A trip to Paris, France, would be a grand event for most people, but for Craig Ponsford, it truly was the trip of a lifetime. In 1992, when Ponsford attended Europain, a bakery trade exhibition in Paris, he determined his career path and his lifelong passion for baking.
The Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (World Cup of Baking) made its debut at Europain that year with teams of master bakers representing nine different countries competing for the title. Ponsford, who had attended culinary school and was months away from opening a bakery, was glued to the competition and its highly skilled bakers.
“I was one of those people that sneaked into the show early and stayed late to watch every single thing that was going on in the bake shops,” Ponsford says. “It was the pinnacle of my education at that point.”
Fifteen years later, Ponsford is the founder and president of Artisan Bakers, Sonoma, Calif., and the vice president of new product development and bakery innovation for Innobake Brands in partnership with several California-based bakeries, including San Francisco’s Boudin Bakery. Achieving so much in his bakery business at a such a young age, one might think his focus has been entirely on his own career. Quite the contrary.
He credits most of his success to the generosity of bakers in the San Francisco Bay area and around the world who showed him what it takes to be a baker. Grace Baking Co., Acme Baking Co., Semifreddi’s and Metropolis Baking Co. were among the artisan bakeries that shared their bakery operations with Ponsford.
“I was given so much from the local bakers in the Bay area before I even opened my bakery,” Ponsford says. “I was amazed and blown away and didn’t realize at the time the welcoming, kind attitude of bakers is a worldwide thing.”
In an effort to return that generous spirit, Ponsford became one of the early members of the then fledgling Bread Bakers Guild of America in 1995. He has been the guild’s chairman of the board for the past five years; its membership has grown to 1,400 members.
Ponsford has been instrumental in making the Bread Bakers Guild Team USA what it is today. He was a member of the U.S. team in 1996, coached the 1999 team, was the manager for the 2002 team and developed the infrastructure for the 2005 and current 2008 teams. U.S. teams have won numerous awards at the coupe, but winning has not been the primary motivation for Ponsford. He maintains coupe founder Christian Vabret’s original vision of raising the consciousness of quality baking throughout the world.
“We now have 12 to 15 ambassadors in this country that are top baking educators as a direct result of Baking Team USA,” Ponsford says.
He recently returned from Argentina, where he was a judge for one of the regional Louis LeSaffre Cups, which help determine the next countries to compete in the 2008 Coupe du Monde. Fifty-four countries compete in seven regional competitions around the world.
“I’m hoping I’ve just scratched the surface with what I want to accomplish,” Ponsford says. “I’m looking to expand our baking peers outside our country and open our eyes to what’s going on in baking all over the world.”