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Even though eating and cooking remain a firm part of my daily routine, blogging has admittedly taken short shrift this past month. Let’s chalk it up to my impending cross country move to the San Francisco Bay Area for a new job and adventure. The logistical and emotional preparation has sapped up my extra time.

Now that my ducks are in a row,  the writing wheels have resumed their turn. I’ve done a lot of thinking recently about food communities, what they mean, and how we develop culinary hubs where we live. Next Big City just picked up one of my Grid posts about community kitchens across United States cities, where I spoke to a number of their benefits, including:

  • Serving as an alternative communal site for food preparation and distribution
  • Easing the burden on small-scale and artisan food producers who want to deliver locally made food to city residents
  • Challenging the traditional notion that culinary pioneers need to front gobs of cash to open up their own gourmet storefronts
  • Offering shared, mixed-use production and sales facilities to accommodate more humble food operations

This alternative community venture supports new artisan food producersMy article highlights San Francisco’s Forage Kitchen, a work in progress food production and event space that typifies a successful food community. No one can argue that the Bay Area has a storied history of supporting alternative culinary ventures — just take a look at the Ferry Marketplace or the “Gourmet Ghetto” neighborhood in Berkeley, home to Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse and the cooperatively-owned Cheeseboard Collective.

Yet I’ve seen community food hubs develop more and more in smaller East Coast cities as well. In my home turf of Providence, R.I. a gourmet olive oil shop has opened up across the street from renowned Seven Stars bakery. Just over the city border in Pawtucket, R.I., Hope Artiste Village boasts a number of food-related ventures, including a top notch local coffee roaster, and a great wintertime farmers market.  And when I visited Portland, Maine two weeks back, I visited the Public Market House, which provides low-overhead business space for smaller food vendors who want to downsize from their own storefront. Together in this larger building, food producers are worth more than the sum of their parts.

This multi vendor hub brings foodies together in Portland, MaineThis type of cluster effect, and the food community that results, really excites me going forward. Owning your own food business no longer has to be an isolating adventure for the elite. And that means more opportunities to try new meals and savor the act of food production with your friends and loved ones. Cheers to that.

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This is my first loaf.

Fresh out of college, I’m working on a couple of projects this summer. The first, my paying job, involves digging dirt and teaching as I help develop horticulture and gardening programs here in Rhode Island. I’ve spent my last two summers working on some variation of this same activity, so I’ve landed squarely in my comfort zone for this awesome post-grad opportunity.

The second project, however, is a little trickier: how to produce a dynamite artisan loaf.

I’m the type of person who, when given a free afternoon and friends to feed, beelines to the kitchen. I love cooking. Even so, baking bread is unchartered territory for me. I’m pretty picky with the bread I buy, so I’ve always been intimidated by the task of achieving that same quality by hand. Now, as I ponder major life changes, I figure it’s as good a time as any to try.

One exciting development regarding this summer’s bread-making: my use of the biga, an Italian word for the pre-ferment, the mother, the starter. It’s similar to the SCOBY that brewers use when making kombucha — a yeasty kick in the pants needed to get the process going. Most breads I’ve made in the past have been no-knead, quick-rise, easy. But now I’m itching for a challenge.

This first loaf — got to say it looks pretty nice, doesn’t it? It’s got a beautiful dark crust with a good bite to it, and the inside is cooked throughout. But this first biga starter, a whole-wheat variation that essentially lumbered through the fermenting process, produced a super dense dough. When I cut into this bread, there was no sign of those delicious air pockets I come to expect in a quality artisan loaf. Alas, the saga continues as I experiment with new techniques. Recipes will come as I start to work out this biga business. I don’t want to lead anyone down the wrong path.  

Stay tuned for more food and more developments. I sense biga things on the horizon.

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