This Idaho vacation spot now boasts some of the best bread in America.

October 17, 2011

"We're trying to put the wonder back into bread," says Rob Kabeary of Ketchum's Big Wood Bread, a fledgling bakery and café located on the edge of the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho. As two of the growing number of artisans spreading the gospel of great bread, Kabeary and his business partner, Art Wallace, aren't the only bakers with this lofty ambition. But unlike many of their peers, they've been able to make the goal a reality with irresistible loaves--from airy ciabatta to crisp baguettes--that can compete with the best in San Francisco, Los Angeles or Manhattan. Even Carol Field, one of America's most respected baking experts, is a fan and has made promoting the bakery a pet project. To find bread of this quality near Sun Valley, a place that remains defiantly low-key despite the presence of celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood, is a wonder indeed.

When Kabeary and Wallace got the funding to open Big Wood Bread two years ago, they decided to set up shop in an industrial area on the edge of Sun Valley, an outdoor sports paradise where both men loved to mountain-bike. "We were coming from Nantucket, where you can leave the keys in your car," Kabeary explains. "We definitely didn't want a big city." The vibe at the bakery is anything but urban, with a swing dangling from a 20-foot ceiling, folk-music evenings and an open work area so that customers can watch the bakers in action.

Kabeary and Wallace, who frequently put in 16-hour days ("We get in at three or four in the morning and we're mopping the floors at six or seven at night," says Kabeary), share a work-hard-play-hard ethic and a road-less-traveled philosophy. Wallace, a 35- year-old classically trained guitarist, got into baking after graduating from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, in 1987. Since then, he's worked around the world. So has 40-year-old Kabeary, whose most memorable gig was at a bakery with a 100-year-old wood-burning oven in a tiny French town near Montpellier. Kabeary has also built ovens and done other volunteer work at orphanages in Honduras and South Africa.

The two men have now brought their breadmaking expertise to Idaho. At Big Wood Bread, they use organic flour and natural leavening for a deeper, more complex flavor than that produced by commercial yeast. They make at least 10 types of bread daily, from crusty campagne loaves marbled with whole wheat to thin olive rounds. The bakery's café sells sandwiches on slices of any bread made on the premises.

"I haven't been on my mountain bike since we opened," Kabeary notes with rueful humor, then quickly adds that watching the local community rally around Big Wood Bread has made the work entirely worthwhile. "And maybe in five years I can take some time off," he says.

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