Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mmmmm Bread

I took a bread baking class in the Strip this morning. I was there on assignment for a magazine article. In other words, I was just paid to eat brunch and learn to bake bread.

I walk into the room to a table heaped with the most amazing foods. Fresh Humboldt Fog cheese. Parmesan. Italian meats. Quiches stuffed with fresh vegetables and more meats. Pastries straight from the brick oven. "Have a seat!" the owner explodes. He has a huge burn across his face where he slid a hot baking pan into his chin. His temples are dotted with flour. "I made these pickles. You're gonna want to eat a whole one." He slides the pickle onto my plate, along with the last slice of ricotta pie and then he fills my wine with red wine. "I made this wine, too. And the olives. I make all this stuff."

By this point, I feel like unbuttoning my pants. The owner regales us with the best stories I have heard in years. The woman across from me, whom the owner calls "Cesar" has been chugging away at the homemade wine. She is drunk. As I ask questions, the word slowly spreads that I am a writer here to cover the class. A mother leans in to spell her daughter's name for me, so I'm sure to write it down. Cesar says, "You want a story? This lady next to me is my husband's ex wife! We're friends! I bought her this class for a Christmas present."

The smaller woman nods along. She is drunk, too. We're all getting drunk, though it's not yet 11am. "I'm wife number...what am I?" A man walks in carrying five-gallon buckets of dough and we all ignore him.

"Three. You're three."

"That's right. You're four then."

The air in the bakery smells of chocolate and onions. The baker is now passing out homemade pasta with beans and garlic. "This is peasant food in Italy!" Then he translates this into Italian. The building is an old autobody shop from the 1850s. He tells us on hot days, he opens the great garage doors and they sit out back and sweat while the cookies bake. He tells us the history of civilization, charted through bread and Demeter's breasts.

Every few minutes, the chef pauses to really emphasize how the loss of the familial table is killing the world. Recipes are dying with the elderly. Families are breaking apart. All the while, he is putting food on our plates and telling us we are in his house. The word companion, he says, literally means one with whom I break bread.

We move on to learn the art of bread baking. Everything is in metaphors and I understand it all perfectly. He works his hands through the dough like an artist and I can't stop staring at his fingers while he speaks. "We're dirty bastards in this kitchen," he says, warning us not to touch anything but the work space because it's all hot and dirty.

When I move to put my loaf in the oven, he is ecstatic that I am left handed, like him. He hands me a long wooden paddle for the bread, called a peel. "This is Sergio's peel," he says, telling me his mentor gave it to him. It weighs about 30 pounds. I can lift it, though, and he lets me use it to shove the bread in the brick oven. I am last, so my loaf is called the "hero's loaf," because when mine is ready, that means they all are done.

Finally, stuffed and overflowing with bread lore, we pull the loaves from the oven and line them up, each marked with our knives and burst open like flowers. He is silent for the first time in three hours. "Listen," he whispers. We all get quiet, lean in. The bread crackles. "It's applauding for you."

We are beside ourselves that our bread looks so good. We all bustle out the door, tipsy and laden with leftovers, which he shoves in our bags as he shakes our hands. I am carrying probably $60 of cheese and imported meats along with my loaf of bread. I want nothing more than to eat the whole thing and rush home to write my story. But how to condense such a day, such a character, into 200 words? I wonder if it can be done.


p said...

I've never been as jealous of you as I am reading this

Valtastic said...

can you cover a food expidition when I come to visit?

Jane said...

I am drooling.

Meredith said...

i second p & jane

east side girl said...

I loved this post!