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JUNEAU - Soft-spoken, slightly built, and with the peaceful bearing of a health food store employee, Daniel Martin isn't exactly someone you'd call intimidating. Still, he's a low-carb dieter's worst nightmare.
Sourdough for Sourdoughs 051210 NEWS 1 For the Capital City Weekly JUNEAU - Soft-spoken, slightly built, and with the peaceful bearing of a health food store employee, Daniel Martin isn't exactly someone you'd call intimidating. Still, he's a low-carb dieter's worst nightmare.

Daniel Martin prepares bread in his workspace at Rainbow Foods. His loaves are hand-crafted and rely on natural fermentation of wild yeast that he saves batch to batch.


Daniel Martin prepares bread in his workspace at Rainbow Foods. His loaves, below, are hand-crafted and rely on natural fermentation of wild yeast that he saves batch to batch.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Story last updated at 5/12/2010 - 10:41 am

Sourdough for Sourdoughs

JUNEAU - Soft-spoken, slightly built, and with the peaceful bearing of a health food store employee, Daniel Martin isn't exactly someone you'd call intimidating. Still, he's a low-carb dieter's worst nightmare.

Martin, 28, runs Wild Oven, a one-man bread subscription service offering three different sourdough varieties each week. He is Juneau's first and only purveyor of authentic artisan bread-entirely handmade, 100 percent naturally leavened. By all accounts, he runs the sole artisan bread outfit in the state.

While conventional or "fast" breads require specialized, bio-chemically engineered yeast to rise, Martin relies on natural fermentation, courtesy of a small colony of wild yeast and bacteria he saves batch to batch. Because natural fermentation depends on the culture's interaction with surrounding air, there exists a certain geographic idiosyncrasy to artisan bread-Martin's sourdough derives its flavor from Juneau itself via the same process that lends San Francisco sourdough its world fame.

I met Martin one Saturday morning in the otherwise deserted kitchen at Rainbow Foods. He was shaping raw pound-and-three-quarter hunks into round loaves known as "boules," and football-shaped "batards." The clock barely read 8 a.m. and he'd already been at it for hours. Making bread through natural leavening is a nuanced, and therefore, time-consuming process.

"That's why no one else does it," he said, noting that most commercial bread (and all of it in Juneau) isn't artisan-even bread sold under the "artisan" label.

All told, Martin figures it takes at least seven hours to complete one batch, from mixing to rising-or "proofing"-to baking. Of course, this comes after two days refreshing his sourdough culture.

But for all the preparation, Martin's bread spends only thirty minutes in the oven, at temperatures exceeding 500 degrees, "where all sorts of funky things happen, especially in the crust." Specifically, high temperatures release chemical compounds known as "aroma vitals."

"That smell we think of when we think of bread baking?" Martin said, opening the stone-lined oven for a quick whiff. "That's actually the yeast burning alive."

Of course, his path to incinerating yeast for a living was not a straight one. Raised in Stonewall, La., Martin graduated Pomona College in 2004 with a degree in linguistics and cognitive science. He immediately put those studies to use by working aboard a salmon seine boat out of Kodiak, and then on an organic farm in New Mexico.

After spending 2006 in Juneau-during which he "got involved in all kinds of weird stuff"-Martin went back south to farm. But absence made his heart grow fonder; he soon began thinking of ways to enable a potential return to the Capital City.

Gradually, an idea took shape. First, someone gave him a copy of Edward Espe Brown's Zen Buddhist-influenced Tassajara Bread Book, which many consider to be the bread baker's bible. But the real eye-opener was Wild Fermentation, by culinary author, food activist and self-described "fermentation fetishist" Sandor Katz. Inspiration hit harder than a five-day-old baguette.

"I realized that artisan bread was something Juneau needed," Martin said, "and also something I could do to enable my life there."

He spent the next year and a half learning the craft of bread making, as well as the business side of distributing it. Specifically, Martin bases Wild Oven on a community-supported agriculture model, or CSA, in which a group of individuals support a local agricultural food producer.

"It's like Full Circle Farm, only instead of vegetables you get bread," he said, explaining that all CSAs share the same ethos: connecting small-scale producers with small-scale consumers to bring the freshest food to market.

As such, Martin carefully draws a distinction between Wild Oven, which he refers to as a "bakehouse," and a traditional bakery.

"I don't do pastries," he said. "I also don't have a storefront, where bread sits around until it's thrown away."

Eventually, Martin envisions Wild Oven as a bake house in the truest sense: a wood-fired brick oven he tends out of his own home. Of course, logistics preclude doing from a downtown apartment, so for now, he "rents" space at Rainbow Foods-Martin describes the owners, who only charge him utilities, as "highly supportive." And, because man truly cannot live on bread alone, Martin also moonlights there as a prep cook.

Those interested in becoming a Wild Oven shareholder can register online at www.wildoven.com. Members receive three breads each week. These include a rustic, whole-grain bread like Brown Bear, a rich, dark, molasses-infused round that would make Dr. Atkins spin in his grave; a lighter, crusty loaf like Caraway Rye, his most popular bread; and a wheat-free option, like German Rye, which can last weeks without reaching inedible staleness.

Pick up is at Rainbow Foods from 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.


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