Min Go’s life has always been tied up with food, in one way or another. Growing up on a dairy farm in South Korea, she went on to work as a food buyer for a high end online grocery store in the country. This involved close communication with, as she puts it, “these amazing cheesemakers, farmers and producers who really inspired me to want to make something like they do.” After considering the range of options – and keen to differentiate herself from the industry her parents had been so involved in – she settled on baking and set out to the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire to do a bakery diploma.
After graduation, she went on to work at Meyers Bargeri in Copenhagen, a formative experience that has fundamentally shaped her attitude to the food she creates and the way she works. “It was set up by Claus Meyer, who also co-founded Noma,” Go tells me. “So the bakery was founded around a huge ethos of using Danish organic Nordic grain. I learned a lot there.” Primarily, her time in Copenhagen inspired Go to focus on working with heritage grains and sourcing from local farms. “I think my time at Meyers Bargeri gave me the experience to work with the ingredients that I do now,” she continues. “Because compared to the flour that you buy from a big mill, which is designed to be consistent, if you’re buying directly from the farm or a small mill, then it might vary, because the grain is a natural product.”
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While in Copenhagen, Go got the call up from James Hill, managing director at Hampton Manor. “He rang me and said, there’s this opportunity for you to set up a small bakery by the edge of the garden, would you be interested?” Go tells me. “And I was like, yes please.” That was in April 2021. Since then, she’s built the entire bakery at Hampton Manor from the ground up, quite literally – “I had to set everything up – the floor plan and everything,” she adds. The experience, she says, “tries who you are”, with the entire bakery being wrapped up in her “ethos and story”. For Go, “being a baker isn’t really about baking a sourdough with big holes or pastries with gorgeous decorating. That’s not something I want to do or I can do. But when I decided to become a baker, what I wanted to do is work closely with farmers and millers and use their product, because this will allow me to invest back into what they’re doing.”
Go’s time as a buyer helped to teach her the power of money and using it as a means of enacting change. “Money allows you to do things,” she says. “It’s money you’re going to spend anyway, so as a baker, you have to buy your ingredients from somebody, then why don’t you put more thought into it and buy it from someone you know you can trust and buy organic and local?” At Hampton Manor, this means investing in the purchase of heritage grains from local farmers, something that not only helps bolster up the economy in the surrounding area, but directly translates to increased quality of the finished product.
Money allows you to do things. As a baker, you have to buy your ingredients from somebody. Why not put more thought into it?
It’s something that is garnering the bakery something of a reputation with nearby residents. Go lights up when she tells me about seeing the same people coming in day-in, day-out. “Now, we’re seeing the same faces almost every week,” she tells me. “I felt like I was becoming part of their life and their routine. And it was something very special and it never really resonated with me that way before. It felt really, really nice.”
While moments like that certainly make the job worth it, working in a bakery is no easy feat. Go’s day usually starts at 4am, and what ensues is usually extremely physical work that puts immense strain on the body. “I’m still learning how to be in this industry as a female, not trying to stress the fact that I’m a female baker,” she says, when I ask about the often gendered perception that pastry is the ‘easier’ job in a kitchen. “You’re handling 15kg of flour bags every day. I’m handling 15 or even 30kg of dough every day, multiple times. And it’s a lot of manual labour. I just sometimes wonder, after 30, how do you manage it physically? I have back aches, neck aches – I find it very manually demanding, and I think that’s why you see more male bakers than female bakers.” Interestingly, though, her entire team is female – although they’re all part-time aside from Go, and when I ask if they feel the physical demands of the job as strongly as she does, she jokes “they might do when they start doing my hours.”
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Go tells me that, until Christmas last year, it had never really occurred to her that she worked in the hospitality industry. “Although being a baker means that I am in the hospitality industry, it didn’t really resonate with me,” she tells me. “Being a baker, for me, was a more self-centred idea of what I want to do with this job and how I can use my job to connect with people like inspiring farmers, millers and like-minded people.” And that she does. As the wider baking industry settles from the ‘sourdough revolution’ that boomed through the UK, Go remains a leader in both innovation and product itself. Just ask her regulars.