Bread Experts Convene at JWU for WheatStalk 2018

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The rock stars of the baking industry recently convened at JWU’s Providence Campus for WheatStalk 2018, a 3-day immersion in the art, science, craft and technology of bread. Organized by the Bread Bakers Guild of America (BBGA), the conference drew more than 200 lucky culinary educators, artisan bakers, chefs and food professionals eager to learn from James Beard Award winners, internationally-celebrated bakers and trailblazers like Joanne Chang (Flour), Ana Sortun (Oleana), Zachary Golper (Bien Cuit) and Melissa Weller (Sadelle’s), among others.

The purpose of WheatStalk, launched by the Guild in 2012, is to provide its members with an opportunity to deepen their collective expertise, learn and improve techniques, and share ideas while building community.

JWU International Baking & Pastry Arts Department Chair Richard Miscovich, a past BBGA board member, was instrumental in bringing the event to Providence. JWU Providence staff, faculty and students coordinated the multiple logistics of the extensive event that occurs every 3 years.

Attendees participated from morning until evening in dozens of hands-on classes and lectures.

"I follow these bakers on Instagram and now I’m on a first name basis with some of them."

Hubert Chiron, a fourth-generation baker who oversees the experimental bakery at INRA (the French National Institute for Agronomic Research), co-presented with Patrice Tireau, development director of the Minoteries Viron. The duo’s demo explored the characteristics of the traditional baguette, while their lecture — aided by the adept translation services of colleague James MacGuire — focused on the challenges and advantages of working with so-called “wild crumb” breads that feature a very open cell structure.

2016 James Beard Outstanding Baker Joanne Chang (Flour Bakery + Café) teamed up with Amy Scherber (Amy’s Bread) to guide attendees through the basic steps of opening your own bakery. Chang advised potential owners that, while they may be thinking about bread displays, seating and a sound system, they must also consider costs might be easily overlooked, such as worker’s compensation and zoning fees.

Chang discussed the ways that a solid business plan can help solidify your own vision for your bakery: “You want to explain to everyone and anyone what they will experience when they walk through the doors of your bakery. Not only will it help for getting bank loans and investors, but it will help YOU, because it will clarify and make you ask all — and answer — all the hard questions about what you want your bakery to be.”

Scherber shared a lesson she learned the hard way: Budget for the unexpected. When she started in 1992 with 5 employees in a 650-square-foot Manhattan storefront, she planned for renovations and signage. She was less prepared for an expensive surprise from Con Ed when she learned she would have to prepay $15,000 in utility costs before opening the doors. Today, she oversees more than 200 employees at 7 locations.

Both Chang and Scherber recommended that new owners consider purchasing big-ticket items such as slicers on eBay and at auctions until they can afford top-of-the-line equipment. One item they agreed not to scrimp on: Refrigeration. (The results of cheapening out could be disastrous.)

Matt Peterson '14, who works at Seven Stars Bakery, took a moment during JWU instructor Rob Lucier’s garde manger lab to express his excitement for WheatStalk and the Guild: “Meeting these professional bakers in person is a great opportunity. I follow these guys on Instagram and now I’m on a first name basis with some of them.”

Celebrated Boston-based chef Ana Sortun of Oleana, Sarma and Sofra Bakery gave a hands-on demo of Turkish and Lebanese-style flatbreads that use a non-yeasted dough called yufka. As aromas of garlic and za’atar wafted through the lab, she offered her perspective on the global differences in bread: “Throughout the Middle East, they are very conscious of proportions. Nothing gets wasted.” She summed up a cultural divide by saying, “Unlike in America, where bread is served on the side and slathered with butter, in Middle Eastern culture, bread has a purpose.”

That purpose she spoke of is what brought the international community of bread leaders to WheatStalk 2018. “The Guild has been my career-long professional organization,” noted Miscovich. “I’m grateful to the JWU community for making such a great impression on the artisan baking community while also increasing the prestige of our institution.”

Follow the BBGA on Instagram.

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