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Scotland's Larder: Rob Paton from The Fat Batard Bakery, Peebles

Rob Paton from The Fat Batard Bakery tells us how he named his business; his life, loaves and everything connected with sourdough.

Published: February 12, 2021
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Rob Paton from The Fat Batard Bakery, Peebles has obviously got a wicked sense of humour when it came to naming his shop which he opened in January last year, "just in time for lockdown," he said.

The bakery is currently open for pre-ordered collections only: every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with staggered individual collection times every four minutes to keep everyone safe and avoid queues outside the small shop.

In pre-covid times the queue outside the shop was a testament to the popularity of his delicious sourdough bread and cakes but at the moment he said, "obviously that isn't acceptable."

In the beginning

Rob grew up near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire and admits to always having had a passion for baking.

His mum worked as a sewing machinist for Jaegar, whilst his father was a plumbing and heating engineer but his father was the main carer for Rob and his three older sisters.

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Rob said: "I learned to cook from my dad, steak pie and meat loaf, that kind of thing and my mum was a good baker, so I'd bake with her at the weekends."

Rob Paton the Fat Batard Baker mixing

Give us our daily bread: Picture by Lisa Ferguson

He went to school at James Hamilton Academy in Kilmarnock which he said "sounds really posh, but it isn't."

He passed all this exams but admits that he wasn't really interested in school but he always stuck with home economics which he said, " I enjoyed."

At the time he was more interested in sports and basketball which he said, "was quite a big thing in my life at the time."

Rob is now happily married to Suzanne, they met at The Peebles Hydro when he worked as a health and fitness instructor while Suzanne was also working there, in charge of children's activities.

He then went to work at Edinburgh Crystal and said, "I have always like working with my hands, and making stuff so I couldn't do an office job."

Health service

When the factory closed he decided to take up a position as a postman as a stop gap measure, which lasted for 13 years. He said, "it was an easy job and fitted into my lifestyle. I enjoyed being outside and the weather didn't bother me."

But a dramatic health event led him to reconsider his career options.

Rob tells us that it all started on Hogmanay 2013.

Rob Paton the Fat Batard Baker buns

Putting buns in the oven: Picture by Lisa Ferguson

"Suzanne and I were sitting watching Jools Holland on the telly, everything was normal. We have two kids so we weren't out or drinking heavily.

"Then I started to get a whistling sound in my right ear. It got louder and louder and all of a sudden it stopped and I said to my wife I can't hear out of that ear."

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"Everything else was fine, so I just went to bed. I couldn't get up the next morning, everything was spinning not like a hangover spin, I was gripping onto the bed because it felt like it was flipping over."

Initially it was put down to Labyrinthitis, but after a week there was no improvement and he was constantly being motion sick so he was taken to Borders General Hospital where he spent a week in the stoke unit. He then needed two and a half months of rehabilitation, relearning how to walk.

Rob said: "they still don't know exactly what it was, but it stopped the circulation to one of my ears, so I lost my balance and the hearing in one side."

Proving the bread

Bread basket

The illness still affects him,  he said, "It is a bit of a worry and I still get moments; which is why making sour dough bread works so well for me, it can take a good two days to make a loaf. My speed of thought is a lot slower than it used to be and I find it difficult to react quickly to things."

The process of rehabilitation was scary he said, "because I wasn't sure if I was going to get better. It also doesn't help when they are not able to tell you what was wrong.  You have your own ideas of how long this is going to recover but that changes day to day."

Return to Sender

Although he had worked at the post office for 13 years he said,  "I had a wake up call. Do I want to be here? What do I want to do?"

Opening his own bakery kind of happened by accident.

After he left the post office he wanted see if he could get a job in a professional kitchen, because he liked cooking as a hobby.

He was delighted when he achieved that goal by working in the kitchen at Whitmuir Organics.

The head chef at the time, Val Brunton, announced one day that they were going to start baking sourdough and she handed Rob a book, by bread guru Andrew Whitley, she told him to read up and see what he thought?

Fat Batard bakery, Peebles a loaf

Use your loaf

Rob enthused, "I just loved the whole idea of basically bringing yeast to life and keeping it alive. The whole process was something I had never done before but I absolutely loved it."

He then left to work in the kitchen at Osso in Peebles. Rob said, "Ally McGrath the head chef there, made his own sourdough so there was no need for me to do it anymore but I continued to bake it at home.

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"One day I went into  a wee local shop called the superstore and I wanted to try the local honey and asked the owner would she swap some it for my sourdough. As a result she started selling my bread, so it all started with a barter."

Name and Shame

He was still working at Osso whilst running his sideline bread business and he tells us that credit for his bakery name goes to Tilly Rayner  one of the chefs at Osso.

Rob said, "I was looking for a name that was tongue in cheek but showed a bit of my personality. I was working at the restaurant at the time and one of the waiters kept commenting in my weight.

"I'm not particularly heavy, I'm not obese by any standard. I had been trying to think of a good name with batard, and it was Tilly  who suggested 'what about fat batard then.' I was sold on it from the start, not sure my wife was happy but it was exactly what I needed."

Sourdough Olive and Thyme Bread

Sourdough Olive and Thyme Bread

Bake it till you make it

It was a big step to open his own bakery shop, however Rob was confident that there was a demand for sourdough in the town he said,"the people of Peebles are pretty clued up on what they want to eat, and what is good and what isn't."

Initially his boss, Ally McGrath at Osso, supported him by giving him half of his Saturday farmers market stall, Rob said, "initially I would sell 20 loaves and they started to sell out pretty quickly, so by the time the shop opened we were selling 80 loaves at the market, so we are confident there was a demand."

Since opening they have managed to maintain a loyal support base, although they had to close for a period at the start of the first lockdown but he was delighted to receive lot of messages from customers asking when they were going to reopen again.

Rob Paton the Fat Batard Baker

sweet treats from The Fat Batard bakery Peebles: Picture by Lisa Ferguson

That local support means a lot to him in these strange times and Rob said, "it is really important as a small business, that we can give people the choice of where they can buy their food."

In Peebles he said, "I'm seeing more independent shops popping up and it is almost like you can feel the place trying to regain some of it's identity."

Rob is a stickler for freshly baked bread, because the sourdough process takes time and he is limited to his two ovens he is often to be found working in the early hours.

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Starter for ten

They use sourdough exclusively in the bakery, he said, "so it is all fermented, so no fast action yeast other than the wild natural stuff." Rob tells us his starters have names, " our white starter is called Ryan: because he has Rye in him, and the sweet starter is called Sweetie."

He uses Mungoswells flour from East Lothian which is practically milled as you order, " so short of having your own personal miller, you will not get any fresher than that," he said.

Fat Batard bakery, Peebles

He enjoys the methodical repetitious process of making bread which largely follows the same process with only minor changes to make different types of bread.

Rob is happy to pass on some of his precious starter to an amateur breadmakers,  he said "anybody who is prepared to put in the effort and the time to bake sourdough, deserves a wee bit of a break to get an established starter to begin with."

As he is self taught he has learned a lot through trial and error,  he said,  "nobody has sat me down and showed me. It is is all from books or videos online, but there is a really strong artisan bakery network on Instagram and everybody will help and tell you where you are going wrong."

Fat Batard bakery, Peebles

Rob said, croissants are his toughest challenge.  He always post updates on Instagram even if things are not going well, "so people know it is not all sunshine and roses when you are working with a live culture, they sometimes have a bad day to."

Future plans

Recently Rob has been thinking a lot about the future and said, "right now all we are focused on is trying to make sure what we are doing is safe and accessible as possible for people and when the doors open again I want to try and get back to some kind community feeling. "

"There is a bench outside the bakery is where people would gather to chat and that community aspect has been lost with collection only."

People are ordering online and coming in to collect, but obviously business is down on what it would be if there was passing trade. He said his most popular breads are chilli and cheese and the organic seeded loaf.

The bakery has also become a proper family affair with Suzanne joining the business and taking care of admin to allow Rob to do what he clearly loves to do, making bread.

While oldest daughter Holly helps out on a Saturday and even Lucy has been busy stamping labels.

Rob Paton the Fat Batard Baker

 

The Fat Batard 

6, Newby Court
Peebles
EH45 8AL

01721 588150

 

• READ MORE: Scotland’s Larder: Andrew Skea from The Potato House

Scotland's Larder: Andrew Skea from The Potato House

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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