Thursday, December 17, 2009

Acme Bread

 The last stop on my trip through the world of great artisanal bread making was the first great benchmark of the movement—Acme Bakery. The story behind Acme began in 1979 when Steve Sullivan, then a bus boy at Chez Panisse, brought a loaf he had baked at home to show Alice Waters at the restaurant. Alice and her chef at the time, Jeremiah Tower, loved the bread and Steve began baking for the restaurant. A few years later, in 1983, he left to open Acme Bread with his wife Susan. They now have four bakeries including a wholesale operation that runs 24 hours a day and produces an average of  50 to 60 thousand loaves a week depending on the season.

Alice has been a big supporter of my plan to learn about bread and one day start a business of my own. She called Steve to ask if I could go to his bakery and watch the operation. Steve generously agreed and arranged for me to go to the wholesale bakery in Berkeley.

After observing the bakeries of Chad and Celine recently (see my previous blogs on Tartine and Brick Maiden), Acme came as something of a shock to me. My memories of it were of a small place on Fourth Street in Berkeley. We are a long way from that now but, unlike the story of La Brea bakery in LA where an increase in volume meant a decrease in quality, Steve has stayed with his mission to make great bread in large quantities. I met Arturo who manages the night shift at this branch of Acme. He along with other bakers were going to be spending most of their time shaping bread and prepping it before it gets baked off, while in another room bakers were making dough for the next day. I asked Arturo how many loaves of bread he was going to make that day and he replied that he didn’t want to know. I understand.

I loved this visit but it did confirm my sense that I am not meant to engage in a huge production of anything. I also know now that I don’t want to make every kind of bread in my bakery. I just want to perfect one or two loaves, a good pain levain and a good baguette. Perhaps I’ll do something else for various holidays but to perfect these two varieties is my dream. Yes, it is a dream but I am slowly taking the steps that make a dream come true.


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