From hunger to honour: Top Taiwan baker thanks mum

As a boy in Taiwan's countryside Wu Pao-chun often had to eat leftovers, but today he is a world-famous baker and a driving force in a culinary revolution sweeping the island.

Wu, 42, won the bread section in the prestigious Bakery Masters in Paris last year, to much fanfare back home, and now his loaves sell like hot cakes in a society more accustomed to steamed buns.

"I have very strong attachment to baking. To me, bread is art, much more than just food," Wu said in an interview with AFP.

It is an art with a growing number of connoisseurs on this island of 23 million, judging from sales at his bakery in south Taiwan's Kaohsiung city.

Every day he and his assistants bake 300 loaves of his trademark bread filled with the popular fruit lychee, and a similar amount of bread with longan fruit. They are snatched up before they grow cold.

Wu, who has written two books, is featured in several TV programmes shown on lifestyle channels across the world and customers from as far away as United States ask to have their pictures taken with him.

It is a success that has not come easily to Wu, whose father's death in a traffic accident forced his mother to bring up eight children in abject conditions.

"Very often, when she was hungry, she would get vegetables or leftovers from family and neighbours," Wu said, the memory bringing tears to his eyes.

At the age of 15, Wu went to Taipei to start an internship at a bakery, but found life hard and unrewarding, as his school had left him a functional illiterate with not even basic calculating skills.

The turning point came when he joined the army as a conscript and a friend taught him how to read. This kindled a thirst for knowledge, and he travelled to Japan to hone his baking skills with masters in the field.

Japan ran Taiwan as a colony for 50 years after 1895 and introduced the island to bread, albeit in a soft version without hard crusts.

"For decades, people in Taiwan preferred soft bread rather than the European-style hard-crusted bread. But the taste has gradually changed," he said.

Hard-crusted bread now accounts for about 30 percent of the bread consumers buy in Taiwan - a transformation that Wu has done his bit to help bring about.

The path from illiterate farm boy to world-class baker was not an obvious one given his background - most of Wu's siblings are factory workers or housekeepers - and he knows exactly who to thank for his success.

"The most important influence bringing me where I am today is my mother. She never gave up and never bowed to pressure, no matter how poor our family was," he said.

Wu's bond with his mother is a captivating story in a society where respect for the elderly may be dwindling, and famed local movie director Lin Cheng-sheng plans to shoot a film about the baker and his mother next year.

Despite having made it further than most in his profession, Wu sees no reason for complacency. And having no obvious rivals does not relieve him of the pressure to perform.

"My real competitor is myself. I know if I want to keep growing, I have to force myself to think in new ways all the time," he said.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor