Monday, January 16, 2012

Meet the Baker: Scott Mangold

I wrote a while ago that if I ever got a new life and was reborn as a baker, I would like to start my career at Noah Elber's Orchard Hills Breadworks in New Hampshire. Well, that's still true of course. Only now I feel I have both sides of the country covered. In case the Northwest is where I happen to breathe a new life, then I'd like to go work at Scott Mangold's Breadfarm in Washington State.
Not only do both Noah and Scott make excellent bread (would I consider spending the afterlife working for them otherwise?) but there is something about the ambiance in their bakeries, the cheerfulness and dedication of their teams and their own overall easygoing-ness (is there such a word?) as bosses that make me think I would learn well from either of them and have fun in the process.
Scott's bakery is located in beautiful and fertile Skagit Valley in Edison, a village so tiny that if you blink as you reach it, you could pass it and never notice. With Vancouver two hours to the north, Seattle one hour to the south, the Cascade mountains to the east and Puget Sound close by to the west, Edison could be forgiven for thinking of itself as the center of the universe. 
But instead of bragging, it has adopted a whimsical last frontier kind of attitude that has you sit up and notice and, yes, make a U-turn and park if you have already driven through...
The bakery sits next to the saloon in an old building that has hosted successively over the years a butcher shop (some of the village old-timers still remember accessing the meat locker in the back), a candlery and an upholsterery shop. When Scott and his wife Renee opened up in July 2003, there was no culture of bread in the area. None. Scott traveled with samples and brochures in his van and explained what they were hoping to do to whomever would listen and have a taste. The samples were a hit: the bread was well-received. Besides the brisk business they do in the shop, they now sell to nine grocery stores as well as to about fifteen restaurants including on the San Juan islands where mail and bread delivery go hand in hand.
Born in nearby Mt Vernon, Scott himself grew up as a fast food kid. His first job (as a high school student) was to wash dishes in a little restaurant in Wallingford. That's when he discovered flavor. Three months later his newfound passion for food got him promoted to assistant chef. In those years, naturally leavened bread wasn't on his radar: his chief interest lay in pastries and rolls. After college where he was a chemistry major -to this day he says science helps him a lot in his baking- he saved his money and signed up for a six-week intensive class in baking and pastry at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley. With that training under his belt, he started looking for a job. A year later, he landed at Grand Central Bakery in Portland, Oregon, and that's when the love story started. As Scott remembers it, "I was enthralled from Day 1".
Nineteen months later, Grand Central transferred him to all-organic Black Bear Bakery as head baker. Talk about trial by fire! But he got a lot of support and it was a fantastic learning experience. Fast forward another year and Grand Central found itself in need of a head baker at its Seattle location. It offered him the job. Scott drove up and spent a week there. Realizing that accepting the offer would the perfect way to round up his training in preparation for going on his own, he laid his cards on the table: he told the owners that his goal was to open his own place and that he would only remain in Seattle until he had the money to do so. But he wouldn't leave before first training his replacement. It was a deal Grand Central could live with. Scott remained in Seattle four years. Then Breadfarm happened.



I visited shortly before Christmas. The air inside the bakery was redolent with the scent of spices (mostly ginger) and baking levain, a fragrance that does more for me than luxury perfume. I fell under the spell and found myself deploring -once more- that technology hadn't progressed enough to make it possible for my camera to capture aromas as well as images.
Like miller Kevin Christenson, his almost neighbor and also his main purveyor of whole-grain flours, Scott wants to be part of a sustainable grain-growing, milling and baking local economy.  One of his goals is to be a voice for the bakers by explaining why certain grains work better for them than others (each has its unique aroma and baking characteristics), by stressing the importance of consistency (one of the challenges of local grains is the way flour varies from one delivery to the next due to factors sometimes as simple and basic as changes in the weather) and by pushing for more storage down the road (more storage would allow for blending which would improve consistency). For a baker, consistency trumps local: at this point, Scott has no choice but to get his unbleached white flour from outside the state.
As you can imagine, I had an uphill battle with myself trying to decide which of Breadfarm loaves to feature on Farine. In the end, since I am still new to the area and basically learning its tastes and flavors, discovering the terroir if you will, I decided to go for the Winthrop Whole Wheat bread, made with two kinds of wheat, both grown in Washington. I had tasted it before and liked its nutty aroma. I also liked the fact that even though it was 100% whole wheat, it didn't stick its wholesomeness in your face with a holier-than-thou kind of attitude: it was light, handsome and very pleasant. In other words, a winner.

Winthrop 100% Whole Wheat (Breadfarm)

Related post: Winthrop 100% Whole Wheat Bread


4 comments:

  1. Hello MC,
    It is so enjoyable to read your post about Scott and Renee Mangold's bakery - it brings back good memories of my visit there, courtesy of the tour organized by Kneading Conference West. Scott graciously hosted our tour; it was so nice to meet him. It was such a pleasure to see all of the beautiful loaves, and see those loaves take shape under the skilled hands of Scott's hardworking bakers. I couldn`t leave BreadFarm empty-handed (the breads were too tempting) and came home with two of the most delicious loaves I`ve ever tasted. And now, the ability to make a third, thanks to your Winthrop Wheat Bread post.
    With many thanks from breadsong

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    1. Hi breadsong, I couldn't go on the tour last year but I remember vividly the breads and cookies Breadfarm contributed to our fare during the three days the Conference lasted. They were so delicious I knew I had to go back!

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  2. Dear MC Just read this post today via your Face Book.(8/2/2012) Thank you so much for sharing! It is the best virtual tour of the best kind, Baking breads. Love your post. You wrote very well and the pictures were even better! Love, love it. Thanks.
    mantana

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    1. Thank you so much, Mantana! I am glad you enjoyed coming along for the visit. BreadFarm is an amazing bakery and we never miss a chance to stop by whenever we can.

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