Artisan Bread


Good bread was not always an important part of my life. Good toast was what mattered. Through my culinary journey, I realized that the two go hand in hand. I have not been much for a toaster as a way of achieving toasted bread. I have probably owned a total of 4 in my lifetime.   As a child, my maternal grandfather had a system where he placed a slice in our wood burning oven. Once it browned you would slather it with butter and place it back in for a few minutes. The end result was a delicious piece of crisp, buttery toast and sometimes a smoky oven. My paternal grandmother made buttery rolls and my step mother loaves of delicious white bread. I never really knew a different type existed until l moved to NYC. I had seen pictures in Cuisine magazine during my college years but none of those places existed in Wyoming. It was the early 80’s and the hippy bread movement of the 70’s was finding its way to Casper, Wyoming. A sandwich made from sunflower bread with avocado and sprout was all the rage and I thought I was cool by eating them at the Cheese Barrel.  When I arrived in NYC, one of the first bakeries I visited was Sign of the Dove. I was amazed by the variety and craftsmanship. During my lunch hours from Woman’s Day Specials Magazine, I would wander over to Ninth Avenue and buy the seeded Italian Loaf that was housed in a small bakery directly under the Port Authority overhang. A weathered wooden green screen door led me to an old toothless woman with her gray hair in a bun, an apron and her scraggily, orange cat. She smiled when I handed her the $3 for the loaf of bread and placed it in a brown paper sack. It was magical going there and worth the walk over from Times Square. I once made the pilgrimage to Bread Alone in Woodstock to buy a loaf created by Daniel Leaderman. Tom Cat Bakery was the go to bread in New York in the mid 80’s. I went out to visit Sarah Black who at the time was leasing space from Tom Cat to make her beautiful Italian loaves that she taught herself to make from Carol Field’s Italian Baker. I wanted to work there and learn the secret of making great bread. Amy’s Bread would come along later and during my time at Home Restaurant, Amy’s would deliver big brown paper bags of crusty bread for the restaurant. I had tried to learn the craft of bread making but the last year I knew I would spend in NYC, there just wasn’t enough time. I figured later I could make it happen when I moved back to the Black Hills in ‘96. That didn’t happen and it would take 17 years for an artisan bakery to emerge that would make that crusty loaf I was looking for in South Dakota? On top of that it would be 390 miles away? ( ) Towards the last few years of my restaurant, Nancy Silverton sold her bread recipe to a large company that started mass producing La Brea Bakery bread and supplying it to Middle America. I was able to obtain par baked rolls and loaves to use. A dream comes true. It was almost as good as having an artisan baker in town. Some people thought we were serving stale bread, others found the rolls too hard to chew while a few people could eat five rolls with dinner.  I couldn’t understand why everyone wants gas station bread, that soft gooey Wonder Bread where with one hand you could form it into a ball. Now with my restaurant closed, I have to rely on myself to make one of Jim Lahey’s recipes. As my 18 years in Rapid City approaches, I wonder if I will ever be able to buy a loaf like Chad Robertson’s here or it is time to move on.