Fuad Asaad (34), apprentice at Jowa

Refugee learns how to be a baker at Jowa

Refugee learns how to be a baker at Jowa

Syrian refugee Fuad Asaad works at Migros’ bakery arm Jowa, where he is training to be a baker. Here he makes croissants, Wähe tarts and Linzer torte – and has also come to love wholemeal bread.

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Rahel Schmucki
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Fuad Asaad takes two strips of dough, twirls them round in the air and then weaves them together. After a few minutes, the apprentice baker has a braided loaf ready on the worktop. It’s Thursday, which means it’s braided bread day for the in-house bakery at the Migros Marktgasse store in Bern.

It wasn’t long ago that Fuad Asaad still didn’t have any idea about baking braided bread, and half-and-half bread, Seeländer bread or baguettes didn’t mean anything to the slender man with deep blue eyes, either. Where he comes from, there’s only one type of bread: flatbread. In 2015, the 34-year-old man fled Northern Syria along with his wife Aisha (30), his daughter Nalin (12) and his son Chazi (7). After a difficult journey through Turkey and Greece, the four of them reached Bern in the summer, where their second daughter Lina (3) was born two years later.

In the Bern bakery, Fuad Asaad weaves dough into braided bread.

A tailor by trade, he was initially able to help out for the odd few hours in a Bern shop, although was unable to find a proper job. He spent his free time studying the language. At the asylum centre, he worked hard to learn German, supported by a voluntary refugee assistant. “Ms Heer met me once a week, and that helped me a lot,” Asaad recalls. She was also the person who took me to a job fair. It’s there that I came into contact with Jowa. A member of staff at the Migros bakery stand explained to him everything he'd be learning about when training as a baker, pastry chef and confectioner. “I absolutely wanted to get back to work and this profession sounded great for me,” Asaad says. A few weeks later, he was accepted for a short apprenticeship (Federal Certificate of Vocational Education and Training, EBA) as a baker, pastry chef and confectioner at Jowa. Last summer, he completed the two-year period of training.

His own rose bread

A round loaf with floral decoration

During the coffee break, he admits: “I haven’t eaten any more flatbread since I’ve been at Jowa. I love Swiss bread.” He proudly shows off pictures on his mobile phone of a loaf that he created for the final examination, called "rose bread". It is a lovingly fashioned work of art: a round loaf of half-and-half bread, with a braided pattern around the edge and decorated on top with three small roses shaped out of bread dough. For this recipe, the dough mustn’t be too dry, but also not too wet, Asaad explains. “Otherwise the braided pattern doesn’t adhere nicely.” He had to come up with his own innovation for the roses. “As the small leaves cook faster than the loaf, I froze them before baking them. This means that, in the end, everything comes out of the oven with a uniform brown colour.” He received a grade of 5.9 for this high level of creativity and precise work. Thanks to Asaad’s excellent final result, Jowa is supporting him through two additional years of his apprenticeship, after which he will be awarded a Federal Diploma of Vocational Education and Training.

Asaad didn’t find it easy to make the switch from working as a tailor to a baker at the beginning. He really enjoyed his old job. “But the more I learned in the bakery, the better I liked my new profession.” Today, he can express his creativity in the bakery.

Fuad brushes egg yolk onto a braid

Zwei Wohnorte

It’s hectic now in the Bern bakery. Two young men with grey aprons and white head coverings are sliding racks containing various types of bread across the room. A third cuts Wähe fruit tarts into slices using a large knife. A fourth takes the finished loaves out of the oven using an oven paddle. At the same time, Fuad Asaad brushes egg onto the loaves with an expert touch. It’s now just before 10 a.m. Assad has been in the bakery since 4.15 a.m. this morning. He bakes rolls, braided bread and Wähe tarts for the Migros Marktgasse store in Bern and also makes sandwiches for the Migros restaurant in the same building. His daily rhythm has shifted as a result of the early starts for work. He ate a hot meal at 7 a.m. “Sometimes we heat up some spaghetti.” When he gets back home at 2 p.m., he studies for his training course or his German classes. He goes to bed at 6 p.m. His wife and children return home shortly after this. “Unfortunately, I don’t get to see my family much at the moment. I hope things will improve after I’ve finished my training,” says Asaad a little dejectedly. But he accepts this inconvenience.

"I haven’t eaten any more flatbread since I’ve been at Jowa."

Fuad Asaad (34)

The young man works at the Jowa bakery in the centre of Bern for six-week spells. After this, he switches to the training bakery at Gränichen in Aargau. When he is here, he stays in a small room provided by Jowa. His wife stays behind at their flat in Bern with the three children. When he’s in Gränichen, where bread and pastry products are produced for the staff restaurant, Assad has a little more free time than he does when he’s working at the Jowa in-store bakery. The apprentice advisor is present on site and assists the apprentices. “I like the change of scenery. In Bern, I’m an important part of the team, while in Gränichen I’m always learning new things.” At 34, Fuad Asaad is the oldest apprentice. “I’ve been mistaken for the instructor before,” he says with a chuckle. However he gets along very well with his fellow students. Asaad is also well-integrated into the bakery. While his colleagues are shaping bread with rapid hand movements or putting things into the oven, they share a few jokes together. It’s a light-hearted atmosphere.

Fuad holds a tray of braided bread dough

Meanwhile, the braided bread has risen and is ready to go in the oven. “The top one’s still free,” calls out the head baker. Assad opens the oven door with a glove and shoves in one tray after the other. Four more hours until the end of the shift.