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Getting to Know Bryan Ford Through His Love of Bread

By Ariel Kanter
Jan 27, 2021
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Bryan Ford wants to help you bake delicious bread.

You can find his recipes everywhere these days, from his blog to The New York Times. His book New World Sourdough is a #1 bestseller on Amazon. Even Jenna Fischer (Pam from The Office) posts videos of his loaves! But he wasn’t always this sourdough superstar. He started as a desk guy, filing tax returns for corporations. Those seven years stuck in a cubicle allowed Bryan to dream big about his passions. Passions for not just cooking and baking, but for music, sports, and languages. (He runs about 12 miles a week and can speak at least some of six languages.) It helped him learn to keep his cool, too. For example, when I asked him what he had to say to haters who think the sourdough craze is over (hoping for some shade), he said, “some people will stick with it, and some won’t.” 

Bryan isn’t counting his followers or looking for acclaim. He genuinely wants to help people learn about other cultures through bread. Instead of worrying about having the perfect Instagram cross-section shot, Bryan wants you to keep an open mind in the kitchen. He says, “Once you lose the expectations, you can be a little more free in what you do and more appreciative of your own efforts.” He’d make a pretty good therapist, too.

I got a chance to sit down (virtually) with Bryan to talk about how his life has changed since his time in a cubicle, what he’s most excited about, and what’s coming next.

(photo courtesy of @artisanbryan)

How did you get into baking?

I used to be a prep cook in New Orleans. I’d fry fish, make po’boys, and cater events; we would make big things of jambalaya. Then I started baking King Cakes, and I was like baking is a lot doper than cooking because when you’re a baker, it’s more relaxing. It takes a lot more time to do. So you have downtime to understand the method and techniques. It’s a meditation.

For people who dream of working in a bakery, what do you have to say to them?

The bakery life is amazing. It’s really satisfying to feed people. That is the dream. But you won’t be making a big profit; you’ll be tired; you’ll be working crazy hours. If you do open your own bakery, take things slow. Don’t take on too much work. If you want to sell bread, sell two types of bread. Don’t offer 10 loaf varieties and 10 pastries. Just take it easy.

What's the relationship between the pandemic and the boom in sourdough?

Baking bread is half trend and half who we are. Baking bread, and making your own food in general, is primal—and now that people have more time at home, they’re really tapping into that. I’ve always thought it’s weird that more people don’t make bread because it’s one of the most widely consumed things. Let’s just say a lot of gluten allergies have disappeared during the pandemic.

Your book New World Sourdough just came out. Congrats! What recipe isn’t getting its due?

The Cuban muffins aren’t getting any love. I haven’t seen anyone make them yet. It breaks my heart. I made them by accident one day because I confused my Cuban bread dough and English muffin dough at the bakery. They taste so good, and they make a badass Cuban sandwich. Don’t sleep on them.

(photo courtesy of @artisanbryan)

Is your partner sick of your bread?

No. Yes. No. Just no.

What’s the best butter to slather on a fresh slice of sourdough?

Vermont creamery cultured butter, unsalted.

Is there ever a day when you're like, "I hate bread"?

Yes. When I’m overwhelmed with work and recipes to develop. But then I realize I’m complaining for no reason and that I have a fun life. So then I keep working.

For people just starting to bake bread, it really has become their pandemic comfort activity. Since you were already baking, what's your current comfort activity?

I’ve been trying to reconnect with my actual cooking abilities. Somewhere along the road, I stopped cooking with meaning and purpose. I like Alice Waters’s book, The Art of Simple Food. It’s fundamental, and the dishes are delicious. I also like to draw on New Orleans and Honduran cuisine. I made some awesome red beans and rice the other day. I was like, you know what, I’m going to roast all the bell peppers and onions and purée them with cayenne peppers and all the seasonings. So I made this super flavorful liquid-base purée and added it to the red beans. The flavor was explosive.

What's your favorite trick for reviving stale sourdough?

Make New Orleans–style bread pudding with rum sauce. You can use all different kinds of breads: croissants, sourdough, coconut bread. Mix them with milk and eggs, let it sit overnight, then add cinnamon, raisins, walnuts, and bake it in the morning. While it’s in the oven, make a rum or whiskey sauce with condensed milk, then drench your bread pudding and eat it.

What’s the best way to store bread?

Leave it on your countertop or put it in a paper bag. Don’t use plastic because mold builds up. If you’re going to freeze it, slice it first. Most importantly, avoid the fridge.

What’s the most surprising thing you can do with starter?

You can use your starter to make a fried chicken batter.

(photo courtesy of @artisanbryan)

Okay, let’s stop talking about bread. What do you want to talk about?

I love running and playing soccer. I speak English and Spanish; French and Italian not as well; a really tiny amount of Portuguese; and a curious amount of Japanese. I listen to a lot of live music, especially jazz, when I was living in New Orleans. Miami has a terrible music scene, though, so it’s been hard to enjoy regularly.

What concert would you want to go to if that kind of thing could happen right now?

I would love to see Joe Krown play some nice old-school piano pieces at a bar in New Orleans. Or the Walter Wolfman trio. Really any brass band.

What’s next for you?

There’s a lot of exciting stuff on the horizon. I have some cool partnerships coming up. I’ll keep doing online workshops. This book is just an introduction. There’s a lot of work to do.

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