Baker Zach Martinucci gives his yeast cultures names: Allison, Patricia, Faircloth, Mother. He says that each has its own personality and may have even achieved sentience. On that, he's only half-joking. For the bread maker who just opened Rebel Bread at 2400 Curtis Street, food is filled with personality, and Martinucci is captivated by the idea of expressing not only the cultural identity of bread, but baking individual personas into each loaf.
That's the theme of one episode of Martinucci's podcast, Against the Grain . In the episode, he describes creating loaves to match the personalities of people he knows — capturing, for example, the character of a close friend who is "sweet, spicy and a little nutty" by baking spiced pecans into the bread. At his shop, located in the former Temple Bakery (part of a restored synagogue that has been converted into retail and community-based space), racks of fresh bread are loaded with crusty boules labeled "persona loaves," along with other sweet and savory creations.
Martinucci moved to Denver a year ago from California to join friends in opening a bakery. A native of the San Francisco Bay area, he earned a degree in culinary anthropology from UCLA before attending the San Francisco Baking Institute to learn bread and Viennoiserie (the difficult bread-pastry hybrid that uses yeast, butter and eggs to build flaky layers). While in college, he traveled to Bologna, in Tuscany, Italy, to research his thesis project, which he describes as "how local identity is represented through the food people cook and eat." Bread wasn't a specific focus of the project, but in the process, he learned a great deal about baking and discovered it was something he wanted to do professionally.
In Tuscany, unsalted bread is very common; one of the longstanding legends about the bread style is that salt was controlled by coastal cities that taxed it heavily, and Tuscans rejected it out of local pride and frugality. Martinucci learned this from the people he befriended in Bologna, and used the legend as an example of a traditional food taking on the distinct character of its region. "They tell these stories as if it happened to their uncles or grandparents, even though it happened hundreds of years ago," he notes.
These and other stories led the baker to explore his own relationship with food, and with bread, specifically. "I just love being a student of food culture as well as a baker," he adds. "And I realized bread is an excellent canvas for storytelling."
In San Francisco, he delved into the artisan bread scene, led by Tartine Bakery founders Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, and read books on baking put out by the two. The sourdough tradition of his home town combined with his formal education and personal curiosity all come together at Rebel Bread.
The baker launched the wholesale side of Rebel in August, and the company's baked goods can now be found at cafes around town, including Sapor Coffee + Concepts, Blue Sparrow Coffee, Huckleberry Roasters at Dairy Block and the Broadway and Lakeside locations of Amethyst. He's also been running the bakery in soft-opening mode on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., so that customers can stop in for chewy baguette-dough bagels (which capture the best of both styles of bread), Danishes made from brioche rounds, whole sourdough loaves, and brioche buns filled with jam or topped with prosciutto, cheese, herbs and an egg yolk — all on one bun in an eye-popping cluster of salty, gooey, crusty and savory elements.
Young, bright, introspective and perhaps a little idealistic, Martinucci both embodies and embraces millennial attitudes, pointing out that his generation wants to embrace authenticity and explore both entrepreneurial spirit and personal expression. You can taste the purposeful goal of craftsmanship and perfection in his bread, and you can hear it in his podcasts. Not content to wing it or ramble on, Martinucci scripts his episodes and weaves in recurring themes and motifs. His style emulates This American Life, and his voice is even reminiscent of that of Ira Glass. Whether that's a positive or a negative depends on your opinion of National Public Radio, but a level of professionalism pervades, even amid the DIY ethos of both the podcast and the bakery.
Beyond baking and recording podcasts, Martinucci will also launch bread-baking classes aimed at home cooks who want to delve into artisan baking.
On October 21, Rebel Bread will have its grand opening; from then on, it will be open Wednesday through Sunday, and Martinucci will move wholesale production to seven days a week. Rebel shares space with several other food-service startups, including Heirloom Catering, Little Bites Bakery (which specializes in doughnuts, pies, cakes and setups for special events) and a new coffee roaster called Elemnt, which Martinucci serves by the cup at his bakery.
Those familiar with Temple Bakery will remember Five Points Pizza, which existed on a mostly word-of-mouth following but which built an excellent reputation among off-duty cooks and pizza lovers in the neighborhood. Under the Denver Dough Collective umbrella started by Martinucci and his business partners, Five Points Pizza is being revived after founder Eden Myles passed the torch before moving to Chicago. So if you're heading to 2400 Curtis Street, you'll find the front counter serving pizza after 4 p.m.
The collective nature of the old Temple Bakery and its new replacements may seem a little goofy or hard to define for older Denverites. But for millennials like Martinucci, it represents a way to pursue personal goals while rising in the scene with friends and colleagues in the baking community.
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