When bread fans talk about local food, it does not get any more local than the current arrangement at 1900 Barker, a new bakery that opened in June in the contemporary college town of Lawrence, Kansas. Owner Taylor Petrehn, who exhibits a knowledge and passion for bread baking way beyond his youthful age of 23, is buying certified organic Turkey Red wheat that is grown 1½ miles from his bakery at Moon on the Meadow, a small farm in Lawrence owned and operated by Jill Elmers.
For those who don’t know, Turkey Red is the first variety of wheat introduced to Kansas in the 1870s by German Mennonites who fled Russia to avoid military conflict. Today, heirloom Turkey Red seeds are being planted in small pockets of Kansas to support the growing demand of local wheat from artisan bakers like Petrehn.
Wheat harvest at Moon on the Meadow took place in July, and Petrehn is busy milling his own flour and sprouting local grain to use in his flavorful breads. He is particularly proud of the results for his Utility Bread, which features 25 percent Turkey Red wheat from Moon on the Meadow. Utility Bread, which sells for $7 per loaf, is half sprouted and half milled in-house.
“Their grain tastes amazing,” Petrehn says of Moon on the Meadow, “which is huge because the farm is so close to me. How cool is that? Wheat that is grown, milled and baked within about a mile of each other.”
Petrehn started 1900 Barker with his brother Reagan, who is an award-winning coffee expert and runs the beverage side of their business, after years of working to perfect pizza doughs and pastries in his early career. Growing up in Paola, Kansas, near Kansas City, he gained an early appreciation for great food working as a pastry chef for Kansas City’s acclaimed Parisi Coffee. Also, one of his key mentors was the executive pastry chef at Dean & DeLuca, where he worked for six years.
When asked how one develops a keen palate at such a young age, Petrehn says much of the credit goes to working in productive surroundings and learning to develop strong opinions about the details of what goes into producing great flavor.
“Having strong opinions has led me to be a better baker,” he says. “That has helped me consciously improve my palate. When I taste a croissant, I’m always thinking about what it needs. Dissecting the crust and the crumb, and thinking about the hydration. I wouldn’t say I am a flavor genius, but hopefully maybe I will be someday.”
Petrehn bakes his breads, which include a raisin pecan and a 100 percent spelt, in a TMB four-deck oven, with 40 loaves capacity.
His breads feature a darker crust than what a lot of typical consumers are accustomed to, but their opinions change once they taste the amazing bread. Petrehn says he has faced a small amount of price resistance to $7 loaves of bread, but they always buy at least half a loaf. They never walk away empty handed.
“I’m a big fan of a darker crust. The crust should be really thin,” he says. “With a darker crust, you’re going to experience two depths of flavor. The crust will have a deeper flavor, even chocolaty, and then when you crack open the bread, you can smell the wonderful aroma.”
Petrehn is part of a growing number of young artisan bakers in the Kansas City area, including Chris Matsch, owner of Ibis Bakery in Lenexa, Kansas. Matsch fell in love with great bread after visiting California and tasting the classic San Francisco sourdough at Tartine Bakery. He studied countless hours preparing for the opening of Ibis by baking bread and selling loaves at local farmer’s markets. “I really went into it not knowing what I was doing, which was cool,” he says, recognizing his inner desire to learn new things and excel at them. “What was exciting is that bakers are really open about sharing knowledge, and you can see they have a genuine passion for their work. That’s what attracted me – the bread community that was around it.” And entering the artisan bread community led Matsch to meeting new friends like Petrehn.
At Ibis, Matsch says they are dedicated to the best possible methods of producing great bread. The bakery produces about eight types of bread daily, including country loaf, cranberry walnut, spouted quinoa-kamut, multi-grain and rosemary cheese. They make a great rye once a week, and Matsch says he loves to experiment with dense, German-style ryes.
In a unique arrangement, Ibis, 1900 Barker and Kansas City artisan bread shop Fervere (now owned by Chad Russell and Dan Wehner, who took over the acclaimed bakery after founder Fred Spominato retired earlier this year), are cooperatively buying flour to save costs.
“Eventually, we hope to mill our own flour,” Petrehn says. “We order about one month at a time. It all gets sent to Ibis, and I go pick it up. We buy organic flour from Central Milling in Utah. We chose to work with them because they care so much about the flour. They do very consistent blending.”
As for the future, Petrhen says that he hopes the local grain movement will help more and more consumers appreciate the great flavor of breads and value the contributions of the artisan bread community.
“We live in the Grain Belt of America, and yet a lot of people still don’t know where our wheat comes from,” he says. “There is a huge push of young farmers who are farming for the same reason that I am baking. I’ve very excited about the future.”