Aimee Helms started milling at Bellegarde Bakery after answering a Craigslist ad for a full time baker. It was 2016 and milling was something that was completely new to her. Founded by Graison Gill in 2012 (who was also new to baking), Bellegarde Bakery has grown immensely. A storefront opened in 2019 and the bakery recently added specialty breads and pasta to the menu.
"At that time, Bellegarde milled a lot less flour, so it has been a natural progression learning more about the mills and grains as Bellegarde has grown."
Helms has lived in New Orleans since 1998 (except for five years after Hurricane Katrina) and spends Tuesdays through Saturdays at the bakery, starting at 6 a.m. and staying until 2:30-3 p.m. When she isn't milling or shaping baguettes, you can find her catching up on sleep, taking her dog on long walks, and spending time with her friends and boyfriend, a challenge in itself with busy schedule and her early bedtime. Other hobbies include reading, knitting, and testing out new recipes. "My boyfriend has to eat all my baking fails!"
Ahead, a look at Aimee's typical morning which includes quality time with her dog and French press.
4:00 a.m. The first of three alarms goes off. I like to wake up at 4 a.m. to allow myself time to slowly wake up. I don’t take it for granted that I am usually the last baker to arrive for morning shaping, so I like to make sure I come ready to work.
While I know there are some early morning risers that prefer to sleep until the last minute, I like to make a French press every morning. I like the activity and the routine (I even grind the beans fresh each morning—my current favorite is French Truck’s Le Grand Coq Rouge). I wash or put away dishes while waiting for the coffee to brew, and I savor that cup of coffee. I don’t have much time until mid-morning to check news or emails, so I take my morning coffee time to check the news, weather, and loosely make a plan for my workday, as well as any post-work chores.
4:15 a.m. My morning coffee is gone and I have to get ready! This includes my morning time with my dog, Bob Marley (The Pit Bull). He gets his early breakfast and a quick trip outside before he gets to get back in bed while I head off to Bellegarde.
6:00 a.m. The first thing I do when I get to the bakery is turn on one of the two stone mills. It takes about three hours to mill a hopper—around 200-250 pounds of grain—depending on the grain and mill settings, so during that time I am able to help the other bakers shape bread for the morning bake. We usually shape bread until about 8:30 or 9:00 a.m., depending on the day, so the timing works out well. Shaping baguettes is one of my favorite tasks at the bakery. There is something meditative about the motions, and yet staying present to adjust to the pace of the morning. On a smooth day, it can be time to check in with coworkers about different happenings in the bakery.
9:00 a.m. Shaping is usually done, and I move on to milling tasks. I like to assess the tasks of the day and take a short break to a) rest my feet and fill my belly, and b) prioritize the tasks of the day and make my game plan. On busier days, that includes reloading the hopper and getting a second milling in, filling flour orders, bolting or sifting flour, and the occasional mill maintenance. On slower days, I can get ahead on projects coming down the pipeline. After a short break, these milling duties will usually take me well up to lunchtime.