A West Texas native, Chad Robertson first chose to pursue the craft of baking in 1990 as student at the Culinary Institute of America, when he was an apprentice to the renowned Richard Bourdon at Berkshire Mountain Bakery. When he was only 23, after working in bakeries in Provence and Savoie, France, he and wife Elisabeth Prueitt opened a small bakery in Point Reyes, California, where he spent the next six years “in a sort of solitary baking trance,” as he wrote in his book Tartine Bread. Using nothing but flour, water, French sea salt and wild yeasts, he made hundreds of loaves a day in a wood-fired oven, all by himself, all by hand (with help from one very gentle diving-arm mixer.) In 2002, he and Elisabeth brought their breads and pastries to San Francisco, when they opened Tartine. A gifted writer and photographer as well as baker, next year Robertson will release a book on breads and pastries made with ancient grains like kamut and spelt. Here, waxes lyrical on the ideal loaf.
When did you know you wanted to be a baker?
When I was still in culinary school, we went on a field trip to visit Richard Bourdon. On the drive there, Liz remembers me saying, “Hmm, I wonder if I’m going to want to become a bread baker and start working with him.” That’s crazy, because I was just a little kid, and it’s not like I had been there before. But that’s exactly what happened. There were three bakers, but a lot of the time you were working alone—one person was on the oven, and two people shaping—in a huge brick barn. And the smells: Any fresh, baking bread smells good, but walking into a huge bakery that only makes naturally leavened bread was completely new to me. It had the smell of caramelized crust that all bread has, but on top of that there was a sweet, almost yogurty smell from the lactic fermentation, definitely not sour but a little funky in a good way. Another thing about Richard: at the time maybe 60 percent of his baking was whole grain, and all stone-milled. With the whole grains and long rising time, there was a depth of aromas and flavors. It wasn’t a lot by industrial baking standards, but for a small shop they made like 3,000 loaves a day.
- Lessons from Bread Artisan Chad Robertson: Storing, Slicing and Making Sandwiches
- World’s Best Bakeries
- F&W’s Ultimate Bread Guide
- Elisabeth Prueitt's Guide to Healthy Grains
- Gastronaut Files: Baking Bread
- Hot Bread Kitchen
- How to Make Bread
How is bread made?
Making bread is not just blending together flour, water and salt, and letting it ferment a little before baking it off. It should go through this transformation where its textures and flavors become much more than an embodiment of its parts. The mixing, fermenting and baking, all of those things should work in balance so you end up with something that transcends the simplicity of its ingredients.