Baking at The Clink restaurant – in prison
One of the ways in which VB changes the world through bread is baking with prisoners. We have volunteered at The Clink restaurant in Highdown prison for years now and we have just started to work with The Clink restaurant at Cardiff prison. We started doing this for lots of reasons and we still do it because it is a total laugh - complete and utter fun.
The Clink at Highdown is "inside the walls". That is, guests need to enter the prison (going through three sets of airlock doors, handing over passports, phones, keys and other banned substances including yeast and aluminium foil) in order to dine. The first time I went I don't remember feeling any conscious level of anxiety but I was exhausted at the end of the day. It was the unknown, I think, and the fact that prison is a closed system - and all the negative emotions of being locked up (fear, shame, depression, anger, frustration) are trapped in that system. There is no where for them to go and so it is easy to be assaulted by them if you are not ready for it. That being said, the vast majority of the prisoners with whom I have worked in The Clink over the years are making the most of the opportunity they have been given to learn new skills and interact with members of the public. They are polite and attentive, courteous (they don't let each other use bad language around me) and interested to learn new things. I urge you to go - but you have to book in advance in order to get security clearance and instructions.
The Clink in Cardiff is "outside the walls". It is still staffed with prisoners but they are all on day release. You can just arrive and dine!
Most members of the public, unless they have friends and/or family in prison just never come across it. Why would you? In actual fact, it is important to go. Important because it teaches you that we are all one bad decision away from prison. Important because it introduces you to a group of people who are no different from the rest of us. Some are hard working and kind, some are lazy and selfish, some are keen to learn, some think they know it all, some are clearly living in a fantasy world which they will re enter when they leave and some just want to get home and behave. Everyone is in prison.
The Clink is not just good food and it is not just good food "for a prison". It is food inspired and directed by talented chef, Al Crisci who is so modest that you will almost never read about him or see him. It's not about him, you see, it's about the food and the staff. The work he started is dedicated to training talented front-of-house and in-the-kitchen restaurant staff so they can leave prison with skills and a purpose. The list of awards is long and growing.
Fun fact about baking at The Clink:
1. Yeast is not allowed in prisons so all the bread we bake is sourdough bread.
2. The Clink has some wheat sourdough starter from 1857 and they made their own rye starter a few years ago.
3. They bake everyday.
4. We experiment all the time. Successes include sourdough scones and biscuits, focaccia, hot cross buns, and stollen. Not so successful was the bread stuffed with mincemeat. It kind of exploded in the oven because we over stuffed it. Oh well, we ate it anyway, just did not serve it to diners.
Currently two of the Bread Angels are working at The Clink. One of them hopes to establish a full time bakery at the women's prison across from Highdown and we are hoping that the next Clink will have dedicated bakery space to make it a little easier to bake bread (at the moment we fight for oven space which, in a commercial kitchen is not easy).
Here at VB we thank Al from the bottom of our hearts for giving us to opportunity to work with him, albeit in a tiny way, on this important project.
Links to other articles about The Clink, most of which have recipes for different kinds of sourdough bread:
There is plenty more on the site - search "the clink" or "the italian bread project" and you will find it!