Heritage Grain Bread: Where Science Meets Art

Written by Kymberlie Quong-Charles

Einkorn Bread

This month Kettle & Brine is thrilled to be hosting our first breadmaking workshop with Austin  baker Sandeep Gyawali of Miche Bread.  You may be familiar with Miche Bread because Kettle & Brine is a weekly pick-up location for this unique, subscription-based bakery and we frequently have samples of his latest batch on hand.  Miche Bread is baked in small batches by Sandeep himself and each batch features an organic, sustainably-grown heirloom grain sourced from small farms around the United States which Sandeep mills by hand.  The process for each batch starts on a Tuesday and ends with a Friday night baking marathon so that on Saturday morning, Sandeep is delivering fresh loaves to area shopkeepers which are devoured quickly (trust me)!

Sandeep’s path to running a bakery is both circuitous and a bit unexpected.  Scientist turned baker, he finds similar satisfaction experimenting in a neuroscience lab as he does working with a new recipe or technique in the bakery.  “It’s all science,” he says, “and both are creative outlets for me.”  But baking, he says, has allowed him to merge both passions in such a way that he gets to impact and interact with other people.  There’s a satisfaction to completing a project and watching someone enjoy it.

As a child, Sandeep spent a lot of time on his grandparents’ farm in Nepal where food went directly from field to table, and waste and bi-products were put to use as fuel or for other functions.  It is in this environment where he developed both a taste for fresh ingredients and also where the seeds were planted for his lifelong understanding of the importance of local agriculture, sustainably grown crops, and the integrity of food that is grown at the hands of people rather than machines.

“When we immigrated to Chicago in the 1980’s we didn’t understand why food here didn’t taste good [to us].  Cucumbers and other veggies were bland, and there weren’t really farmer’s markets back then, at least not ones that were accessible to us as immigrants.”

 Over the years Sandeep came to understand that food in large commercial grocery stores was cultivated for yield and storage, but not for flavor.  He’s been on a quest ever since to not only find the flavor, so to speak, but to incorporate it into his personal daily food consumption. With this curiosity and the patience of a scientist, Sandeep used to make a project out of mastering a new cuisine monthly.

“I’d choose a cuisine, find all the books I could to learn about that cuisine, and then I’d cook that cuisine for an entire month.”

Similarly, when a former girlfriend’s attempts at making sourdough bread at home were a failure, Sandeep put on his researcher hat and learned everything he could. “I learned first that sourdough is really complicated, and it takes a lot of time.  Who has time to feed a culture three times a day?”  Tinkering and experimenting, he finally mastered the craft of baking sourdough, and fell in love with it in the process.  

Sandeep eventually took a sabbatical from neuroscience research to work for professional bakeries in New York City.  After three years of experimentation with his own recipes he finally began producing a product that he wanted to share with others.  “At the time I was living in Queens and I’d visit the Mom-and-Pop stores there to see if I could barter.  It’s not that I couldn’t afford their goods; I just thought this way was more fun.  I had a cool product and I thought their products were cool, too, so I wanted to trade.”  A family-owned Romanian meat shop became his first customer.  Sandeep would leave some bread with them and eventually they started wanting more and more loaves.  He recalls being totally overwhelmed by a request for an order of six loaves.  Now, years later, he makes 75 loaves at a time.  

 Miche Homemade Bread by Ashleigh Amoroso

Photo by: Ashleigh Amoroso

Now that he’s mastered his techniques, developed successful recipes and built a faithful clientel, Sandeep has his sights set on integrating some of his broader goals of being a positive force in issues of food justice by building a local grain movement, while continuing to bake delicious bread.  With two exciting projects in the pipeline and a growing list of weekly bread subscribers, Sandeep has many plates in the air at once.

Within the next year Sandeep’s goal is to be baking Miche Bread from locally sourced heritage grains.  Currently most of Miche Bread’s grains come from the coasts because that’s where there are grain systems, but Sandeep and others are working at bringing those grains here to Central Texas.  "When we start to use these grains locally, and educate people about how delicious they are and the nutritional value of them, consumers and restaurants will want to start using them, too.”

Sandeep is also passionate about bringing mesquite back to Central Texas.  “As a native Texas crop, we’ve totally lost touch with this delicious and multi-purpose plant.  No one is using it here and it is literally in our backyards.”  Mesquite flavor is derived from harvesting the legume pods from the mesquite tree, drying and then milling them.  You can bake with it, put it in coffee as a natural and more healthy sweetener, among other things. “It’s rare to find mesquite in a market locally and when you do, you find that it’s from Peru or some other far away place.  That’s because there isn’t a local food system that makes it available,” says Sandeep.  With help from some grants to purchase the proper mill for processing mesquite, he hopes to be able to introduce this local, historic food treasure back into the palates of Central Texans, and create a demand for it as well. 

For more information on how to support any of these projects, or to purchase a subscription go to Miche Bread.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to get your hands dirty with us as we learn sourdough breadmaking from the self-taught master himself.  Spots still available for the November 13 workshop!

 

Homemade Bread

What do you think?