We are recording 24h of Seochon. We select the places that stand with the time in Seochon dividing into morning, afternoon and night. First of all, let us introduce the ‘Mill’ Bakery that begins the morning of Seochon.
Q. We’ve seen each other a lot, but please give us a brief introduction!
“We would like to introduce ourselves as a bakery that makes healthy and good bread everyday, every morning. Basically we make bread using the most basic ingredients without chemical dough conditioner, preservative and emulsifier.”
Q. How long has it been since the Mill was open?”
“At first, a friend of mine was doing business in Seochon. One day, I bought a bakery with a good deal and had a chance to bake bread. That’s how I came here.
Q. Then you are saying that you did something else before, and open a bakery?
“I was not a baker before. Not even in food industry. I was working at a car company, and I didn’t expect that I would bake bread like this.”
Q. Why bakery then? I don’t think it was an easy decision to start a bakery.
“It was not easy. I wouldn’t have started if I knew that baking was this hard.
One of my friends were running a restaurant in Seochon. The bread he was using at the restaurant was supplied by the Richmond bakery in Seongsandong at first. And he contacted me when the bakery was put on sales and told me that there was an opportunity to make bread. So I took over it.
Q. He seems like an interesting friend. He called a friend who was working at a company and asked him to “open a bakery!”.
“Yeah. Since he got a restaurant. The restaurant was in a good business at that time. So he decided to take over a bakery as a branch of his company to produce its own bread. At last, it happened and I started to bake bread. I didn’t think of quitting my job at the beginning. However, the more I made bread, the more fun it got. So I ended up studying and making bread like now.”
Q. As I know, the bread here is good for health and you use organic flour.
“The concept of the bakery hasn’t been fixed yet, but while I continued studying bread, I realized that in the future, I want to make bread that you will not get bored of. Especially I would like to make snack bread based on European style. European bread is made of basic ingredients and usually consumed for a meal. You may not know what’s in the bread but as you bake bread, you would know if you eat it. So I want to make European style bread with healthy ingredients.
Q. My colleagues buy bread here a lot, and we think that the Mill’s bread suits well in the special atmosphere of Seochon. There are various kinds of scones and in my knowledge, scone is the bread you eat slowly with tea. In this context, I think it matches well with Seochon’s slowness.
“Well I didn’t intend it but I guess it flows like that as I make bread. I’m planning to do renewal soon because the place is old. Also I want to change the bread line-up and bring my thoughts to real.”
Q. We thought it is such a special place to use healthy ingredients and has an open kitchen.
“There are lots of places like here (laugh)”
Q. Are you going to keep the open kitchen after the renewal?
“Oh yeah, I will keep them all. The most important point of renewal is to fix the old equipment and leave only basic beverage menus in order to focus on the bread, and bring new machine. You can think it as the renewal to focus on bread.
Q. It seems like there are non-franchised bakeries in Seochon that many people visit. What would be the reasons behind this phenomenon?
“Basically, as I know, the government doesn’t allow the franchises to open in this area. And if you see the shops and buildings in Seochon, they are all small which makes hard for big franchises to keep their businesses. I feel bad for that these small spaces have disappeared and larger spaces have been created as gentrification is getting serious recently which brings different feelings without distinguishing shops before.
If you see over there, the owner of cloth shop said that there were 12 people in the women owners meeting and now only she is left here. The others are all gone… you should know well but the monthly rent here is approximately 1 million won. Since it is very expensive compared to the space, people had no choice but to move to areas like Mangwon and Euljiro. It is not suitable for mass production considering the mood in Seochon. Well I am lucky though, the grandma (landlord) doesn’t raise rents. I hope I can stay here long. I’m sure all the people with their businesses would think the same.
One day Mr. Yoo Simin said that in history, not even one country succeeded to stop gentrification. He said it’s unstoppable. As Korea adopts capitalism, it is hard to stop the flow of the money by force. I know it is even though the government tries to control it. I’m not sure if the building will be sold or taken over by someone else when the grandma passes away. In any situation, sometimes I think it might be not easy to keep making bread.”
Q. I wish there is a solid solution for that.
“Yes, I think about that a lot as well. After working for someone else in a company, running my own business makes me think a lot. However, it would be the same to the others who do the business here, I guess it’s just a procedure. There is no solid answer.
Q. It might be pretty different to start your daily routine here compared to when you work at a company.
Q. You said that you come to work at 6 in the morning and make bread, could you please explain how the morning view you see is different compared to before?
“First of all, bakers comes out early in the morning. Since it takes a long time to make bread, if I start at 9 in the morning like when I worked at a company, then the bread would come out at 4 in the afternoon which is almost the closing time. So the biggest difference is the working hours. In addition, it’s too early to take public transportation. Therefore, I need to take my car but it is not easy to find a parking space in this village. So I use the underground parking lot at ‘Sejong Center for Performing Arts’. I take electric scooter from there and I make bread from 6 to 12. After lunch, I do some yoga, take a break and prepare for the next day. Running a bakery until 8:30 in the evening, it’s between 9-10 when I get back home. I take a shower, go to bed and it keeps repeated. So I usually don’t have much free time. Different with businessmen.
Q. If you take the electric scooter early in the morning, it would be very dark and there would be no people on the street during the winter.
“There is absolutely no one on the street around that time. It is quiet when I come here but just the owner of the plant shop next to my bakery and Paris Baguette on the main street are busy.
Q. Then what are the first things you do when you arrive?
“Basically I turn on the AC and lights, then start making dough, using autolyse method. I mix water and flour only and I prepare this dough first as it takes longer time to fermentate. If I put it easily, when you make noodles, you prepare the dough, put it in a fridge overnight and it naturally forms gluten without extra kneading. So it gives richer flavor as it requires less kneading which lowers the oxidation level. Instead, it takes longer time. After kneading this dough, there is a machine called dough conditioner which helps setting the temperature at the time I want. I take the dough out of the machine and start to prepare the bread, check the flour I updated, take the flour out of the fridge if it needs some adjustment. Then I get back to make bread again.
Q. The dough from the dough conditioner is the one that fermented yesterday, right?
“Yes, that’s correct. It is the machine that helps me make the bread at 6:20 if I come to work at 6 in the morning. Without this machine, I couldn’t have gone back home. It is not easy to bake bread. Like I wouldn’t have started if I knew it. But it’s so fun at the same time.
Q. I think you might have some memorable experiences as you bake breads from early in the morning.
“There is one incident in my mind. I was making bread in the morning and It was snowing heavily. In winter. And it was just so beautiful. The Giwa house (Korean style tile-roofed house) in front, the heavily falling snow, and it was dark since it was winter. It is not easy to take a break in the middle of baking bread as the fermentation keeps going. However, at that time, I was just sitting on a chair and just staring at the snow outside without even noticing. There was literally no one passing by, and the snow was so pretty. I think that is the most impressive memory.
By the way, I recently bought a book, Daily Bread, and the chef in the book said that he liked to see the rain falling and just couldn’t help staring at it when he was a child. And making bread seems similar to this. Baking bread alone at a quiet kitchen early in the morning and feeling the smell of the bread, I get what he says. Since my employee comes to work around 8:30, I work alone until that and it feels… of course it’s not easy and tiring but it is really nice to work alone in the morning, looking at the snow or listening to the radio or music.”
Q. It really is a bakery that opens the morning. It opens at 11 but actually opens the light from 6 in the morning.
“Because if I open today, then I have to start preparing from the afternoon of the day before and if it takes longer, then I prepare a week ahead.”
Q. So you start working from the afternoon of the day before, everyday.
“Yes, people often relate the bread and Paris Baguette. I’m not saying that their bread is not tasty or not good for health. It is all delicious but there is certain bread that they can’t produce due to their systems. Such as British meal bread which is so difficult to make. And it creates kind of a niche market for personal bakeries to provide bread which requires long fermentation time and takes a week to produce such as the ones with rye and whole wheat, and basically these kinds of bread are easy to digest and good for health. So what I’m saying is I want to make such types of bread.
Q. I guess you went to the franchised bakeries like Paris Baguette and didn’t know well about such information you told me, before you started your bakery. Did you learn all the types of the bread and relationship with health while you run the bakey?
Q. Are you putting efforts or doing experiments to make those kinds of bread?
“I’m still going to take lectures and studying all the time. As studying bread never ends. Currently I am incubating natural levain by myself instead of commercial yeast and running tests. Not only myself, but also other people who operate their own bakeries put their best efforts.
Q. I can feel your passion for bread.
“The process itself is very interesting. Also, I worked at a company until I was 39 years old and now I’m 42. what I’ve felt making bread is that there are a lot of things that go differently from my will especially if I work at a company. You know you get tired because of the people around and stuff. So many things can happen against my intention, and just doing your best is not everything. However, Making bread with my hands, it is so fun because it is created solely by my hands from the beginning to the end. In addition, working alone makes it more fun as I don’t get any stress from other people.”
Q. And I think the customers who enjoy your bread would make you more proud.
“That’s right. I guess all the people who produce food as well as bakers would feel the same but I feel so happy and rewarded to see people enjoy what I make. I keep studying and attend lectures or programs as much as the time allows since I’m still short of experiences.
Q. Doing the interview today, I remember you told me that you bought a bread book at a bookstore last time which makes me think you really do love bread.
“Yeah, it is fun and as I said, I have to make living out of this. However, many of these personal bakeries have been closing down. Working hard from early in the morning to late in the evening should at least leave enough money but it doesn’t happen every time. Moreover, the profit margin is low since the competition is getting severe. Thinking of the ways to continue what I like leads myself to think about what other people think and wonder how they do their businesses. But the thing is they don’t tend to tell the others. They don’t really share their stories because it was hard to acquire for them as well. By the way Chef Jeong Woong used to work at a cement company and opened his bakery. It is not easy for people to open their things who went through the hardship of learning since they were young. However, Chef Jeong likes to share what he newly learns.
What I really didn’t understand about the private educational centers was the phrase ‘technicians will be more developed and happier by sharing their techniques.’. I thought ‘isn’t that too obvious? Why do they put so much emphasis on that?’ but once I started my work, I realized that it’s not. Once I experienced this field, I see people never share what they learn. Yeah, they never open their knowledge because they think it is their asset to make living and it was hard for them to gain. On the other hand, this guy has a different thought and chef Jeong agrees with it. He is willing to open and share his recipe with the hope that what he creates becomes larger and larger to the point where everyone tries the bread made of his recipe and spread to the others. The technicians of previous generation don’t really have this idea.”
Q. You hope it will change gradually.
“Yes. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. You know when the Grandma Ma Boklim advertised her tteokbokki, the phrase was ‘even the daughter in law doesn’t know the recipe’ right?. In this context, it is not clear whether hiding the techniques you learn is right or sharing is. However I personally think that the latter one is right. People who want to learn, know and do would leave no regrets after they research all the aspects and choose.”
Q. Is there anything else that you want to talk about ‘Mill’? In case the questions we prepared were not enough haha
“Yes they were. What I would like to say is that there are three things I don’t use when I make bread. They are dough conditioner (not the machine), preservative and emulsifier. I use natural butter to bake bread. I couldn’t understand the bakeries which put out a huge advertisement of it. I thought that of course people use natural butter, but it was not.
Q. You are right. It seems that using natural ingredients at bakeries is not easy as there are more chances to get changed and requires much more time.
“Yeah, it takes longer time and it doesn’t last long. I thought the ‘daily brand’ which advertised itself for making bread every day was just natural, but I realized that it is actually not easy. If I use preservatives, I can sell up to 2~3 days. There are places that sell the bread on the shelf and fill up the empty spots. However, small bakeries like mine are not able to follow that system. In this case, the bread can’t stay fresh. So it keeps requiring manpower.”
“I need to take care of the storage management and sometimes I ruin the bread. It is difficult to retain the steady quality since our country has such a dramatic temperature and humidity. Which makes many other places use emulsifier or preservatives. Still, I hope Mill bakery continues to use good ingredients and make bread which is good for health.
Q. I think it’s all matter of efforts.
“You are right. Not taking the shortcuts.”
Q. We are so happy to have a bakery like here but we didn’t know that you are having such a hard time making bread.
“It’s not easy, but I’m enjoying it because it is what I like. I wish I can do this long.”
Q. The last question is ‘if we introduce the Mill as the Seochon’s store opening the morning, which bread would you like to recommend to people who start the day?
“Thinking of bread I want you to have when you start the day in the morning, Rustic bread comes up in my mind. The reason is, like people sleep, the dough of this Rustic bread gets slowly fermented at low temperature in a fridge after is is kneaded the day before. This buddy sleeps and I wake the dough up in the morning. Then I make bread. Like people wake up, it wakes up too. The taste is quite plain and is like a baguette. The bread only with flour. I think it’s nice to have this kind of bread.”
It was the end of the questions we got. He was little bit surprised by an hour-long interview but it seems like the Mill’s bread is well baked as much as our interview today. I can see that everything just went so well according to what he said but actually it was not. The flour dough is made through careful consideration of the humidity, temperature and other many aspects. The Mill is under construction for remodelling by the beginning of October as he mentioned earlier. I can’t wait to have the Mill’s bread in the morning again!
INTERVIEW DATE / 2019. 06. 04
INTERVIEWEE / Mr. Yoon Yeobok (Owner)
INTERVIEWER / Won, Wan
Edited by | SEOCHONYOOHEE Photo by | SEOCHONYOOHEE
Text and photos in this post may not be used without permission. For requests and questions about utilizing content, please contact email@example.com.