Bryan Smith’s curiosity and passion for baking developed in a slow process of experimentation, study and patience. “You have to spend so much time with it,” he explains, describing the art of baking bread. “You examine every little detail: its flavor, its texture, its look, its smell. How it feels when you eat it.”
He finds great beauty in the process, but if you’d asked him ten years ago, Smith never would have pictured himself as a chef or a baker. Still, after two years of immersing himself in bread-making techniques, Smith is unveiling his new cottage kitchen bakery, Black & Delicate Baking, specializing in naturally leavened breads, baked goods and sweet treats. The Instagram shop will allow customers to place orders through direct messenger and to learn the stories behind the products with each of Smith's posts.
Smith began working restaurant back-of-house jobs in 2014, transitioning from his career as a freelance web designer and running a commercial production company. He’d graduated from college with a degree in film, theater and graphic design, but kitchen work provided a consistent income. He started as a dishwasher but quickly gravitated toward prep and cooking.
“Early in 2017 is when I really got my sea legs in terms of food,” he explains. Not only did he start working the hot line at restaurants — a position his younger, afraid-of-fire self never would have tried — but he also started researching chefs and types of cuisine. “I took the summer off, buried my head in a book, really made sure this is what I want to do,” he continues. That fall he applied to Satchel's on Sixth, and started working with dough for the first time. He fell in love with beignets, and believed that baking was a distinct skill that would help him to continue to advance his culinary career.
The first loaf of bread he baked came from a recipe his mom had cut from the side of a bag of flour and stapled to an index card. It came out extremely dense and chewy, but it was a starting point, and Smith says he was inspired by its beauty and the potential to create with household staples: flour, sugar, water, yeast. “Blending all those materials is really fascinating to me,” he adds.
And the more he delved into baking, the more wild yeast and the natural fermentation process of creating sourdough caught his interest. “A thousand years ago, people didn’t have a packet of yeast,” he explains. They used flour and water, which captured and contained wild yeast and bacteria that fermented and helped the dough rise and develop flavor.
“The science is something that I’ve just become obsessed with — the fact that wild yeast is all around us,” Smith says. “And I think it just tastes a thousand times better.”
The budding baker went down the sourdough rabbit hole, as he calls it, and filled notebooks with descriptions of his trials, errors and successes while learning how to perfect his sourdough and other bread recipes. He also gave samples to friends and co-workers, and eventually to his bosses at Dio Mio, who really pushed him to create his own side business. “I was baking a ton anyway,” he says, “and I really want the content to be useful...for people to be more educated about [sourdough] and why it's important.”
Black & Delicate Baking is also a platform for conversation. Smith says the name of the company is important because it’s a commentary on his experience of being stereotyped within cooking culture. In kitchens, when new employees start working together, they often discuss their culinary training, specialities and passions. “I’m a five-foot-ten-inch, 200-pound Black male, and when I say I like to bake, it’s surprising to them," he notes. "There seems to be this juxtaposition between what I look like and what I do. Like I can’t be Black and do delicate work.
“But your ingredients don’t care about your background," he continues. "If I pick up a bag of flour, it doesn’t have any impression of what I look like. The kind of bread and pastries I want to sell are things I like to eat.”
And on the menu, along with traditional country sourdough bread, are favorite childhood sweets Smith has developed for an adult palate. His brown butter, brown sugar and bourbon cookies are, in his words, a jacked-up version of the sugar cookies he craved as a kid. He also sells naturally leavened cinnamon rolls using a process that takes eighteen hours to complete but creates a unique taste.
Soft pretzels are also available, and while they are made with dry yeast, they also include sourdough starter, added for caramelization, texture and flavor. Smith is also in the final stages of creating his own ciabatta.
The first public menu for Black & Delicate Baking should be available on Instagram by mid-December. All orders will be placed through Instagram direct messenger; don't look for a brick-and-mortar store. In the meantime, follow Smith, learn more about his products, and hear all his bread puns. “I try to keep it to subtle one-liners that draw at least one disapproving side-eye," he says, such as: "I'm a gluten for punishment."
"If only I could share all the bread puns I’ve made to myself,” he muses.
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