Anyone who’s tasted Pam Yung’s bread knows that she's a fascinating baker. The Brooklyn-based pastry chef only seriously started baking bread—a classic levain at first, made with white flour and baked in a wood-fired oven—while working under chef Ignacio Mattos at Isa back in 2011. But she quickly got hooked. Today, her bread is anything but classic. Yet, her baking harkens back to age-old traditions, pulling inspiration—and fascinating varieties of grains—from all over the map.
On a recent night at Semilla, the tiny but sensational Williamburg restaurant that she runs with her boyfriend, the chef José Ramírez-Ruiz, the bread basket contained a revelation: slices of a loaf made with a healthy dose of ground freekeh. Spelt that’s picked green and then roasted, the freekeh gave the bread’s crust a smoky, bittersweet flavor akin to that of dark chocolate; it helped make its crumb, dotted with meaty, green Castelvetrano olives, as moist and creamy-sweet as pudding.
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Yung had sourced the freekeh from Champlain Valley Milling in upstate New York and had milled it herself right into her dough at the restaurant. On a shelf above Ramírez-Ruiz’s head, in pride of place in the small, open kitchen, sits Yung’s German-made KoMo gristmill, handsome in its beechwood casing. It is the trophy machine of a dedicated whole grains baker—a reward Yung has given herself for the completion of a Grand Tour–style education that, with the help of a work-study grant from the James Beard Foundation, took her to San Francisco and throughout Western Europe in a quest to understand the art of baking with whole grains.