Top baker Cigi’s Tony Tweed hangs up his apron after four decades of breads, bagels and croissants
Tony Tweed knew about the unique quality of Canadian bread wheats long before he was recruited to Canada in the mid-1960s to establish its first commercial baking school at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton.
“I worked with a lot of Canadian wheat flour in England,” the British-born and -trained baker said. “Everybody knew that if you were making good biscuits, you used Australian flour, and if you wanted to make good bread, you used Canadian flour.”
Tweed had actually been seconded by the Canadian International Development Agency and was planning to start mobile baking schools in Peru when he learned his wife was expecting.
The family changed their plans, and he was looking for a new job in 1972 just as the fledgling Canadian Grains Institute, as it was then called, was looking for a head baker.
The rest, as they say, is history — 40 years of it to be exact. An iconic fixture in the Cigi baking technology centre, Tweed has spent the past four decades working with customers from 115 countries on the technical aspects of products, travelling to dozens of countries as well as helping teach the 38,000 or so participants in the more technical courses Cigi has offered.
What he learned upon his arrival at Cigi, as the Canadian International Grains Institute is now called, and what he has conveyed to customers ever since, has been the infrastructure that is behind Canada’s quality, everything from the variety selection, to farm practices, to clean handling and quality segregation systems, to a skilled team of troubleshooters that help processors sort out technical glitches.
“You are really selling Canadian grain, but you are also selling Canada — clean air, fresh water, nice people, and the systems are honest here,” Tweed said. “It is a very unique place to work. Where else do you get to meet people from all these different cultures? You are working with the Japanese this week and the Sudanese next week.”
Cigi’s staff has grown to 35, a group that collectively can boast some of the world’s best technical expertise when it comes to understanding the finer points of milling, baking and processing quality.
He now has colleagues within the organization who are equally expert when it comes to noodle-making ingredients and processes, Asian steam breads, and processing pulse crops into food ingredients.
A few floors down, pasta extruding researcher Peter Frolich is looking for ways to convince North Americans to eat more nutritionally dense pulse crops such as peas, lentils and beans. In some parts of the world, it’s as simple as mixing them with rice or making a paste.
But Canadians are partial to snack foods.
Frolich holds up what looks like a puffed cheese snack. “I can make a Cheeto-like product that has high protein, high fibre, folate minerals and vitamins that has the same mouth feel,” he says.
“I think in the next five to 10 years these flours will be added ingredients to many if not all the foods processed in Canada,” Frolich says. But first, companies need to know that it can be done, and secondly, how to do it.
As supporters of the Canadian International Grains Institute gathered to celebrate 40 years of its remarkable history this week, they were looking forward to a future that contains no small measure of uncertainty.
New funding needed
The organization set up to soft sell Canadian grains, oilseeds and later pulses is looking for new ways of financing its operations.
The federal government has temporarily stepped in to fill the void as the Canadian Wheat Board, one of its founding partners and key funders, loses its monopoly. But in the future, its operations will have to be financed, at least in part, through a farmer checkoff and fee-for-service contracts.
Cigi also finds itself working with a whole new type of client as grain companies step up to fill the board’s marketing role. And if the City of Saskatoon has its way, the organization will be moved lock, stock and barrel to another province.
Industry sources at the organization’s celebration offered mixed views on the possibility. Some say the organization has outgrown its space in the Canadian Grain Commission building in downtown Winnipeg and if the proposed Cereal Centre of Excellence for Winnipeg is off the table, considering such a move only makes sense.
Others say Cigi’s strength is in its people and its close working relationship with the CGC, both of which would be compromised in such a move.
One thing is for sure. Cigi will be looking for a new top baking expert. Now in his 70th year, Tweed retired at the end of May, although he has already been contracted by British baker Warburton’s to continue running its wheat quality control program.
Tweed has seen three generations of technical experts come through his lab, and witnessed an explosive growth in the sophistication of milling technology. “They have much more opportunity to buy different-origin wheats and they are more skilled in blending and cleaning,” he said.
“But we are still in the driver’s seat when it really comes to high quality, good-quality protein, good milling yield, absorption, all the things people are looking for,” he said.
Tweed doesn’t quibble with those who say Canadian farmers should be growing more medium-quality wheats. “Some customers are buying those kinds of wheats. If Canada can do that and still be competitive to the customer, I don’t see why they wouldn’t.”
“But there are still the customers, as much as we travel, who tell us there are two problems with Canadian wheat: the moisture content is too high, which we all know, and it’s too expensive. But they want it.”