German Efficiency In Airline Catering – The Dining Table interviews SATS Ltd Chief Baker Thomas Biesewig
“Scaling in cups and teaspoon units is unprofessional,” declared Thomas Biesewig, Chief Baker at SATS Ltd, whose team is responsible for delivering 70,000 loaves of bread on passenger flights out of Singapore. “Invest in a good kitchen scale. Ingredient scaling is very important in baking and I always urge everyone to buy a proper kitchen scale, the kind that can scale down to 1g steps. And always use the metric system as it is easier to calculate.”
The Dining Table met with Thomas at SATS’ bakery recently. We had initiated the interview and sent in our questions ahead of the appointed interview date. On the day of the interview, even before we sat down, Thomas handed over a document – he had written down his answers to our questions.
“German efficiency,” he grinned at our surprised look.
Consistency – in product quality and taste – reliability and safety, these are all hallmarks of bakery operations at SATS which is responsible for 80% of the breads catered on flights out of Changi Airport, world’s sixth busiest airport for international traffic. A check on the airport’s corporate website shows that it handles 6,600 flights every week, or about one every 90 seconds!
The bakery at SATS where Thomas works produces freshly baked goods every day, catering to the different airlines and daily menus. Each day, the bakery helps to produce between 150 and 200 different types of baked goods out of a recipe database of over 500 recipes.
“We run two shifts every day for production and 24 hours a day seven days a week for packing. As bakers, whether we bake one loaf at home, 20 loaves in a small bakery or here, 70,000 loaves per day, there is not much different. The process is always the same. We need to ensure the quality and taste of our products,” he said as he took us on a short guided tour of the bakery operations at SATS.
“Our bakery is partially automated. So, baking this amount of breads over the entire day is not a problem. We follow the flight schedules of airlines with our production and there’s a continuous flow of all kinds of required bakery products. That said, timing is of utmost important. The time period between packing and being served to the passenger, it cannot be more than 24 hours for our bakery goods. That’s our golden rule,” he asserted.
Among the top products from this bakery are the ubiquitous Wholemeal Roll served on Singapore Airlines’ economy flights, Garlic Bread for a number of airlines, as well as the Butter Croissant. “This is the best Croissant in town. It is made in a traditional method with 3 days of processing using imported butter from France,” he said as he stopped mid-way in our tour of the operations to show us the large blocks of butter. “The taste and texture of our Butter Croissants are outstanding.”
Moving to the rows of evenly rounded Wholemeal Rolls coming off the production line, he said: “Our Wholemeal Roll is our most produced bread rolls. The processing of the dough takes up to 24 hours as we need to do a pre-fermentation one day ahead of baking. We invested in new technology for mixing and shaping to help us improve the quality of texture, taste and even shelf life of the rolls.”
The pre-ferment will be mixed with other ingredients to create the dough before being portioned and shaped. “This is a high-efficiency process. In the entire process, only four people – the dough maker, the bun plant operator, the oven baker and the packing staff – are involved.”
What about the Garlic Bread, we asked? It seemed that a check on the Internet showed discussions about garlic bread on flights. “Our Garlic Bread is an all-time classic on SQ flights. The bread base is baked fresh daily, then these are sliced and toasted before we apply the garlic butter which uses high quality butter with fresh garlic and fresh herbs.”
Born and bred in a family of bakers, Thomas came to Singapore in 2006 originally to help start a German bakery here. However, that project stalled and in 2007, he accepted the opportunity to join SATS.
He is a Bäckermeister (a certified Master Baker) having successfully attained the professional qualification in Germany’s highly regulated baker’s industry. The training is rigorous with years of apprenticeship under qualified master bakers along with theoretical and practical aspects of baking, and business and management modules. Only Bäckermeisters can manage a bakery and train apprentices, not the owners of the bakeries who may not have the professional qualification.
“Germany has a big tradition of bread-related meals, starting with breakfast. Buying fresh bread rolls in the morning and having a family breakfast is part of our culture. Supper is also still on bread. In fact, the German word is “Abendbrot” which means ‘evening bread’,” Thomas explained.
He grew up in a family of bakers – his father and grandfather were master bakers. His family’s apartment was just above their bakery which was managed by his dad while his mom sold the breads, rolls and cakes.
“There were no questions that I will become a baker although my parents never forced me into it. Honestly, my mom told me to consider a job with a more friendly social life!” he said. For Germany’s craft bakers, the hours are gruelling as they need to begin mixing dough for the next day’s bread late in the night such as after midnight.
Despite the long hours working in bakeries for over 30 years, Thomas has not lost his love for bread. “I never get bored with the fragrance and taste of bread. I like good bread without anything else or just with a spread of good butter. You can get the full taste of bread which has up to 200 different taste components from the various ingredients, the acids and alcohols developed during the fermentation process and later in the oven.”
“For me, daily life without bread is impossible and I always have a loaf in my house.”
Note to readers: The Dining Table is not sponsored by any of the business entities (SATS and Creative Culinaire) named in our coverage of the interview with Thomas. Our editorial team had an opportunity to chat with Thomas outside of his work and thought it would be fascinating to go behind-the-scenes to see how the humble little bread roll that we get on SQ economy flights came about. And, yes, we saw that and a lot more. We gained deeper appreciation for breads and a lot of respect for the dedicated bakery staff who put the bakery items on the flights out of Singapore. Thank you to SATS Ltd, in particular, Thomas Biesewig, Chief Baker, and Ang Ping Ting, Corporate Relations Executive, of SATS for this interview and tour of the bakery.
Joh Ju is a PR professional specialising in B2B communications for clients in life sciences and hi-technology industries. Outside of work, she enjoys exploring Singapore for unique finds and good food that can be shared with her friends, family and the odd strays in the neighbourhood.
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