The Cattle Depot: When art meets real bread

July 19th, 2012 | Posted by greg in Daily life...

Built in 1908, the Ma Tau Kok Cattle Depot was originally designed as a slaughterhouse and it was used as such until 1999. The slaughtering activities were moved out of town and the superb red brick houses were renovated thereafter. It’s in 2001 that the site reopened as an artist village where people from all boards meet to share their common passion for art. Painting, sculpting, glass art, writing, musicians, concert, movies, theater and everything else in between is represented.

Everything except maybe baking; to me, baking and especially baking real bread is an art form unlike any other. Of course, I am not talking about pouring a bag of pre-mixed flour and water into one of these Gotham-City-like bread makers, but more about having bread with fully developed features, using noble flours, natural fermentation and the proper know-how.

A few weeks back, we were invited by our good friend Wing, who happens to be the artist behind the art produced at House Nº1 in the village. Wing diligently recycles aluminum cans, glass bottles and other materials to transform them with a genius trait into beautiful pieces of art. For instance, he grounds different color glass and host classes with children where they create their own design. He later bakes the ground glass in an incredibly hot oven where the powder melts and combines together as a beautiful glass tile. The kids learn to recycle, as well as being creative to produce useful art. On that particular night, we didn’t do much of Wing’s traditional art. Instead we had a couple of friends playing guitar, singing songs, and the kids were creating plaster moulds that would be filled with melted recycled material later.

In my backpack, I had brought along a few kilos of flour, some eggs from my friend Garry, who raises chicken in the New Territories, a few ingredients such as black olives, fresh garlic, roasted pine nuts and herbs to bake wonderful Schiacciata breads. We mixed and kneaded the dough by hand and after the intensive labour; we had to wait for several hours before baking it. The children had a blast kneading the dough and shaping the breads – of course it couldn’t have ended-up in any other way than covered with flour! Shaped as simple flat round breads, proofed and brushed with rosemary olive oil, the breads being baked in the oven started to disperse their heavenly fumes all over the workshop… eyes started rolling and stomach began to crave for a slice of the freshly baked loaves.

When it finally reached the golden brown crust it deserved, we sliced the long-awaited loaves and shared it with everyone; it literally disappeared within minutes.

Sharing a freshly baked bread loaf, sharing the music, sharing the passion for simple things and beautiful art goes hand-in-hand in my mind. There is a natural symbiosis between all the different elements. When we were kneading the dough, with the flour swirling around the rustic red brick walls and the old wooden carpentry, there was that very particular atmosphere I seldom experienced before in Hong Kong.

Perhaps it’s a feeling more people should get to know, especially in such city where that sort of feeling seems to have been long forgotten and where beautiful art has been too often replaced by an omnipresent and hypnotizing digital world.

The above post has been featured on Missie Cindz Sheffield blog.

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