May 8, 2011

Big, Brawny, Beautiful…Bread Baker.

Hey, Ele Foodies and Locavores! Eating with Abs columnist Josey Baker is hot shit—a bona fide sustainable-and-local foods knockout. He runs a one-man bread baking business driven not only by his lip-smacking loaves, but also irresistible cult of personality. (Visit his hella-cute, hot-ass blog and you’ll see what I mean.) From his artisanal Black Pepper Parmesan Levains to good, old-fashioned Sourdough, San Francisco-based Josey is a mad-skills bread baker whose edibles are attracting big-time attention in the slow foods movement. Here’s his personal story about making the magic happen:

Alright dudes, come along on a lil’ trip down memory lane…

Thanksgiving morning, 2010, four o’clock in the freakin’ morning. What in the heck am I doing waking up right now??? Shouldn’t I be sleeping soundly, dreaming of awesome backflips (a longstanding fantasy of mine)? But no, I’m about to bake 60 loaves of bread in my dinky little home oven, that’s what I’m doing. I’ve never baked anywhere near this much bread in a single day! And for whom am I baking all this bread, you may wonder? People I’ve never even met.

Over the past week, 50 people emailed me, all in search of the bread they read about in an online food newsletter, baked by a guy who’s last name is actually Baker. And now they’re coming to get it, right at my front door.


Fast forward to present day—I’m baking three days a week in a humongous bread oven (think like six times as big as your oven at home) and a wood-fired oven. I’m baking and selling more and more bread each week, but right now I’m up to about 300 loaves.

How did this happen?!?

I’d always been a passionate bread eater, but I fell in love with baking bread in the Spring of 2010. Gifted a sourdough starter from a generous wandering buddy, I started my baking experiments in my home oven, and just could not stop. I baked more than I could eat, more than I could store in my freezer, more than I could give away. I’d wake up at 4 in the morning, bake 30 loaves of bread, then bring them to work on my bicycle. A full day in the office, then I’d come home and mix up the next day’s batch. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter – bread was all I could think about. I did this several days a week, tweaking something about the bread-making process each time, and paying close attention to the effects on the final loaf.

Truth be told, I became a bit obsessed with baking better and better bread, talking with anyone who would listen. And all of these early mornings and late nights in my kitchen paid off—folks dug the bread, talked about it with people they knew, and soon enough I couldn’t even meet the demand for my loaves.

Instead of selling my bread at markets, I decided to sell it directly to the people. I figured that this was exactly what farmers were doing with the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, so why couldn’t I do the same thing with my bread? I sent out an email to my colleagues at UC Berkeley explaining my idea and, like that, had a handful of customers willing to pre-pay for a month’s worth of bread. Soon enough, I’d set up the same deal here in my neighborhood, dropping off bread at a friend’s shop where people picked up it during the day, and even selling my bread out of the bar where I worked two nights a week.

Come January, I quit my day job, and set up shop two days a week in a local pie bakery, Mission Pie. Now I bake there two afternoons a week, and then hang out and sell the bread to walk-in customers. I’ve been amazed at how many of the same people come in week after week, sharing a tidbit from their day, and leaving with a warm loaf in hand.

One night a week, I also trek across the Bay with a trunk full of dough, bound for an Italian restaurant called Pizzaiolo, where I bake the following morning. I spend a few hours in the back of the restaurant shaping the dough into loaves (breaking for some incredible pizza, hellyes!), return in the morning at about 4:30, and three hours later I’ve baked 60 loaves. At night my bread is served in the restaurant, and I haul the rest of the bread back to SF, where it’s used in a deli to make sandwiches, and picked up by individual customers at that little shop where I first sold my bread, Gravel & Gold.

I wake up in the morning and I can’t even believe it—I’m now making a living baking bread. And I’m doing it for myself.  I am fully pumped.

Photo Credits: Anita Bowen (Portrait); Lulu McClellan (Thanksgiving morning); Scott R. Kline (wood-fired oven); Josey Baker (breads)

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