits of a well-balanced microbiome are, but it is pretty certain that they are great. So eating plenty of the kind of foods you can prepare with freshly-milled flour can have positive impact on your immune system, your mood, your bowel habits, your weight, your blood pressure, your resting heart rate… It’s seems exaggerated, but all the research points in this direction. Think of how many times you’ve read or been told that you need to increase your consumption of whole grains!
E. More Flavor: Because the whole grain itself is so varied and flavorful, you need less salt. I’m down to 1.8% for bread in general and even 1.5% when I make my “granipain”, which has at least 22 different grains, pulses, and seeds in its pre-ferment (levain).
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Compared to other countertop grain mills that are currently available to home bakers. What do you feel makes Mockmills unique?
Paul: The fact that most of the countertop stone grain mills sold today were designed by Wolfgang Mock (KoMo, Fidibus, HaWo’s) and his technical team at the time (the same key people are now in his technical team) is important. Mockmill products integrate improvements on those designs. The team focused very hard on what could be improved in their 20+ year old, successful designs. So the new Mockmill models integrate innovations in stone design and composition, housing design, and manufacturing efficiency. The result is a full range of better, more affordable stone mills than was heretofore available. More than that, though, is the Spirit of Mockmill. Wolfgang, a clinical psychologist by training, is passionate about the positive practices these tools can inspire in people’s lives. His own lifestyle includes the practice of making his own foods from whole, local, organically produced agricultural products (that his grandmother would immediately recognize as food!) Every week he bakes an oven full of bread for his extended family, using only freshly milled grains and natural fermentation. Everyone at Mockmill HQ is encouraged to do the same, and we make sure that all have a Mockmill at home to that end.
I like to say that I’ve ofter heard the phrase “Turn your Hobby into your Job!” My passion for baking came from the conviction that I would have to practice what I preach if I were to be successful promoting fresh milling. In the meantime, mine may be the most passionate voice you can find on the subject. The passion is authentic, however, as is the whole Mockmill venture. And that is what puts Mockmill head and shoulders above the rest!
Barry (The Brewed Palate): One factor that every sourdough baker has to adapt to is the changing of the seasons, from colder temperatures in the winter to hot temperatures in the summer. How do you adapt your baking to changes in outdoor and/or indoor temperatures?
Paul: Quite honestly, I am pretty careless when it comes to topics like this. It’s the same when it comes to building/managing my sourdough. I simply don’t buy (for the purposes of my own baking) the need to pay strict attention to all the details of temperature control, starter density, ingredients balance (I don’t think I can notice, for instance, whether I’ve used 1.75% salt or 1.85%). For professional bakers, that detail is terribly important, and great attention is paid to dough temp, ambient temp, fridge temp, water temp, weighing ingredients out to a very precise degree. They have clientèle to please, often a very big job to get done, dozens of products going at once, etc. Many hobby bakers are determined to work in just that kind of professional mode, and I have, as I do for the pros, enormous respect. Since I’m sure that EVERYONE can successfully (and easily) make great and healthy bread with natural fermentation methods, I tend to focus mainly on the freshness and wholeness of my ingredients and “listening” to (or “understanding”) the dough. If the dough is fermenting faster because the weather is warm, I try to take it to the next step before it goes too far. If it is going slowly (for whatever reason) I simply give it more time. Since my house is made of stone, and I live in a fairly temperate climate, the temperature inside doesn’t vary too much. But even when I’ve baked in cabins in the summer heat at an Oklahoma state park and carried dough from the kitchen where it was made to the one in which it was to be baked, I didn’t make any conscious changes to my procedures. The bread simply came out fine! I believe that the relative ease and success of my baking has to do with the whole, freshly milled ingredients I use. The sourdough microbes are happiest with that, the fermentation is naturally balanced, and the dough is “easy to understand”. So, sorry, I don’t (consciously) change a thing. I just wing it, and all works out well.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Nowadays my favorite grain to bake with is rye. Beyond containing less gluten than wheat; what do you feel is unique about the cultivation and milling of and then of course baking with rye?
Paul: I love baking with rye, too. I love its pungent, flowery aroma, and the beautifully dark color it gives the bread. And I love giving the loaves a heavy dusting of flour so that I get a “snowy canyon landscape” as they prove. The neat thing about rye is that it’s “the other grain” for classic breadmaking, setting it apart from wheat. As with barley, the bread chemistry doesn’t work to form the gluten network by which wheat-based dough captures fermentation gases. So rye dough rises based on gas-capturing properties of some special sugars (called pentosans). I like this kind of exception to a rule (“how breadmaking works”) as it challenges me to understand that there is always more to learn and understand. Making rye-heavy bread is simpler than making wheat-based bread, as all the dough handling techniqes (kneading, stretch-and-fold, loaf shaping) are for naught. So just get your lump of dough into a pan or a banneton and let it rise! I got my start breadmaking using a 60/40 rye/spelt recipe taught to me by Pablo Giet @der_becker. It took me a long time to get interested in more than that, it was so simple, so successful, and so delicious. That, for me, is the charm of rye! (Consider, too, that rye is happy to grow in colder, wetter regions where wheat won’t thrive, and you’ll see why it has been so valuable to civilization.) The cute, old-fashioned, shy-but-intriguing kid on the block, though, is barley. Ask me about her! 🙂
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Going along with the previous question: what is your favorite grain (variety of wheat or otherwise) to bake with and what do you like most about it?
Paul: What I love about my baking is the variety of grains I have available. Of course, if you went through my baking journal, you’d find that the one grain I use more than any other is probably spelt, but I hate to say I have a favorite. I get to flirt with them all! In fact, my latest fascination is the “Granipain” method proposed by French nutritionist Christian Rémésy, in which the pre-ferment in a naturally-fermented loaf should be made up from at least 22 different seeds, including 40-45% grains (but not plain bread wheat), 40-45% pulses, and 10-20% oil-seeds or aromatics. Then one makes one’s main dough as always (for me that’s usually a spelt/wheat bread composite) and integrates the more coarsely Mockmilled, 200% hydrated, 1% sourdough inoculated, 24 hr pre-ferment into that dough. Now, try finding a favorite among 22 (minimum) ingredients!
So here are some things I like to use that may give you some ideas: heritage corn, golden millet, wholegrain rice, black rice, purple rice, red rice, black beans, red beans, pinto beans, mung beans, lentils (all colors and kinds!), chickpeas, wild rice (crazy aroma!), malted barley, flax seeds, hemp seeds, rose seeds, black cumin, black sesame. I’m not a big fan of the grassy taste of amaranth, but that goes away when those super seeds are toasted. And I like toasting quinoa, too, prior to milling it. And barley(!), khorasan, oats, sunflower seeds, rye(!), and ESPECIALLY teff! There is so much to use, so much to discover, so much fun to be had and flavor to discover when you have a Mockmill! PS What I like about Spelt is the fact that it’s exclusively organically grown, carefully handled and cleaned (it requires special de-hulling), and it has been around forever (promoted heavily almost 900 years ago by St Hildegard of Bingen, one of the great female thinkers/authors of our early history.) In my hands and freshly Mockmilled, it makes a highly reliable and flavorful dough.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): While those who enjoy cooking and baking from scratch at home are often called “foodies” as if they’re tapping into current trends or choosing to go above and beyond simple recipes, they’re in reality reintroducing old world cooking techniques back into the mainstream. How do you view the recent growth of from-scratch cooking and baking? and How would you describe the ease and benefits of cooking and baking with raw (minimally processed) ingredients to someone who is not already an avid home cook or baker?
Paul: Obviously, I’m all for “scratch” baking. I have to be careful not to behave arrogantly when I see a so-called “from scratch” recipe that calls for pre-milled flour! I generally buy into the make-it-yourself approach; my kids (10 & 13) have taught me to make butter from the raw milk we get from a nearby farmer. And my wife loves making yogurt and kefir, which I gladly eat. Because I also buy our butter and eat store-bought yogurt daily, I’m careful not to criticize those who don’t use only freshly-milled flour. But I do believe EVERYONE should know what freshly milled, wholemeal flour is like, and that most people will be better off being equipped to make their own. To those who haven’t taken the first step to begin cooking and baking at home, it may be a hard sell.
But wait, maybe not! There’s a fascination that comes with making one’s own ingredients that can lead to a fascination with the practice of transforming those ingredients to something for the plate! This may be especially true today when we’re living through a pandemic and realizing how important it is that we cultivate a healthy immune system. The ways that cooking from scratch can help us do that are becoming suprisingly evident! So I would say that “there is satisfaction to be found for everyone in taking up cooking from scratch. Surprise yourself!”
Barry (The Brewed Palate): I’d like to briefly touch on some sourdough related food science. One theory about today’s prevalence of gluten intolerance and subsequent demonization of gluten is that humans are not born with the genetics to digest bread products that are made with all of the stabilizers and preservatives that are common in “supermarket bread.” Therefore, they’ve evolved in recent decades to become less tolerant to gluten. Subsequently, it has been found that some people who are sensitive to gluten can eat sourdough bread because the gluten from the grains within it has been fermented (digested) in a manner that makes it easier to digest. Have you encountered this theory? If so, what are your thoughts on its implications?
Paul: Sure, that wisdom is often shared in the circles I travel in, and I’ve been interested in the scientific work going on to understand why that is. Some recent work, that for example explains how fermentation breaks down FODMAPs (long sugar chains) if allowed to take place slowly enough, is a fun story to tell. Early in my Mockmill mission, Wolfgang gave me Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food”to read. His argument “don’t eat foods with ingredients the names of which you can’t pronounce” resonated well with me. So it all makes sense. Look, when I make bread, it contains: Whole foods, water, salt. Nothing else. Now “whole foods” may be grains, pulses (legumes), seeds, fruit, and spices… But they’re all WHOLE foods. I think that the “supermarket bread is bad” argument is superficial. What I prefer is the “whole foods are good for you” argument. Consider how easily people can avoid debilitating diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, bowel cancer, and obesity if they simply stop eating (so much) refined sugar, refined grains, refined corn, refined soy, processed potatoes, and fruit juices. Throw alcoholic beverages in on top of that. None of that stuff is truly good food, in fact Pollan may argue that it’s not food at all! And the alternative, those “things your great-grandmother would recognize as food”, are truly GOOD for you. And your body is programmed to tell you that you’ve had enough of them. That’s great, when you consider that engineered foods (anything refined or processed) is “engineered” to trick your body’s appetite-regulating system. It’s the GOAL of food engineers that you KEEP WANTING to eat MORE! So we can simply refuse the oppression of the modern food industry that leads us to morbidity and an early death by eating whole foods. I’m 100% convinced that it’s the way to go. And I’m sorry for anyone who has invested their modest means in shares in the half-dozen or so food giants (corporations). They may be disappointed if everyone follows my example.
Barry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you?
Paul: Wow! Cool question! Let’s take seeds as an example. Once I asked a 10-year-old (girl) visiting my Mockmill booth at Slow Food Nations in Denver “What’s a seed?” I was bowled over when she promptly replied, “a seed is a baby with its bottle on its back”. Indeed, every seed, every whole grain, harbors a life. An embryo. A plant with the potential to bring forth hundreds of viable, reproducing offspring. It’s wonderfully packaged by nature for a long wait until conditions are right for its coming out. A wheat seed, for example, is wrapped up in a protective, 8-layer tapestry woven from tens of thousands of discrete phytochemicals, each with a specific purpose (known, for the most part, only to nature.) Our earliest ancestors found they could easily collect handfuls and handfuls of (mixed) seeds, bring them home, crush them with a rock, and ferment them by adding plenty of water. After a few days, they could heat and then eat them. That was the beginning of bread. Without knowing it, they were mimicking what birds do, when the seeds they snip up and break in their beaks go first to their crops to be fermented before passing further down the digestive tract.
That “living food”, with its biologically viable embryo in its vitamin-rich sack, it’s “baby bottle” of starches, its magic cloak of minerals and fiber, and its sleepy colony of microorganisms waiting for a meal, is fantastic food for us. It provides energy and protein, as well as micronutrients in abundance. Once fully fermented, its utility to our bodies is maximized, and the parts our organism can’t use are of great use to the bacteria that populate our guts and help regulate our organism. This “living food” is of fabulous design. True, once the seed is milled, the little plant inside is dead. If the resulting meal is then heated and/or dehydrated, the seed’s natural microbiome will be depleted. (This is one reason that it’s much easier to build a sourdough from freshly-milled whole grains!) That seed, that grain, is losing value from the moment it gets crushed in the mill. So it is important, I believe, to leave food living as long as possible before sacrificing it for our needs, and eating it whole. That’s the simple principle and at the same time the genius of the Mockmill Story.
Thank you Paul for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the worldwide sourdough community! You are an authentic and passionate carrier of the whole grain (and whole food) torch (or should I say baker’s peel), and in turn, an inspiration to countless home and professional bakers.