Farm to Market’s Mark Friend talks about a baker’s life on ‘The True Wonder of Bread’

true-wonder-of-bread-021214After more than 40 years kneading dough, Mark Friend has found a new use for his hands: blogging.

The co-founder of Farm to Market Bread Company (their chocolate cherry bread is on shelves through Friday) has launched a new blog, The True Wonder of Bread, where he delves into what it means to be a baker while passionately defending the role of bread in our lives. The Recommended Daily caught up with Friend via e-mail for five questions about his latest project.

Farm to Market's chocolate cherry bread.

Farm to Market’s chocolate cherry bread.

What led you to decide to start documenting your journey as a baker?

Baking wasn’t my first career choice, but it seemed that as a baker I could always find work. I began to believe that bread was safe as a career. Bread has been central to our nutrition and community for 5,000 years. But recently there are two serious attacks on bread: Atkins Diet and the Gluten-free movement. I hope to defend natural and fermented breads and I also want to explore wheat breeding and its effect on gluten.

Further, I see Farm to Market as Kansas City’s village bakery. It is a member of the community, not just another business producing a product. As a wholesale bakery, connecting with our customer through social media made sense. And blogging was the next step for me.

I have been a baker for over 40 years. I was a founding member of The Bread Bakers Guild of America. I presented several times at the American Baking Institute on sourdough. Again, I want to offer my insight into bread and baking. Further, my son John Friend has taken over management of Farm to Market. He is a good business man, much more than I ever was and he has done well. This has given me time to focus on other things.

The initial set of posts have looked at the world through bread. Do you have a sense of what you want to write about going forward? 

  • Wheat varieties, wheat breeding, wheat as commodity and GMO.  I am a member of the Wheat Quality Council which meets annually in February in Kansas City. At this meeting, wheat varieties are presented with statistics like acre yield and baking test results. I want people to know and understand this.
  • How wheat breeding may be the cause in the rise of celiac disease.
  • Health benefits of sourdough.
  • How to start and maintain a starter.
  • Understanding your starter by knowing what is happening in it fermentation.
  • Recipes.

What’s the biggest obstacle or challenge for those looking to get into baking? 

  • Getting started as a new baker is easy. However the pay and hours are lousy.
  • Education can help increase pay. If you are interested in artisan baking the school to go to is the San Francisco Baking Institute.
  • Getting started in business takes some experience. Many failed bakeries were owned by retired professionals who thought it would fun. They didn’t have the business smarts and experience needed.
  • For me the obstacle was and is money. Ovens and baking equipment are expensive.
Spompinato (left) and Friend co-founded Farm to Market.

Spompinato (left) and Friend co-founded Farm to Market.

What’s been your best experience with an oven?

  • In 1980, I baked at La Bonne Bouche on the Plaza. The oven was near the windows. We started at 10 p.m. and had an audience through the night of diners and partiers.
  • In 1996, Farm to Market had just acquired its hearth oven. My partner Fred [Spompinato of Fervere] and I took turns baking the hearth bread at 3 a.m. in the morning. It was a quiet time that allowed meditation while I baked.
  • Baking is satisfying because you see the beautiful finished loaf. After many hours of preparation, the pale raw loaf is scored and loaded directly onto the oven’s hearth. In the oven it expands and the color becomes a dark golden brown. When it comes out of the oven you can take pride in the finished bread.

What’s your go-to bread story?

Here is a story that I like. Back in the nineties, the Bread Bakers Guild had a Sourdough Seminar in Las Vegas, where attendees argued over what was real bread and who really had the Holy Grail of bread baking. I was at a dinner with Tom McMahon (one of the founders of the Bread Bakers Guild, attorney and bakery owner), Professor Raymond Calvel  (highly respected French bread expert), Dr. [J.M.] Brummer (the German bread expert), and other artisan bakers. McMahon’s interest in the Guild was to improve baking in the U.S. And after listening to the warring baker factions on what was real bread, he posed this question: “What makes great bread great? What are the standards, the principles or the fundamentals of great bread?” Without hesitation Brummer simply responded, “Your customers will tell you.”

What do you hope your readers take away from The True Wonder of Bread?

The biggest thing I hope readers take away from my blog is a deep appreciation of bread as the staff of life. I would hope too that we are able to generate discussion on the importance of bread in our lives. It is something that pulls all of us together no matter our background or race or whatever. Bread is a great unifier.

[Images via Facebook: Farm to Market]

Jonathan Bender

Jonathan Bender is the founder of The Recommended Daily.

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