18 Feb, 2016 Newsletter

18 February 2016

Talent is persistent integrity. It’s not a gift or a caul. Because every time you bail the boat, the water teaches you so much about yourself.

Our emails, once a week, will keep New Orleanians informed about the State of Grain in our city and our region. As you know, Bellegarde is the only bakery in between Asheville and Arizona that stone-mills its own flour. We strive to source organic grains that we mill fresh and bake into healthy and delicious whole grain breads. We are convinced that the health issues which plague our city—obesity, violence, mis-education, ecological and cultural erosion—are bound to the lack of fresh food. Food access is a systemic Policy issue: everyday that we bake whole grain bread with freshly milled flour, we tweak one more nerve in the System. Each nerve pinch is our desire to re-establish our region as a self-efficient food economy and re-create the cuisine of New Orleans with fresh ingredients…a revolutionary Gordian knot.

We all speak the language of food and we all seek the pleasure of flavor. What more perfect medium to communicate change than with bread? Pandering to demand in a regional food system is not as important as nurturing supply: quality will dictate quantity. Help us democratize that staff of life.

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Updated Website: I’ve put some new photos and information on our website. Here’s the new Travel section.

Retail Bread: Please send me an email at bellegardebakery@gmail.com if you’d be interested in picking up bread from the bakery; we currently bake our country bread Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; we’ve also begun to bake a beautiful whole-grain RYE BREAD on Wednesdays. Pick up is available from 7am until 1pm on any of those days.

Bread Classes: I am very happy to announce that BELLEGARDE will be hosting bread classes once a month beginning this April. Classes will be on Sundays at the Bakery, from noon to 6pm, and everything will be provided: lunch, breads to take home, equipment, and flour. The purpose of the classes will be to democratize bread. That means we’ll only use equipment found in typical home kitchens and no tool will be digital: we want the pleasure of our craft to be opened and appreciated by everyone willing to take a patient crack. No kitchen aids, no mystique, no gimmicks or cookbooks. We’ll mill flour in house and the classes will be conducted by Graison and another Bellegarde baker. Classes are reserved to 12 spaces and tickets are $120 each, completely inclusive. Food industry folks and culinary students (NOCCA, Delgado) will receive 30% off in order to encourage the beauty of continuing education. Check this link https://bellegardebakery.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/bellegarde-baking-classapr2016.pdf  for more information and email bellegardebakery@gmail.com to register.

Some Notes: I’d like to sincerely thank Caroline Hatchett and Will Blunt for their sincerity, faith, engagement, and presence of mind. They have been fresh air for young lungs and I am truly truly truly grateful for their listening…This week was the New Orleans Star Chefs event of which Bellegarde was blessed to be included in. The main event was Tuesday at Il Mercato in the Garden District; we served our Acadian Miche, Country Bread, and Ciabatta to over 200 guests. My friend and mentor Nan Kohler of Grist and Toll attended; her presence (and absence) has meant an incredible lot to me over the past year. It was great having her here.

Jumping off today…The harder you try to be different, the more you’ll remain the same. We never asked to be believed, but to be trusted…And the time goes so quickly, so smoothly. The anticipation of a quilt of moments keeps you warm for weeks; then the arrival and the fulfillment and the dissipation. Then it’s gone, like smoke, and so are we. Splintered under the nail of so much time, we cause a bother but never a situation. It’s curious, the nuance, and the vindication you feel after it all, once it’s digested. Tuesday was an event, and I had to bail breath out of my body like a sailor in a wet boat. Tuesday night had a pulse, a rhythm, pacing. The energy was better than the previous night’s event because we were doing what we enjoy: cooking, serving. We were not the center of attention; what we chose to share about ourselves—our food—was the focus. And like a generous mirror it moves us away from the stage, the buttoned-coat, the light bulbs. I’ve never been in such an environment; I asked three people for a chef’s coat to wear because I realized mine was stained in four places, none of which could be covered by an apron. So I wore an extra-small short sleeved one, with jeans.

But the culture of food, from what I can imagine, has drastically improved over recent time. In the same way that a female politician may wear a suit to play the man’s image-game; thankfully, we no longer judge entrance to the library by the book’s cover. Content these days can be questionable, but the system is much more democratic in that substance does, for the most part, reign. Quality, like healthy water, floats. And I’m grateful that professional cooking is more about the chefs, as opposed to the atmosphere, the ceremony, the contrition of high dining. Food is an experience, a story—we all choose, in Nick Flynn’s words, the narrative which makes most sense of our lives. And when you chose food you must be damn sure that you’re embracing the motion, not the halt: not the lights, the press, the gifts or accolades. You can only receive a gift when you expect nothing. Claiming or seeking or endeavoring towards that confetti is dangerous; our medium, our food, is our message. And we belong to the entire process just as nouns and verbs belong to language; the inclusivity of language is what food should become, again. And Tuesday night was a spinal tap for me—it reaffirmed something I never really believed in: the food industry. But there was an overwhelming warmth, genuineness, and comfort from everyone; it wasn’t a competition or a hustle or an arena. It was, as if, we were all at the finish line of a race we never entered. I certainly didn’t. I’ve been doing the same baking for seven years, and I’ll never change my unrequited compulsion towards bread’s purity: fresh flour, intention, a pair of hands, time. Bread is the closest I’ll ever come to giving birth, unless there’s remarkable advances in science. Until that breakthrough, I’ll always strain for more discipline and consistency and whole grains in my bread, but the architecture of that love will never alter. Love is a bridge which will not erode and however petty the self-indulgence, I felt released and unburdened on Tuesday because people who’s ears I asked for three years ago now gave me their words. When all the doors were shut on my face, those same housekeepers shook my hand that night. Touched my shoulder. Ate my bread. And thanked me. To say that felt “good” is inaccurate—no one in their right mind does anything to feel “good”; you’ll be drinking Folgers’s from styrofoam in an Elk’s Lodge basement if you do things that make you feel good. You’ll also be twelve steps away from crawling, again. We do things because we need to, not because we want to: the compass of maturity is the will to do well, to perform, to serve beyond your needs and your immediacy. It’s truly to give away without an ounce of sharing; give to the point where you have nothing left. Then it grows like a diamond’s seed, under the pressure of love, because as you share you realize that what you “give away” never left. It’s only grown more profound, more fleshy. And so, yeah, to be in a photo with people who I could hear in the background of a phone call three years aso telling someone to tell me they would never call me back felt…right. It’s not necessarily where I wanted to be; it’s where I was headed, alone or otherwise.

The spirituality of food was the time of religion without the church. There is a purity of experience, of enjoyment, of exploration on top of the primal and premier human endeavor: to secure food. And a good meal is like a good song: it weaves a womb of privacy, of epiphany, just like religion. It makes you feel a part of something, alone. Like a good priest, a cook will let her ingredients speak through her. No toy or tool or technique is better than the dogma of nature. It’s the curating of nature, of time, which has dictated our cuisine. We’re mere squares on the board, honey in the comb. And that’s why Tuesday night was special; I saw chefs step aside and put their food forward. We still have prehistoric road to re-build in our town and region when it comes to ubiquitous access to healthy, organic food. But the fulfillment I saw on Tuesday was very inspiring and humbling—I saw chefs, for once, recognizing the fiduciary bond we have to the people we feed: treat others as you would have them treat you, feed others what you’d have fed to you. That bruise finally became a scar.

In not so positive news, the James Beard Awards for 2016 were announced…in February. The Oscars of food, the JB Awards this year are #sowhite! And I’m not talking pigment here. No, the food, especially the bakery award, is so white flour. It’s really, well, embarrassing. Of the twenty or so finalists, I’d say less than four make whole grains the premise of their bakeries. It’s like awarding a grammy to Elvis for singing the blues. Damn. Flour is the backbone of baking—pastry, bread, desert—the entire skeleton which is fleshed out by technique, minor characters, etc. But flour! What is nighttime without stars? Bread without good flour. It’s shameful that the community doesn’t see beyond that—it’s not a fault of James Beard Foundation, per se. But we should know better. You don’t award Home Depot Priztker awards. Our craft must be pushed forward by moving backwards: less ingredients, no preservatives, chemicals, additives, coloring, enrichments. Nature and tradition provide those things. And we shouldn’t laud or encourage bakers who bake that way; we should show them the better direction home. Elucidation is innovation, integrity. Malcolm X, Simone de Beauvoir, Picasso, Joan of Arc: these people didn’t advocate diversion or addition, but a more sincere purity. I hope the 2017 James Beard Awards encourage people that make real food with real spine—whole grain bakers, small millers, farmers. Time to thank the band, not the sponsors.

Blog: New blog was up recently.

Food is the single most inalienable human right. Without food, there is no shelter, no clothing. Without ecology, there are no people (plants did fine without us for a long time). Meals are relationships—conducted in restaurants, homes, parking lots—and the essence of food is sharing. A cyclical gift, a karmic bank, withdrawing only what you deposit. The culture of agriculture is the cohesion of our society. Access, local/regionally grown, seasonal, fresh, organic, affordable: these are not menu labels, platitudes, or the currency of branding: these are the principles of what was once New Orleans’ food economy and what it must become again. Democracy was invented in the Greek agora (marketplace) without irony. The democratization of our food and its ingredients is the rubric against which all other success or failure will be tailored. If this city cannot feed itself by its tricentenial, then all other triumphs will slouch towards tragedy. The plate is a mirror: look down and you will see yourself reflected in its contents. The remedy, the cure, is inoculated within the disease, and so too is our future. Our solutions, like seeds, are self-pollinating.: https://bellegardebakery.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/chergui/

Soul Food:

Traveling—it leaves you speechless and then turn you into a storyteller.

Ibn Battuta.