Leif’s Brot brings tastes from Germany to fresh bread lovers

Authentic artisan breads from Germany and France are being baked fresh everyday by a Hamburg-born chef in Bessbrook, Co Armagh.

Saturday, 31st July 2021, 6:00 am

His novel breads are increasingly being sought by local restaurants, cafes and food shops here.

Handcrafting the rustic country breads is Leif Jensen, a much travelled and respected chef and artisan baker, who established the unique Leif’s Brot Bakehouse in the village in June after a stint working in hospitality from his then home in Ballynahinch. Leif previously held chef posts in Michelin restaurants in France and Great Britain.

“Bread, Brot, is a significant part of German cuisine, with the largest bread diversity in the world,” Leif says. “I grew up with many varieties of artisan breads and came to love black breads, Schwarzbrot, such as Pumpernickel, in particular. This is a coarsely ground rye bread and distinctively tasty that’s traditionally made with a sourdough starter.”

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Chef/baker Leif Jensen pictured with some of his artisan loaves

Sourdough breads feature strongly in his portfolio.

Leif (33), a father of two young children, gained culinary qualifications and initial grounding as a chef in his homeland before moving to Michelin restaurants in rural France for experience. He subsequently learned from expert French bakers in the restaurants how to master the skills for crafting classic French breads such as Brioche and Baguettes.

“Artisan breads continue to be popular in these and other European nations where the traditions of small bakeries have survived. You’ll still see queues every morning at boulangeries in France for breads fresh from the oven,” he continues.

He hopes to encourage this in Bessbrook by opening a small bakery selling his existing range of fresh breads and others he’s planning.

Chef/baker Leif Jensen preparing his artisan breads in his small bakery in Bessbrooke

Leif is now crafting a range of sourdough and rye breads using traditional fermentation of the dough for bread that has greater flavour, high in nutrition, low in gluten and contributes to a healthy digestive system. He bakes sourdough by fermenting dough Leif’s credentials as a chef over the past 17 years are thoroughly impressive and include successful stints in Michelin and other high-end restaurants in Europe and Great Britain. He was executive chef at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the classy Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London’s Knightbridge. This unique and highly innovative restaurant has two Michelin stars and has been ranked among the world’s best restaurants.

He was also a chef at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in London’s Soho, an acclaimed French restaurant. In Hamburg, Leif was chef at Le Plat du Jour, a specialist in French cuisine that’s popular with local people and tourists.

While Leif loved working at these high-end restaurants and gained a vast amount of knowledge and experience, he has particularly fond memories of his stint as head chef at Le Manoir de Retival, another Michelin star eatery, at the Seine Maritime in France’s Normandy region. Le Manoir is a stylish manor house hotel and restaurant he had targeted and was delighted to join the expert team there.

An adventurous streak led him to sign on as a cook on one of the classic sailing vessels taking part in a Tall Ships race. This brought him to Belfast for the successful Titanic Maritime Festival in 2018. It was during the festival that he met Carol, his future wife from Botswana, who was studying to be a laboratory technician at the South West Regional College in Newry.

Leif Jensen’s popular artisan breads

The two kept in touch when the festival ended and married. Leif then commuted from London and Germany before landing a post at OX, the pioneering Michelin restaurant on Belfast’s Oxford Street until the coronavirus lockdown.

“Working at OX with chef/joint owner Stevie Toman was a marvellous and thoroughly enjoyable experience,” Leif says.

The hospitality shutdown led Leif to think about starting his own business that would enable him to have greater control over his own destiny and provide for a growing family – they now have a daughter aged three and a son just over a year old. The career rethink led him to look at opportunities in artisan breads.

“I’d always been interested in baking my own bread and had done so at many of the restaurants where I worked over 17 years in the hospitality industry. But setting up and running my own bakery was quite a challenge,” he adds.

Leif began baking various types of artisan breads for local restaurants and shops to taste. An encouraging list of repeat orders and new business approaches led Leif and his family to look for suitable premises for an artisan bakery, which they found at Bessbrooke. He’s now baking a range of artisan breads for a growing range of customers who love the outstanding tastes and textures of his sourdough and other artisan breads.

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