Dessert Professional magazine proudly presents the Top 10 Bread Bakers in North America for 2016.
Once again, Dessert Professional celebrates the world of artisan bread by naming our list of the Top Ten Bread Bakers in America. This group of distinguished bakers has mastered the art and technique of creating the perfect loaf—that elusive combination of flavor, texture and appearance. Though their backgrounds and approaches to baking may differ, one characteristic was common to all the bakers on our list: their willingness to share recipes and information and to teach others about their craft, with the communal goal of improving the quality of bread in America. Following is a short profile of each of our Top Ten Bread Bakers in America.
- Julie Copoulos
- Graison S. Gill
- Don Guerra
- Cheryl Holbert
- Matthew McDonald
- Ryan Morgan
- Avery Ruzicka
- Steve Scott
- Michelle Tampakis
- Melissa Weller
Small Oven BakeryOwner: Julie Copoulos and Amanda Milazzo
36 Union Street, Easthampton, MA
Questions answered by Julie Copoulos
Business profile: Small Oven Bakery is a female owned, French style bakery in Easthampton, Massachusetts. We specialize in artisan breads and laminated pastry, special occasion cakes, and locavore lunches.
When did you first start making bread? In 2011. I worked overnight shifts with a man named “Speedy,” who was a patient teacher as my Spanish speaking skills and dough shaping abilities grew. A couple of years later, I started a business I ran out of my home. When that proved to be nearly disastrous, a local “ristorante” allowed me to use their pizza ovens, free of charge. My community was SO supportive. I put a lot of pressure on myself to learn the art for those who had given me the confidence and space to do so.
What you’re trying to do differently: Be a better mentor and teacher to our employees. We do all of the bread scaling and shaping by hand in our bakery, and the temperature is never ‘just so’. Bread baking is based heavily on educated intuition, so it’s up to me to eliminate any unnecessary variables and give people the space they need to feel confident in their actions as bakers.
Bread varieties: 16! I had to count. From sourdough and brioche, to rugbrød and baguette.
Favorite type of bread to make: Brioche. We started with a 30-quart mixer that would stop dead if the resistance of the mix was too intense. Our brioche recipe is a 50% butter mix (baker’s percentage). Keeping all that butter cold and the dough strong enough to hold it was such a nightmare that we started calling the task the “Saga of the Brioche.” Even now, with a very capable 80-quart mixer, there is nothing more satisfying than that long transparent windowpane after a successful mix.
Favorite bread to eat: Depends on the day! Lately I’ve been taking home a “double fermented rye” I’ve been testing. It’s so sweet and tangy at the same time, and the earthiness of the whole grain grounds the flavor. It is a delight with runny eggs and coffee.
Bread philosophy: A great bread baker pays attention to what the bread needs today, not what kind of mix it needed yesterday, not how much water it needed last week, not how long the proof was this morning. Smells, feelings and tastes guide and inform the bread baker, and I believe the best bakers are those who partake in the process from unripe levain to (fully) baked bread.
Signature products: Bread-wise, it’s our baguette, pain au levain, and brioche. Everyone has their favorite, though. Our laminated pastries and cakes fly off the shelves, and our lunch menu, which changes seasonally, is a big draw for people in the surrounding communities.
Best compliment ever: I’ve had my bread compared to my mentor’s, Jeffrey Hamelman’s, bread on a couple of occasions. I always feel extremely humbled by this sentiment because I know I am not the same caliber baker, but his influence shines through the product.
Best part of the bread business? Being a part of something very honest. Also the immediate enjoyment people experience through wholesome, well sourced food.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? Probably would have been a stock trader. Same long hours, and a lot of time handling dough.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? The double fermented rye. Not for the faint of heart, tough crusted, but sweet on the inside.
What’s next: Amanda and I would like to shift into the roles of mentors in the coming years. That way we have plenty of time to plan our next schemes.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? I have so much optimism for the bread baking industry. When I consider my peers, they are all so enthusiastic, and it’s this kind of excitement that spurs creativity and constant change. Bread baking never stagnates, and I think it attracts movers and shakers. As peers, we are continuously challenging each other to think outside of the box, and after 30,000 years of bread baking, that box is pretty gigantic.
Bellegarde BakeryOwner: Graison S. Gill
New Orleans, LA 70125
504-827-0008 • www.bellegardebakery.com
Business profile: Bellegarde is a commercial bakery. We do not sell to the public from our shop; instead, we deliver to markets, cafés, and restaurants. This is a sincere desire which allows us to focus on producing quality bread in quantity. By only wholesaling, we have created the environment of an atelier where strict patience, care, and attention can be devoted to the creation of consistent, handmade breads without the distraction of a cash register, table busing, or phone calls.
When did you first start making bread? I began baking bread seven years ago at home. I graduated to sharing a commercial kitchen with three others before moving to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Baking Institute (SFBI). I spent two years in the Bay Area—working and training and learning—before returning to New Orleans to open Bellegarde. Richard Hart of Tartine, Mike Zakowski in Sonoma, CA and Mac McConnell and Frank Sally of SFBI were my formative mentors on the West Coast.
Bread varieties: We make four types of bread, six days a week: ciabatta, baguette, maize baguette, and country bread. This is also part of the desire to produce consistently delicious and healthy breads by limiting distraction. I have seen large menus and choices distract many people; the more options, the more mediocrity. Bakers that put an excessive number of nuts, seeds, and other flavors in breads—I think—are masking a lack of confidence in fermentation and/or do not respect the value of fresh flour. There is no need to perfume beautiful, healthy, freshly stone-milled flours with anything but time and natural leavening; bakers, chefs, and customers need to be re-trained on this fact. (Would you put flax seed oil in a Vouvray?) Our breads, with few exceptions, practice this by indulging no ingredients beyond fresh flour, filtered water, and Louisiana salt. And by keeping our menu constricted, our breads become consistent.
Favorite type of bread to make: I enjoy our Acadian Miche. New Orleans is a confluence—our reality is refracted through dozens of perspectives. The terms Creole, Patois, and Diaspora have a deep, deep identity of truth when it comes to this place—literally, emotionally, and metaphorically. Our Acadian Miche represents all those experiences: the Miche is a bread from Northern France and Belgium that was baked, probably since the 13th century, in very large boules. (My grandmother’s family in Belgium baked something similar to this bread every single Friday in the wood-burning oven behind the church.) It was meant to sustain a family for a week, until the next firing of the oven and more bread could be baked. Because it is a country bread, it contained only locally available whole grains. The French brought this tradition to North America; first Canada, and when the Derangement occurred, to Louisiana. Because of our climate, wheat does not do well here; the French learned that in 1708 when they tried growing wheat in Mid-City. (Miserable results, then and now.) Also, the climate of New Orleans was not conducive to the typical French-style masonry oven; instead, the climate dictated open hearth cooking for large households (see the historical Hermana Grimm House in the French Quarter for an example) with ovens being concentrated in bakeries. But, in the Louisiana country, the tradition of the Miche and communal ovens continued. In that spirit, we bake our Miche with local flavors that are stone-milled in our bakery: it’s a five pound loaf, made entirely of stone-milled flour, which includes wheat, rye, Louisiana rice, and organic corn. Water, Louisiana salt, and stone milled grains; that’s it. There is an intimacy to this bread—its flavor, its format, its weight—which draw lines to the history of this place we call home. Like Jazz, it too grabs notes and sounds that work, regardless of their origin. Yet, paradoxically, it is rooted in its own genesis, which we spend our lives interpreting through our personal exegesis and narratives.
Favorite bread to eat: I enjoy eating our country bread. It has a very mellow, creamy, lactic acid flavor to it. It has great texture; meaty, yet moist and supple. It is not too chewy or heavy; the fermentation’s acidity is pleasant and deep, without any overbearing sourness. Some mild tannins, floral and fresh flour, with a very rounded body and consistent finish. I love the three dimensionality of bread: its aroma, flavor, and texture. There is so much more to interact with—and be interacted upon—when tasting bread than there is with wine, cheese, or coffee. There is a dangerous situation in America right now when the term sourdough is used: it is a flavor and a process. We need to taste people away from the association of ‘pickle juice’ sour towards the bouquet of a ‘lactic’ sour. With the exception of some German breads, overbearingly sour (acetic) flavors reflect on the inexperience of the baker and his/her craft when it comes to fermentation. There is a reason people clean house with white vinegar, not balsamic.
Bread philosophy: Bellegarde is incessantly working towards building an understanding between Policy and People. We want our community to know the importance of and the relationship between health/access to fresh food and politics: the democratization of fresh, whole-grain bread is a core principle at our bakery. Food is medicine for everyone involved in its creation and consumption. I seek to re-establish the terroir of grain—its growth, harvest, storage, milling, baking, and consumption—and re-align people’s perspective of bread as the pinnacle of their diet. A mentor, Nan Kohler of Grist and Toll, truly helped me elucidate this. Wheat is the best food source known to humankind—there is no coincidence that when people settled the Fertile Crescent, they chose to cultivate wheat and other cereal grains. Wheat civilized humankind; bread and the commitment to its production engendered society; mills and millwrights created multiple Industrial Revolutions because of their experience grinding grain; and the denuding of flavor/ texture from bread unwove the stitches in the fabric of our identities. When food moved into the factory, we lost a lot of our humanity: we lost our relationship with bread because we surrendered its creation to machines.
What’s next: Education. The more you share and the more you give away, the more you receive. The more you teach, the more you know. Demystifying the creation of bread—flour, water, salt, sourdough—is such an incredibly cathartic and important endeavor. Our most important food has been manipulated and mutated beyond belief; teaching people how to make bread with the same methods used 10,000 years ago is empowering and inspiring. It humbles the teacher, the students, the entire process and relationship to food. Bread baking is elemental: fire, water, time. It is also tactile and cognitive. Re-introducing that pleasure—to chefs and to the public - is imperative for our craft to move forward. And to raise the bar on fresh, healthy, incredible food made with soul.
What direction do you see the industry heading? I want the industry to tack towards an integrity and simplicity of ingredients. Better production methods like long proofing times, cold proofing temperatures, local and regional ingredients. Bread has been on the back end of the “Farm to Table” movement and I’m not sure why. We use twenty less ingredients than any chef, so why should it be harder to source them more effectively, fresh, and closer to home? Because the infrastructure is no longer there. But we shouldn’t be using flour with any preservatives, conditioners, or other additives: ascorbic acid, enrichments, vital gluten. None of those “things” are necessary to the creation of great, healthy bread; they’re all industry chemicals made for machined loaves. I think it’s entirely possible for small to mid-level bakeries to begin using freshly stone-milled flour within five years. Working with roller milled white flour—whether it’s pie dough or ciabatta bread—is like playing the same chord over and over and over on the guitar. It is monotonous, talentless, and redundant compared to the entire fret and bar and strings; you neglect the throat for the lips. There is so much possibility and liberty to explore when baking and mixing and milling fresh, whole grain flours. The baker must exercise courage and lead the discussion to repurpose the relationship between the farmer and the miller. Tell farmers and millers what you want! Right now, gigantic roller mills and their corporate subsidiaries hold the industry in a chokehold with all their unnecessary products. We should be buying the paints, not the canvas; the paradigm is the opposite right now and it must be tilted. The stone-miller must occupy a stronger voice in the direction of the industry in order for us to succeed in maturing. Millers need to listen and farmers need to be fearless.
What you’re trying to do differently: Encourage transparency and traceability. Put pride back into our craft and cuisine. Use less and less and less white flour. Our bakery is named after the very first bakery in Louisiana, begun in 1722. I chose the name because our values and our methods are identical to that first Bellegarde: take your time, use what’s around you, love your city’s tradition. (Of course, we have three phase power, refrigeration, radios, and digital thermometers…but the intention is there). We own a 40-inch stone mill, custom built mill by Andrew Heyn of Elmore Mountain Bread, and with that we are changing the conversation and raising the bar. We are pushing the boundaries of flavor and texture by using less, not by using more. And by embracing fresh: there is nothing there when you open a bag of King Arthur or General Mills white flour; it’s like a spectral whiff of a distant field, really far away from that bag. But when you put your arm up to your elbow in a bag of freshly stone-milled flour it is an incredible experience: fragrant, tactile, warm, aromatic, moist. You’ll get hackles the first time you do it. Working with fresh flour has been cathartic. In essence, because of this infatuation with fresh flour, we are seeking to rebuild what was once a very rich and dense regional grain economy. The largest aspect of the bakery’s endeavor has been to educate chefs. Chefs seem to take three times as much instruction as the public. So much chalk. The public always embraces new tastes, flavors, and concepts: it is the chef who is conservative, reactionary, and reluctant because change requires him/her adapt, to learn, to grow. That isn’t comfortable for people without technique, finesse, or the confidence of error. I’ve spent years speaking and tasting with chefs in order to teach them the value of flavor and texture in bread. (“No, our bread is not too hard, not too chewy, not too flavorful. It’s just the bread you are comfortable with is none of those things.”) Diners interact with the bread and water before they have any of the chef’s food, and 80% of the bread on New Orleans restaurant tables is embarrassing. It is scandalous that no local chefs are supporting regional agriculture; instead, they’re comfortable making jambalaya with California-grown tomatoes and Vietnamese shrimp with roller-milled white grits. It’s heresy against our cuisine and I won’t let it continue to happen with our bread. It’s too sacred.
Barrio BreadOwner: Don Guerra
Business profile: I am a Community Supported Baker. My CSB model offers a unique structure for the process of producing and selling my loaves through an online sales platform. It also more accurately matches supply to demand, and fosters community connections, because I am integrally tied my local network of scientists, farmers, millers, customers, and other food producers. Barrio Bread is a locally grown business built on a true passion for artisan bread making. As a craft baker, I specialize in breads that are prepared using locally grown wheat, ancient sourdough methods of long fermentation and hearth baking, to create a truly inspired loaf. My breads are sold through local CSAs, schools, a farmers’ market, and to several restaurants.
When did you first start making bread? I began baking professionally in 1991 at a small bakery in Flagstaff, Arizona, and immediately fell in love with the physicality of the work and the opportunity to combine my love of science and art. A few years later, I founded the Village Baker of Flagstaff and then opened the Village Baker of Ashland in Ashland, Oregon. After years of baking, I took time to explore other interests and taught K-8th grades in Tucson. With this experience, I have imbedded a strong teaching focus into my work and enjoy presenting, teaching a variety of classes, and working on my Bread Without Borders project.
What you’re trying to do differently: My goal is to connect community through bread. I like to think that my success is due to the support of my community and my investment in this resource. I enjoy working directly with seed scientists, farmers, millers, bakers, brewers, distillers and chefs to share information as we work to create products using regional grain.
Bread varieties: I bake at least 40 kinds of breads and have a rotating menu that appeals to a variety of preferences. Like a painter, I am constantly exploring my palette of flours and enjoy experimenting with new formulas as I combine different percentages in my breads.
Favorite type of bread to make: Two-kilo Heritage Grain Miche. The rustic nature of the larger breads reminds me of my visit to the Poilane Bakery at 8 Rue du Cherche Midi, where we watched the sales staff carving chunks from the enormous loaves of their signature bread. What a treat!
Favorite bread to eat: My favorite bread to eat is a naturally leavened high percentage rye. When this bread is on the cutting board in my kitchen, we nibble on it for days. The flavor becomes more complex as the bread rests.
Bread philosophy: It is crucial to bake from the heart and respect the ingredients and the process used to bring them to life. Many of my customers tell me that they can taste the love that I put into my bread. Like bread, love is a staple that sustains life.
Signature products: I have created a heritage flour bread made from a variety of local flours. This style is now reflected in of all of my breads, since local flours make up about 60 percent of my total bread production.
Best compliment ever: I sell bread at four schools during the week. The young child who plops a bag of coins from his or her piggy bank on the table and asks to buy bread makes my day. This is my biggest compliment.
Best part of the business: I love being an entrepreneur and making daily decisions to grow my business, connect directly with customers, and be an integral part of the local food movement. There is also a soul-nourishing joy in the artistic process of baking and creating bread.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? I would be a teacher. It is immensely satisfying to watch students grow and develop new skills and build confidence in themselves. My ultimate goal would be to guide them to the point at which I am no longer needed.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? A naturally leavened miche made with local wheat. I hope that I am a representation of my environment and “taste of the place”. This is a timeless loaf that could have been held by me, or by a baker who lived a hundred years ago.
What’s next: My plan is to continue to develop the local grain community in Southern Arizona and provide more opportunity for baker education. I was fortunate to be awarded a Local Food Promotion Grant from the USDA, which will enable me to work towards this goal. I hope to create a lasting legacy that will far outlive my work.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? I expect to see a stronger collaboration within local food systems, as all players realize how important their work is to one another. Already, there is an increasing emphasis on high quality flour and ingredients, and a return to the slower process of naturally leavened bread. Customers are developing an appreciation of the process and people behind their food and want a direct relationship with the artisans who produce it.
Nomad BakeryOwner: Cheryl Holbert
20 Berry Road, Derry, NH
603-560-5238 • www.nomadbakery.com
Business profile: We are a small home bakery with a passion for what makes bread important to people.
When did you first start making bread? I grew up in a family of traditions that revolved around amazing Eastern European breads and desserts baked by my grandmother, whose own mother emigrated through Ellis Island as a teenager. My paternal heritage is Persian. Handcrafted bread marked every event, gathering and celebration (secular and sacred), and the prospect of not having it readily available never occurred to me. After graduating college and striking out on my own, I recall opening the refrigerator in the kitchen of my first apartment one night, only to find a solitary bottle of water sitting on the shelf. The feeling stung, and I was flooded with memories of the warm kitchens of my female relatives and walks to the corner bakery with my dad. Memories that suddenly took on new meaning and value. So I started baking bread as a way of reconnecting with my upbringing and ethnically diverse heritage, as well as creating my own sense of home.
What you’re trying to do differently: Make the kind of bread that evokes a presence of “home” and the desire to share it.
Bread varieties: I am smitten with the bread of every culture on earth, but try to focus on mastering the breads of my own heritages of Eastern/Western Europe and the Middle East. But I do play with unfamiliar traditions for inspiration and fun now and then.
Favorite type of bread to make: Live-fire flatbread.
Favorite bread to eat: My daily bread is any whole grain levain, but I have a serious weakness for challah.
Bread philosophy: I like to think that humankind has a ‘bread gene’, a soulful story via bread, and that the more we seek it out, the happier and healthier we’ll be with ourselves, each other and the infinitely larger picture.
Signature products: Challah and babka, Middle Eastern flatbread, and wild yeasted loaves made with organic and locally-sourced grains and ingredients.
Best compliment ever: “This bread is going to keep me alive.” Our good friend Ruvin said this in reference to my challah, which continues to provide what he calls the “medicine” that got him through chemotherapy. He’s now in remission.
Best part of the bread business: The rhythm of the bread baking process which resolves in meeting the customer...and teaching with my backyard cob oven.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? Finding another way to help foster community and spending more time at my tapestry loom.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? Nan-e-barbari (Persian flatbread)...possessing an old soul, yet relating to the young; familiar to some, yet misunderstood by others; defiant, yet agreeable and accommodating; esoteric, yet ordinary. Brought to its best by intense heat.
What’s next: “The Bread Tent,” a writing project/blog about baking, reconnecting and gathering, as well as expanding my home bakery space to meet the growing demand for my bread and host more frequent baking classes.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? A growing renaissance of ultra-local, radically-resourceful, small-time bakers, making a difference in their communities as bread is exchanged hand to hand, eye to eye.
La Brea Bakery468 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Questions answered by Matthew McDonald
Business profile: I’m the Innovation Director at La Brea Bakery, which means I’m responsible for creating new artisan bread formulas for the bakery. La Brea Bakery has always been an innovator in the food space – much of this has to do with our passion and determination to create food the way it’s meant to be created. For example, if bread takes 14 hours to bake, then we spend 14 hours baking it. We’ve been making quality, delicious bread for more than 25 years and have never wavered from that mission. We continue to look for ways to drive innovation and bring quality, artisan bread to everyone.
What you’re trying to do differently: The La Brea Bakery Reserve Line is our newest artisan bread. We went to great lengths to push the mark and create an amazing loaf that consumers will fall in love with. We used the finest ingredients possible and took exceptional care in creating the formula and I think people are going to be blown away by the result. The La Brea Bakery Reserve Line starts with the wheat. We commissioned Fortuna Wheat from Wheat Montana and it is unlike anything we have done before. This wheat fits the “vintage” or “heirloom” classification, as it was developed before 1970. It is non-GMO, certified chemical-free, and free from any mysterious ingredients – it’s just freshness, nutrition, and quality that consumers will be able to taste. This is going to be the first time a bread as special as this has been available to consumers on a large-scale and La Brea Bakery is so proud to be able to offer this.
Bread varieties: I am in Innovation, so I don’t have a set menu, I get to make whatever my imagination can dream up.
Favorite type of bread to make: Baguette
Favorite bread to eat: Baguette
Bread philosophy: My philosophy is so aligned with La Brea Bakery – keeping things as natural as possible, respecting traditions and endeavoring to continuously refine and improve without violating the first two objectives.
Signature products: Stuffing Bread, Focaccia Rolls, Fortuna Baguettes and the impossible, “Just the Crust”
Best compliment ever: “It tastes like Thanksgiving!” Which is exactly the memory I wanted to evoke.
Best part of the business: Tasting the finished breads.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? Surfing.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? Consumers not only want to know that they are buying the freshest breads, made with pure, responsibly sourced ingredients, but they now want to know where theses ingredients come from so they know exactly what they are consuming. This is why we’ve created the La Brea Bakery Reserve Line, as well as made the commitment for all of our breads to be non-GMO certified by the end of the year, to offer our customers true food transparency.
Sixteen Bricks Artisan BakehouseOwner: Ryan Morgan
4760 Paddock Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45229
Business profile: Sixteen Bricks is a wholesale bread bakery. We make all of our breads by hand with the time-honored method of fermentation. We bake all of our breads in a stone oven.
When did you first start making bread? Four years ago. I was taught to make bread by my friend and mentor Jeff Yankellow, a 2005 Coupe du Monde winner. I got into baking after taking over my mother’s bakery. With my father in the final stages of MS [multiple sclerosis], I took over their bakery to relieve the stress it was putting on them. I fell in love with baking after that.
What you’re trying to do differently: One of the things I have been trying to do more of is work with freshly milled, whole wheat flour, which has the entire wheat berry in it. Working with freshly milled flours are, in my opinion, for the true artisan. Whole milled flour is forever changing as the crop changes. It is very nutritious and easily digestible. My good friend Craig Ponsford (of Ponsford’s Place) taught a class on this style of baking and has forever changed the way I look at bread, about what it means to be a provider of bread and what responsibilities come with that. I want to provide customers with healthy and healing food. I want to educate people and take away thoughts that eating bread is negative, because it really depends on the type of bread and how it’s made.
Bread varieties: We make so many breads now that it’s sometimes hard to keep up! We bake primarily for chefs, which means we sometimes make custom products, all the while being held to a very high standard. What is positive is we can always grow with their demand as the trends and seasons change. We always offer Sourdough, Rye, Ciabatta, Baguette, Challah and multi-grains such as Eleven Grain, Flaxseed, Quinoa and stuffed breads, including Olive, Jalapeño Cheddar and Cranberry Walnut.
Favorite type of bread to make: Right now I’m making breads with ancient grains. Some of the flour is so temperamental, I need to use high amounts of water and hand mix them. Even the nicest of spiral mixers will tear the doughs.
Favorite bread to eat: Traditional French baguette. Not many people get to enjoy a fresh baguette straight out of the oven after a long day of work. It is often the reward I take home for myself.
Bread philosophy: It should remain additive free, with only quality ingredients. Advertising is the ‘wonder’ in Wonder Bread. Only flour, water, salt and yeast are needed to make great bread. All the preservatives may increase shelf life, but adding chemicals and preservatives creates a low quality product that isn’t healthy.
Signature products: Aside from the new, fresh whole-milled breads, such as Einkorn and Khorasan, I would say our Sourdough, Baguette, Rye and Ciabatta are the most popular, in that order.
Best compliment ever: When a chef puts our bakery name on their menu, it is as big a compliment a guy like me could have.
Best part of the bread business: I think it’s the camaraderie of bakers. If I have an issue with something bread related, I have a bunch of other bakers I can call who want to help me figure out the problem I’m having. It is the best group of people I have ever worked with in my life. I love it. As an owner of the bakery, I would also say it’s the people who work with me. I not only get to teach others how to bake, but help them grow and motivate them to be better people also, just as I have become through my daily life with bread. It is such a good life.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? Making money. Hahahaa! But seriously, I was a service engineer for a medical device company before I took over the bakery. Before that I had worked in the service industry on large scale industrial machinery, automation equipment, etc. I can only imagine if I weren’t baking bread, I would still be fixing things and hoping that one day I would find the kind of work I love.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? I don’t know. Maybe Bread Pitt?
What’s next: I recently took on an investor who has the ability to distribute our breads to more regional areas. I don’t want to be the biggest artisan bread bakery, just the one with the most integrity.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? I see what is old is new again. I see the desire for handmade artisan bread growing and Wonder Bread leaving. We are moving from a feed grade to a food grade world. Hopefully as tastes change, fresh whole milled flour is the next big thing. Leaving the nutrition in the wheat and in the food is so much better for everyone. I hope that is the trend next to surface.
Manresa BreadOwner: David Kinch, Andrew Burnham and Avery Ruzicka
Production space: 605 University Avenue, Los Gatos CA 95032
Retail Shop: 276 North Santa Cruz Avenue, Los Gatos CA 95032
Questions answered by Avery Ruzicka
Business profile: Manresa Bread is a neighborhood bakery practicing the same philosophies and dedication to quality ingredients as its namesake restaurant, the Michelin three-star Manresa restaurant. The Manresa way shapes how we source our product and our focus on technique. Our team is incredibly passionate, which is what helps us get to know our customers and create a distinctive selection of seasonal laminated pastries, treats, and sourdough breads.
When did you first start making bread? My family spent a lot of time in the kitchen when I was growing up. Homemade Parker House rolls, pizza dough, whole wheat loaves –these were all a part of our kitchen repertoire. It wasn’t until I went to culinary school that I had any formal education in bread making, but from the moment I entered the bakery at the French Culinary Institute, I knew I had found my passion. At Manresa, I found my identity as a baker. I feel incredibly lucky to have found a place in the culinary world that is fulfilling on a creative and a professional level.
What you’re trying to do differently: We are continuously learning. This bakery is a place of discovery and professional growth for me and our employees. Our commitment to asking ourselves the hard questions is what sets us apart. “Can this be better? Is this the best version of this product out there? What and how can we improve?” I loved our levain two years ago, but I wanted it to be better. We learned about milling and started to test different oven temps. Now, I think we have a product that is far above what we made two years ago because we aren’t afraid to keep revisiting our methods and trying new things.
Bread varieties: We have three breads that are always on the menu: levain, sourdough baguettes and pumpernickel. On a seasonal basis we also make a seeded whole wheat with 100% fresh milled flour, a fruit and nut bread, various brioche, and a chocolate cherry sourdough.
Favorite type of bread to make: I feel the most attached to the levain. It was a bread I obsessively worked on while at Manresa, well before the idea of Manresa Bread was ever discussed. It is a simple country-style bread made with house-milled wheat and rye.
Favorite bread to eat: Pumpernickel bread. It is so complex in flavor and yet so versatile as a platform for other flavors. I love to top it with smoked fish and homemade pickles.
Bread philosophy: The bread is alive and has a mind of its own. It’s our job as bakers to guide it towards what we want it to be. Help it develop flavor and texture.
Signature products: Our levain, our pumpernickel, our granola; we love malty complex flavors and all three of these products are great examples of our taste preferences.
Best compliment ever: What means the most to me is how our products have become part of our customers’ routines and traditions. It is really special to know that someone looks forward to a chocolate croissant from us every morning. Being a part of someone’s life in the simplest of ways and turning that simple moment into a cherished moment; that is what a bakery is all about.
Best part of the business: Getting to start fresh every day. I love the repetition of the bakery. It allows me push for a better product daily and the focus this gives me on both a creative and scientific level is wonderful.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? I think I would have a little farm somewhere. I love the daily workings of production and the controlled chaos that goes along with a system that doesn’t stop. A bakery is 24/7. For the brief two or three hours when the bakery is empty, work is still taking place. The starter is fermenting, the bread is retarding, dough is relaxing. It never stops. I think a farm full of chickens, pigs, a cow or two would satiate that need for me. A living, breathing system, but with very different daily responsibilities than a bakery.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? Levain. I feel like we (me and this bread) have really gone through a lot the last few years together. We have grown together. The bread and I are very different than we were three years ago.
What’s next: In the spring of this year we plan to open our second retail location in Los Altos. We are also introducing a few new pastry products such as macarons and a chocolate granola. It is exciting to watch our team grow and mature in their skill sets and confidence. The product reflects how strong and how excited our team is right now.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? I think that we will continue to see the return of neighborhood bakeries. They are such a wonderful addition to any community and I think the support is there for small bakeries to be sustainable again.
Babettes Artisan Bread, LLCOwner: Steve Scott
3350 N. Brighton Blvd., #140, Denver, CO 80216
Questions answered by Catherine and Steve Scott
Business profile: We are a hands-on bakery focusing on French artisan breads and Viennoiserie, using the highest quality ingredients we can find. Steve’s passion and dedication to perfection shines through every item put out to sell.
When did you first start making bread? In 1998. It started out with a pastry course, once we got to making bread, I knew I had met my passion. Since then it has been hands-on experience through trial and error, learning every day which ideas do and don’t work due to all sorts of circumstances ranging from surrounding climate to timing.
What you’re trying to do differently: I am not trying to do anything differently, it is the competitive side of me that inspires me to see something and know that not only can I make it, but I can make it better. It is my passion and dedication that follow through with always striving to perfect anything I make.
Bread types: We have: the pain natural, our country white; the meunier, our whole wheat version with a bit of rye and molasses for added flavor; black olive; naturally leavened baguettes; a porridge variation ranging from polenta to oatmeal barley to a heavily seeded spelt; and a brioche loaf a few days a week.
Favorite type of bread to make: Naturally leavened, highly hydrated.
Favorite bread to eat: See my answer above – one with a good moist interior, a chewy crust and lots of flavor.
Bread philosophy: It should be naturally leavened, sustainably grown wheat, handmade, baked on a hearth.
Signature products: Everything we make from the bread to the Viennoiserie is our signature product because we want every item that goes out to be incredible. We don’t fall back on our one glorious signature piece, but expect each piece to be as great as the next. Steve always says that it drives him crazy to find the places that have one signature item while the rest are just ok/filler.
Best compliment ever: Better than Paris (referring to the Viennoiserie as well as the loaves).
Best part of the business: Our return customers that continue to support us week in and week out – they have become family, seen our good days and weathered our grumpy days. Although we could see the production area separated just slightly more than our current open floor plan, we could not imagine having a separate facility for production with hired counter help being the only ones to represent us. We are proud of providing a welcoming environment for people to come get great bread and croissants, to talk bread, to talk bikes, to talk world travels, or just to stop in and say hello. We have had customers bring us wine, homemade meals, write us poems, write rap songs for us, paint us pictures, and even come in to cut Steve’s hair in the middle of his too-busy-to-go-get-a-haircut schedule.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? Steve: Riding bicycles. Catherine [Steve’s wife]: My husband is insanely dedicated and passionate…and also driven by his competitive side. I truly believe that if he had chosen to become a scientist, he would have cured cancer by now!
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be: The croissant; buttery, slightly sweet, layered, fermented with a slightly salty finish. Wowwie!
What’s next: We will be sure to tell the world when we know, but for now, we will be at our bakery day in and day out doing what we do with our bread and croissants.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? I would say it is heading back to the more traditional small bakeries with the baker being more hands-on, more naturally leavened products, and keeping it to the few select bakers with skill.
Whipped Pastry BoutiqueOwner: Michelle Tampakis
37 Richards Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Business profile: Whipped Pastry Boutique is an artisanal, gluten-free wholesale bakery.
When did you first start making bread? I started making bread with wheat flour in the 1980’s when I was teaching in the Career Pastry and Baking Arts Program at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School, which became The Institute of Culinary Education. Once I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in 2007, I started experimenting with gluten- free baked goods of all types, especially bread, since the commercially available gluten-free bread was DISGUSTING. The school (ICE) encouraged me to write classes for the recreational program with gluten-free as a theme, and the process of developing bread recipes began. “Gluten-Free Bread” continues to sell out whenever it is offered at the school, which is a few times a year. A sequel, “More Gluten-Free Bread” was added last year.
What you’re trying to do differently: I like to incorporate many different grains, seeds and nuts to give breads a hearty, nutritious appeal. I use very little xanthan gum, which often gives a weird mouthfeel.
How many types of bread do you make? 8
Favorite type of bread to make: My favorite is Multigrain Honey Oat Bread.
Favorite bread to eat: Both the Multigrain, and Foccacia with onions and pesto.
Bread philosophy: Bread should not have a shelf life of three weeks or more. After a week, if you haven’t eaten it all, it should be getting stale, otherwise there are too many things extending its life span.
Signature products: We make many dough-based things, like tarts, s’mores and things that are not typical in the gluten-free world.
Best compliment ever: That if you didn’t know it was gluten free, you wouldn’t be able to guess.
Best part of the bread business: Right now, bread is a small part of our weekly baking, but certainly the aromas coming out of the oven are very satisfying.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? We have a product line of more than 30 gluten-free, gluten- and dairy-free and also vegan items, so we stay pretty busy.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? I would be a multigrain, because I have a lot of facets to my personality that coexist!
What’s next: Expanding the bakery and possible adding a retail component as our local Red Hook neighborhood improves.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? People are more and more savvy about good bread, and that trend has been going on for years. More people are willing to spend a little more for a better, handmade product, and I see that continuing.
Sadelle’sOwner: Melissa Weller and The Major Food Group
463 West Broadway, New York, New York
Questions answered by Melissa Weller
Business profile: Sadelle’s is a New York bakery and restaurant located in the heart of SoHo. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and features quintessential appetizing selections like sliced-to-order salmon and sturgeon, chopped salads, and other New York classics. The bakery highlights one of New York’s greatest food traditions—the bagel. Our hand-rolled bagels, pastries and breads are made fresh on-site throughout the day in a glass-enclosed bakery, located in the center of the dining room.
When did you first start making bread? I first started making bread at home while I was working as a pastry assistant at Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca. I followed Nancy Silverton’s Breads from La Brea Bakery cookbook and created a sourdough starter and worked through all of the bread recipes in her cookbook.
Bread varieties: We have 10 different types of bagels plus multiple different breads that we make at the bakery.
Favorite type of bread to make: Slowly fermented bread employing a sourdough starter is my favorite type of bread to make.
Favorite bread to eat: Right now, it’s a toasted sesame bagel with salted butter.
Bread philosophy: My philosophy is that bread should employ a slow fermentation through time, pre-ferments and handling to yield a product with maximum flavor.
Signature products: Sticky buns, chocolate babka, and bagels.
Best compliment ever: Pete Wells, The New York Times critic, named my sticky bun the best thing he ate in 2015.
Best part of the bread business: Getting feedback about how someone enjoyed what you made.
If you weren’t making bread, what would you be doing? I would be a savory chef.
If you had to characterize yourself as a type of bread, what would you be? I would be a laminated breakfast pastry. I’ve certainly eaten enough of them to turn into one!
What’s next: More creation, innovation and more bread.
What direction do you see the bread baking industry heading? More use of diverse and ancient grains and flours and milling one own’s flour.