ManMade: An interview with Dan Larkin

IMG_1561

Dan Larkin is the brains and hands behind local bakery Man Made. Dan bakes ethically by trying to use only certified products in his cooking, making small changes to make a big stand against slavery.

Carys had the pleasure of meeting Dan to talk about his baking achievements and how he ensures that all his delicious baked goods are traffik-free.

I know it must be hard to choose, but what would you say is the most delicious thing that you bake?

I think my favourite thing to bake would be a macaron when it’s done well. I like to put a sharp or bitter filling to contrast the sweet chewy shells. So either my Lemon curd or rhubarb and custard macarons are my favourite things to eat probably more than bake.

IMG_1559

How did you get in to baking?

It was kind of a natural progression. I’ve been baking for about five years. It started as a hobby and then people asked to buy my cakes and from that I pursued it as my career. It was a lot better than working at Iceland, which I did after university. I got my first baking job in Black Bear and started to see it as a real career option, and then moved into self-employment about a year ago.

How and why did you start your business?

I think baked food can sometimes be very disappointing and I wanted to create baked goods using quality ingredients as well as ethical ingredients. Unfortunately these two don’t always go hand in hand. I try to be conscious of both in the process of baking. For example, I recently read an article about exploitation in cashew harvesting which is another thing I will try to be aware of when baking.

ManMade has a niche in quality baked goods that is personal. We only supply a few coffee shops using the best ingredient we can source. That may be because it is small, but I won’t begin to cut costs as we grow, because for me the business is not about growth or money. Instead I enjoy feeding and people enjoy food; the fact that I get to make it my job is just a bonus.

How has the bakery developed and changed over the past year?

I have expanded the business recently to employ someone else for 2 or 3 days a week. Being an employer gives me the opportunity to practice providing good and fair wages.

I have also expanded my regular customer base. When I started a year ago I only had one coffee shop and now we have 4 or 5. We have made a lot of progress.

Why do you want to be an ethical baker?

When I was speaking to another baker he said that Fairtrade and ethical sourcing has a “small part to play” in baking. I, however, disagree.

It is sometimes frustrating when you feel like you aren’t making a difference. We are only a tiny business so it can feel like even if we are buying fair trade we aren’t making an impact. But even our little changes mean money going into fair trade.

Obviously we are still figuring it out. It is a long process but I try to remain a conscious cook.

So that I don’t get complacent I watch documentaries like The Dark Side of Chocolate to remind myself that it’s real. It is horrific what they go through in Africa just so that we can have cheap goods…and that’s not right.

I am also aware that the Fairtrade label is limited, but it is still worth investing in. It is important for all fair trade brands to know where their produce came from.

I am not baking fair trade products for the reputation, but I am doing it for me. By making a tiny difference like sourcing ethical products where I can, it can make a big impact. And I still want to get better at being more aware.

IMG_1562

How do you try and ensure that your produce is ethical?

I try to ensure that all my main ingredients are fair trade. So with easier ingredients I try and buy locally. For example butter and flour can be sourced from Northern Ireland, not only is it easier to track the supply chain to ensure it is ethical but it also cuts down air miles.

Other things that we have to import like sugar and chocolate I shop fair trade. At the moment I am using fair trade but I want to go further. This is because fair trade has, in the past, only been fair to the farmer and does not guarantee fairness to the workers. With fair trade we cannot guarantee it is fair to everyone. This is getting better now. But better than that is Raise Trade that I am looking into at the moment that not only pays fairly but also invests in the community and keeps the whole process local so that skills can be developed and the whole community can be raised out of poverty. I am currently in the process of looking for a single origin for chocolate so that I can be sure that it is ethical as I have fully tracked it myself. I am also hoping to use a link that I have to Madagascar to get vanilla pods and chocolate from. As this is a direct link I can be much more secure in how ethical the production is. I will explore this in the next couple of months and may even start selling the vanilla pods myself.

What are the challenges you have faced as you’ve done this?

There are two main challenges to being fair trade that is: sourcing the fair trade ingredients and the cost of them.

It is not easy to be a baker and to be fair trade. Unfortunately you have to pay for it, and it is particularly difficult to buy in bulk which may be because the mass industry just doesn’t care where its produce has come from. Fair trade and raise trade products are just sold in single bars.

Oddly enough fair trade sugar is difficult to source. Caster sugar is relatively easy to buy fair trade in bulk but other types are harder to source which is bizarre considering it is from the same cane. There are also a lot of American companies whose shipping is too expensive to make it feasible to use them.

For that reason it is difficult to be fair and to keep ManMade a sustainable and viable business. I am just doing the best I can, where I can to use local products first, raise trade products second, fair trade products third and other products as a last resort if they are too difficult to source or too expensive.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to bake ethically?

I would suggest first and foremost to research. Look into the brands you are buying concentrating on the bulk and main ingredients you are using as you spend the most money on them. Things like Butter, flour, sugar and chocolate.

Fairtrade is both hard to research and hard to find at the moment but I would tell everyone to just persevere!   

If you want to try some of Dan’s baked goods then head down to one of the cafes Dan bakes for:

  • Established, 54 Hill Street, Belfast BT1 2LB
  • 5A, Lock view Road, Stranmillis
  • Haptik, 29 Frances street, Newtonards
  • Maud’s, Highstreet, Hollywood
  • Maud’s in Donaghadee

As well as these Dan bakes for individual customers, weddings and birthdays.

You can see all his delicious baked goods at:

https://instagram.com/danmanmade/

http://daniellarkin.tumblr.com/

IMG_1560

Read Wambi’s story of exploitation in the chocolate industry here and find out how you can help here.